IT HIGH TIME FOR SCHOOLS TO RE-ENGAGE WITH GENDER ISSUES

In the 1990s all Australian Governments had policies around gender equity in schools. Somewhere along the line this died and now education systems seem to act as if issues related to gender justice are no longer of relevance to education – the battle has been fought and won

How it died is a story in itself for another time.  In this post I want to suggest that it should never have died and that with the issues of relevance to women now being played out all around us – in the US elections, in the application of provocation laws in murder cases, in the Anglican church, in the comments about high performing female journalists and our PM, campaigns about Target’s clothing range, and even, or especially, in the world of comedians you would have to be living under a rock not to notice that women have not won the battle to be treated as full human beings worthy of respect.

Everywhere I look I see evidence of women’s hard won rights under serious attack – rights to contraception, to access to abortion – even in the case of rape and incest, rights to equality in the church and in marriage, rights to justice in the courts, rights to respect and rights to have our experience our insights our contexts and our histories taken seriously.

I found out today that the female Republicans in Tampa for the GOP convention have been catered for with a pop-up hair and beauty salon near the convention hall that promises to help them “woman up” (their language)[1]  while the men of the GOP gear up to talk policy, debate the merits of their platform, and listen to speeches about the Republican vision for America. I must admit I had a bit of a chuckle over this.  But it is not funny, not really.  Its message is powerful and scary.

I also came across an article by Clementine Ford about slut shaming[2] which shocked me.  She talked about being involved in a TV based discussion with men where the issue of sexy clothing for young girls came up.

Well I thought I knew where this was going – should we worry about young girls being pressured to adopt highly sexualized identities.  It’s a topic that has come up for discussion in the tweet-o-sphere quite regularly and it can be quite divisive.

But it wasn’t about whether it was bad for girls growing sense of themselves at all.  It was about the effect of this clothing on men”

“……should we be concerned about the kind of message 12-year-old girls are sending when they ‘dress up like prostitutes’? I listened as the kind of opinions generally offered on talkback radio and in the letters pages of tabloid newspapers were bandied around unchallenged without proper interrogation of their validity. An all too familiar consensus was reached regarding clothes and their multi-talented capacity for meaning and unspoken invitations – essentially, we need to educate young girls about dressing in a way that might give people the wrong idea.”

Ford reminds us that this kind of talk has a powerful message

 And I thought to myself, congratulations team. Well done. Because if statistics are anything to go by, you’ve just reinforced to one-third of the women present in this studio something they’ve always been afraid of – that they were responsible for their own rapes. That if they’d just dressed differently, acted differently or resisted differently, they might not have sent the kind of message that says, ‘I’m looking to be raped tonight. Any takers?’ …

At their heart, they betray an unconscious belief that men cannot be held responsible for the ways in which women tempt them – nor should they be forced to.

These are just two of today’s examples of what s out there.

So here is my question to teachers and education policy makers.  As teachers/policy makers you engage with the same media world I engage with – you hear the rape myths, the rape apologies, the attacks on women’s hard won reproductive rights, the use of the word cow and slut.  You hear similar things or worse – daily weekly or more often.  You also have advanced critical literacy skills, so are capable of critiquing these media messages and understanding their harm to women, girls, boys and men.  Given this, why is there no campaign to ensure that we systematically and comprehensively equip our students with the ability to engage critically with this sexist misogynist soup?  Why do we no longer highlight and question the gendered dimensions of classroom and school life? Why do we talk about bullying in schools but rarely sexual harassment or homophobia?

If you respond by saying of course we do that – you just don’t know about it I will be pleased not offended.  But please tell me more.  As a grandmother – fourth one born today  – I want to know that schools will equip my grandchildren and their peers reject sexism, homophobia and misogyny in all its manifestations.

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