539. Sex Role Stereotyping

As an elementary school teacher, I have always worked against sex role stereotyping. I grew up male, and for much of my life, most of my friends had grown up female. We all felt as if we’d been encouraged – sometimes forced – to fit stereotypes that didn’t feel right to us. I wanted to make sure boys grew up gentle and sensitive and girls grew up assertive and strong. Not that boys should become wimps or girls should become tyrants, but I thought society was set up in a way that pushed children into certain traditional roles, and I felt that one of my main missions as a teacher was to help children learn how to push back. So I did all I could to help children resist the stereotypes society was feeding them.
Lots of teachers were and are working to combat sex-role stereotyping. The textbooks that used to be used in schools (and still are, in some schools) were full of stereotypes. The elementary curriculum was full of sexism. The history taught was the history of men. Teachers (including me) really had to work on themselves to weed the sexism out of their language and policies. Despite a great deal of progress that’s been made, there’s still a long way to go.
As many people challenged the status quo, there were people arguing that traditional sex-roles have biological roots – that boys, destined to become men, are naturally aggressive – natural-born hunters. And that girls, destined to become women, are more domestic. I have spent lots of time arguing with people who have thought that way. I don’t think I’ve changed many minds, although two successes stick out in my mind – one in which I convinced a conservative female teacher that I shouldn’t be paid more than she was just because I was male, and another in which I told a conservative father that his daughter had to learn math. Neither adversary clung to sexist thinking in the face of other thinking that was more important to them.
As is true in the struggle for racial equality and many other struggles, people who want to eliminate sexism from schools and society have to keep at it. There are notable successes, and it’s good to celebrate the successes, but sexist thinking has been around for a long time, and eliminating it is going to take a long time. I’ve heard teachers imply that sexism in the curriculum is an old issue – that we dealt with it twenty-five years ago, and don’t need to think about it now. It’s still around, though. Some of it is subtle, some not so subtle. So there’s more work to do.

Comments are closed.