I hope I’m wrong. I really hope I’m wrong — because my evidence is anecdotal. But it seems to me that despite all of the gender equality measures we have in place, when it comes to education, sexism is alive and well.
When I was at primary school in (circa the early Dark Ages) I remember being incensed and the injustice that resided in the woodwork and needlework classes. If you were a girl, you had to do needlework. If you were a boy you did woodwork. Full stop. There was no negotiation (although my 10-year-old self tried). My gender relegated me to knitting stuffed owls and embroidering place mats, when all I really wanted to do was emerge from those other classrooms at the end of the passage, covered in sawdust with a box or a key holder or whatever.
But now that I have children, I’m starting to see that very little has changed. And because my children are at a girls-only school, it’s only since my elder teenager started dating that the differences have become apparent. My daughter is incensed, because at her boyfriend’s school, when they study IT, they learn to code. At her school, they are still learning how to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint — and really, they’ve been doing that since junior school. They know how to use Microsoft Office now.
In addition, at her school, one of the subject choices is consumer studies (good-old fashioned home economics), and if you do a quick internet search, you find a greater proportion of business studies subjects at boys schools. And they certainly don’t learn how to bake bread rolls …
Perhaps they seem like small things, and perhaps this is only true of the single-sex schools. Maybe at co-ed schools things are a little more broad-minded. But I suspect not. I think the traditional divisions of labour are still so entrenched in our schooling system that girls are permanently on the back foot. They just aren’t given the same opportunities to learn to code, or to get a solid footing in finances and business. They’re busy baking bread rolls and learning about food safety — I’m just curious: why aren’t the boys learning those skills too? (I have nothing against good bread rolls.)
Is it any wonder that we have a shortage of women in the IT or engineering sectors, for example? Or that in heterosexual relationships women are still expected to be the ones making school lunches and raising the children, while being grateful for the “help” of their partners when a father drives a child to a party or looks after the kids for an afternoon.
We can make all the laws we want, set up gender commissions and endlessly analyse the statistics that show how few women sit around boardroom tables. But until we fix the problem where it starts — at school — true gender equality will remain elusive.
Image – AFP