It happened. It was a dreary Sunday afternoon, I was sleepily shuffling through the day, my mind filled with possible videos I could make involving Nick Clegg, an apology and a puppet who just wanted to be a real boy. I didn’t see it approaching. It had almost happened before, but like some stealth character from the matrix, I dodged the bullet. Not this time, it shot me in the chest:
My youngest niece: “what’s the difference between boy and girl babies?”
Here’s what I wanted to say: “Well honey, it depends what you mean. Do you been biologically, socially, polticially, emotionally or economically? Because there are in fact quite a few. What’s worse, the difference isn’t just that they have different bits to you, the real thing to talk about is that you may find youself attempting to make up for all these difference throughout your adult life and there will be times when the gulf between the sexes will feel like it is getting bigger and out of control and that you are at the bottom of a very large pile of poop. But you were just asking about boobies and willies weren’t you?”
What I actually said: “Who wants to bake a cake?!”
We baked a chocolate chip cake, I even made icing for her to write her name. Crisis averted. I sometimes think I would be excellent in the situation room in the West Wing…
But here’s the real issue: when young girls learn about the difference, what are they actually being taught? Sure, they will get taught in the classroom about feelings and ‘the bits’ but where do they learn about the other differences? The ones that don’t need to exist, shouldn’t exist, but do. The difference that will absolutely shape their view of themselves and society?
I’ve written previously about the pinkification of girls, I’ve written, on numerous ranty occasions, about the bad influence media can have. But today my attention has turned very much to the classroom and the playground. I mean, obviously, that’s where they go to learn (well, some of them, not so much me.)
So I decided to conduct a survey. Now, this only included the girls and young women in my family, but my family is so bloody large that it will probably yield significant results that can be transferred to the entire population of Scotland. Or at least, that’s what I will write up in the report…
I asked my nieces/cousins what differences they see in school between boys and girls. Aside from a fair few of them giggling because they thought I needed an education on the difference in genitalia, they answered thus:
“Well, the girls get to do gymnastics in p3 and the boys do football”
“The boys play usually run around acting silly, we are all much more grown up and bring in magazines for lunchtime” – sidenote: this kid was HILARIOUS. I’m trying to convince her to write her own blog.
“The boys sit with the boys and the girls sit with the girls”
“Ummm all the girls wear skirts, maybe no, some where trousers, but not really”
“I don’t really think they are different, I don’t know” – this was about as good as the answers got.
So they identified differences in sports played, attitude/personality and clothing…
I asked one girl about playing with the boys or vice versa, she explained that, that was ok when they were younger, but apparently as you grown up and are starting secondary school you shouldn’t do that as much…Playground decorum, never understood it then, don’t understand it now. I didn’t need to. I always had the lunch ladies to keep me company *sniff*
Now obviously, between teaching them everything, from shapes to maths, from spelling to geography, teachers have enough to deal with and enough to get in to the children’s’ tiny heads. But from talking to many of the young girls, (I plan to do this in an actual accurate way one day) they see these differences, they don’t have answers for them and they’re not looking to question it. But the problem is, at this young age is when kids develop a sense of self, but by provoking these discussions they could become better at interpreting their world and more confident in changing it for the better.
By no means am I suggesting that I want all primary school age girls to go into school on Monday with placards, but I wonder if there is scope for a fuller education on identity and gender? What makes a girl or a boy? Why do you think that way about girls/boys? Do primary schools do that? Well, I’ll ask my teacher friends (or if you are reading this and you know, do fill me in!) I wonder if this type of education would bring about a more thoughtful, a more respectful and a more equal generation?
…then again there’s always the possibility that they learn too much and become over-thinkers. They probably don’t need that at age 5. They’ll never be able to watch through an entire Disney film without suddenly realising the underlying sexism. I’m pretty sure that was the day my childhood died…and all I wanted to be was Jasmine….