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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

Does co-education exacerbate gender stereotyping?

25 replies

Solo2 · 21/06/2010 18:52

This question has come to mind in the course of starting a different thread on Primary ed. forum about the boys being compelled to watch the World Cup Match at their school on Wednesday

I realised that it's more about the gender stereotyping in the school since it recently became co-ed after being an all boys school for many, many years. As a single sex school, it 'allowed' boys to be 'people' first, IYSWIM. It's an academically selective school and there were many boys there who were geeky, non-sporty, creative etc etc.

It STILL has a good reputation for being academic and individualistic but my sons and I have noticed it also becoming increasingly sexist. Boys HAVE to play football. Girls can CHOOSE to play football but can also do rounders and Netball. Girls have the best - by far - cloakrooms/ changing rooms. Boys get blamed for misbehaviour, even if the instigator is a girl. Girls can be mean to boys and STILL the boy gets blamed.

There seems to be little integration between genders and more polarisation of stereotypes. A recent school trip away offered as the only two evening entertainment alternatives - 'make-up party' or football. Girls were expected to and did all attend the former.

I wonder if single sex schooling is less likely to stereotype gender roles and if, now there are girls at the previously all boys school - boys are increasingly having to define their role in stereotyped ways, fully encouraged by the school?

What do others think about this? Do single sex environments help to stop stereotyping of genders and is there anything I - as one individual - can do about it?

OP posts:
vesela · 21/06/2010 21:56

I went to a single-sex state grammar school and we didn't have much gender stereotyping, but then neither was there any at my ordinary co-ed primary school. I can't remember that we were ever segregated or made to feel that we had to do certain things (with the exception of some sport, maybe, but relatively little). This was a small but lively rural primary school in the mid-70s.

I'm astounded at make-up party v. football. Complain, complain, complain is the only thing to do, I think.

What are primary school plays like now? At our school, girls with comic talent (for example) developed it in just the same way as boys. There was never any question of decorativeness, let alone premature sexualisation.

It was a fantastic start. I remember reading the Famous Five books and being totally mystified by the one who wanted to be a boy. Completely mystified. I didn't understand.

What was your own primary school like? If it was less sexist, then when you complain you can say you only want them to have the same advantages that you had

nooka · 22/06/2010 07:18

My children go to a co-ed primary school, as with (I hope) most primaries everything is mixed, there are no boys or girls sports or activities, and the same has been true with all their out of school activities.

Personally I wouldn't want to send them down the single sex route (both dh and I went to single sex schools, and really don't like the idea of segregation, perhaps because we have a boy and a girl). Your school doesn't seem to be very comfortable with it's new arrangements yet which is perhaps (hopefully!) why it's getting things so wrong. I would certainly complain.

pointissima · 22/06/2010 08:57

Strongly in favour of single sex ed, personally. DS(9) at all boys' school where they do cookery, recite poems, grow flowers and ride ponies without any thought that these might be "girls'" activities. Not sure that that would work in a co-ed environment.FAOD they do also play rugby, camp in the woods and have a train set.

Likewise, until I left my girls' school I had no idea that physics, playing brass or doing stand up comedy were generally thought "boys'" things.

I think that what tends to happen when boys' schools start to absorb girls is that the girls get opportunities to join a "masculine" environment, with all the new opportunities which that offers; but the boys are not offered "feminine" opportunities- metalwork will be mixed but needlework will probably cease to exist altogether.

Solo2 · 22/06/2010 09:25

Thanks for the responses. I do think it's a classic case of now they have girls here, boys must be 'boyish' to define their difference, whereas there seems to be less pressure for the girls to be 'girly', although I must admit, if I'd been forced to do 'make-up' sessions as a child, I'd have wanted to throw-up!

At my own primary school - a Catholic Convent - there were boys there till age 7 and the girls HAD to do ballet and the boys HAD to do woodwork I think, can't quite remember but it was definitely 'boyish'. Later, from age 9, I was at a different, all girls school and there were the 'girly crowd', the sporty crowd, the swotty one (that was my category). I think from my own limited experience that we were able to be a whole range of things that wouldn't be defined as girly/ girl and my brother who went to an all boys school also seems to have had more scope to be within a whole range of categories that might not be called 'macho'

I'm slightly worried about approaching the school about all this because I've not found any other parents who feel the same. In fact I'm continually shocked at how various mums I know seem so comfortable with polarised views of what it means to be a boy or a girl. They might think I've got an axe to grind solely because I'm a single mother (by choice) raising sons alone, without a regular male input....

OP posts:
sarah293 · 22/06/2010 09:30

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edam · 22/06/2010 09:37

I think the research shows that in general, boys do better in mixed schools, girls do better in single sex. Although obviously that doesn't hold true for every single person, and it depends what the researchers define as success.

Dh went to an all-boys senior school. He and his friends all did jolly well and seem to be well-adjusted people who are able to relate to women (although dh has his moments I don't blame them on his school ). Dh hated his school, though I think that wasn't to do with lack of girls, especially. Turns out one of his teachers was abusing a couple of boys who were thought to be gay - not sure if that would have been less likely in a mixed school.

I went to a girls' school from age 14 and loved it. Again, most people did jolly well and have grown up quite well-adjusted and able to relate to men.

SweetDreamerGirl · 22/06/2010 09:50

Solo2 wrote "I do think it's a classic case of now they have girls here, boys must be 'boyish' to define their difference."

I've read that a significant component of gender identity formation is not so much "I'm a boy", it's more "I'm not a girl", which I think seems to tie in with what you are finding.

slug · 22/06/2010 10:28

As the mother of a girl I want to send her to a single sex secondary school because studies have shown that boys routinely get more attention in class than girls in mixed sex classes.

vesela · 22/06/2010 11:59

pointissima, boys did all those things at my primary school (with the exception of riding, which no one did).

ElephantsAndMiasmas · 22/06/2010 12:07

Mixed sex education doesn't have to be like this though. I think the idea of girls having "make-up parties" organised by the school is grim in itself (these are little girls, right?). And not letting the boys have a choice of sports is not fair either. I would be writing to the head with your concerns, and arranging for an appointment to go in and talk about it. It sounds like they were totally unprepared to go co-educational and are reacting in, IMO, a distinctly odd way. Boys and girls should have a range of activities open to all - why bother integrating your school if you're going to split them up the second you get a chance?

AlfredaMantolini · 22/06/2010 12:08

It's an interesting post, Solo. I went to an independent girls' school from 5-18, and thought little of it at the time. It was only when I got to university that I realised how much boys dominate tutorials. I was one of the few girls who spoke up - because it was what we'd always done. The disadvantage, to my mind, was in the sixth form, when there was huge pressure to lose your virginity asap, and boys were these kind of mystical creatures that only the very cool girls knew. As the kind of girl who was more interested in pop music and books than boys, I had a miserable two years in the sixth form. I haven't had any trouble relating to men since, though!

My DD is in Y1 at a girls' independent school, and I do like the fact that the girls run around in the playground, playing football and tig. DS is at a mixed prep, and I've noticed that the girls only run around when the boys aren't there: when the boys are there, they occupy the (small) physical space with football, British Bulldog and so on, leaving the girls huddling literally on the sidelines. When the boys aren't there, the girls play much more actively. This was one reason we decided not to send DD there - we wanted her to be able to be whatever kind of girl she is (a footballing girl, as it happens!), rather than a girl squashed by boys. We felt this all the more as she has a very clever and dominant older brother - the last thing she needs at school is more of the same. DS's school used to be boys only, and it's still essentially set up for boys.

I would be very if DS's school assumed all boys were into football. My DS loathes all sports!

vesela · 22/06/2010 12:23

I think the mixed/single-sex thing distracts from the main issue, though, which is are schools failing to teach children in a non-sexist environment, and if not, what do we do about it?

vesela · 22/06/2010 12:23

sorry, "if so"

vesela · 22/06/2010 12:27

interesting, Alfreda.

We (boys and girls) used to run all over the playground together, playing things. Were we the only ones?

Miggsie · 22/06/2010 12:32

If my DD's mixed state infants offered make up parties I'm sure they would be led by our headmaster as he is Priscilla, Queen of the a suit and tie. Underneath he is Priscilla though and the kids love him.

Seriously, if there was a make up party offered I would protest and either insist DD did the football (which she likes) or not send her to either.

However, my state primary wasn not like this, ok it was 30 years ago but we ALL played baseball, rounders, boys did football more than girls but the playground was HUGE so plenty of space. We used to play a game called "runaway radio" where someone was a radio set that was running away and we had to catch it. The person being the "radio" had to sing all the time while they were running. Boys and girls played this.

I also remember all children had to skip in PE, and we all did sewing in class with no issues...and this was a farming community with some really very butch lads...I wonder what went wrong since then?

And I noticed, when looking round a mixed prep that boys did loads of sports and competed against other schools and girls did netball, with no inter-school competition. DH decided the school was impossibly sexist and we have not considered it further.

frikonastick · 22/06/2010 12:47

DH and i had this convo the other night and both agree we will be sending DD to a single sex school after primary (no single sex primarys near us).

i went to co-eds (8 of them) and DH went to boys only.

vesela · 22/06/2010 12:49

what a great game, Miggsie Ours was a farming community, too.

ElephantsAndMiasmas · 22/06/2010 12:54

My primary was mixed and pretty rural too, and although more boys played football, the games like British Bulldog, kisschase (never played that one as I thought boys were smelly ), and the circle games were def mixed. The only time we ever did anything different based on gender was our one lonely sex education class in Yr6. Our brilliant teacher even got us doing mixed touch rugby, which was about the only time I ever enjoyed sport. These are children - yes some are boys and some are girls but what difference does that make?

ProfessorLaytonIsMyLoveSlave · 22/06/2010 12:59

Wasn't Priscilla a bus?

Solo2 · 23/06/2010 09:49

Well, last night there was yet another example of gender stereotyping at a school concert. There was a special all girl choir, whereas everything else that night was mixed gender events. There is no all boy choir but 2 other mixed gender choirs...but...

Not only this, but the girls' choir were the only group to perform not in uniform but in 'home clothes' suggestive of girl pop groups and presented "Dancing Queen" (Abba), complete with 'cute'/sexy? moves. The average age of the girls was about 10.

I talked to a couple of other mums about how unfair it was that there was an all girls' choir but no all boys' one but no one else thought this was an issue. The 'sexy dancing' seems completely NOT an issue with any other parents and there was a similar add-on to a play earlier in the year with a slightly older all-girls dance troupe.

But I was left disquieted again - both that once more, the girls are getting preferential limelight and that their limelight is in stereotypical roles, even at a v young age.

Whilst there ARE other examples in the school of equality between genders, there are some glaring examples of steretyping each gender and favouring the girls.

I feel a bit 'weird' though, as no one else seems at all conscious of this or if I allude to it, concerned about it. In fact, I get the distinct feel that they actually find it cute and endearing and reassuring that the girls are 'learning' to be little ladies and the boys are 'learning' to be 'real men'.

My sons already make sexist jokes about girls and women, despite having me as their mother! . I don't think school is helping at all.

OP posts:
SweetDreamerGirl · 23/06/2010 10:02

Solo2, I wonder what the reaction would have been to a mixed choir singing the ABBA songs with both girls and boys doing sexy moves?

I know it is an uphill struggle to counter sexist attitudes coming from such powerful external influences, but at least you are doing YOUR bit! More power to you!

bloss · 23/06/2010 10:20

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bedlambeast · 23/06/2010 23:12

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nooka · 24/06/2010 02:12

My ds was certainly encouraged in his clowning by the girls in his class, but then one of dd's best (girl) friends is the clown of her class. However where we live all schools are co-ed (and non uniform) as are all non-school sports at elementary level (up to 12/13 here). ds's cubs group is all boys, but I think that's the only single sex activity they do (and that's just because no girls have joined, there are a few in beavers, so that will change in the next year or so).

My experience of single sex education was that there were very high expectations of academic success (generally good) but also bullying and a huge focus on looks and a fair amount of self harming going on. We were also obsessed with boys, and hung out with any boys who were vaguely interested in us, even though many of them were really fairly obnoxious. Things seemed much more relaxed both academically and socially when at sixth form I moved to a boys school with girls in the sixth form. My friends who went to mixed schools seemed to have a more balanced view of life, although I don't think you'd notice the difference beyond a few years of leaving school. As with all things I suspect a fair amount depends on the school, the child, and the nature of the peer group they find themselves in.

vezzie · 24/06/2010 15:28

My girls' secondary school was theoretically supportive of the girls doing whatever they wanted academically, but actually socially there was very deliberate, explicit pressure to be lady-like. It was sort of "academic", in that we were well coached through exams, but when I got to university I had to start from scratch in learning to be academically assertive. At school we copied things out a lot and the word "neat" was used a lot. "Neat" was more important than anything else in the world.

My mixed, much rougher middle school was less repressive, girls challenged boys, boys challenged girls, no one got an easy ride, but everyone had the same opportunities to win respect and have mates for whoever you were.

My infant school had a playground divided into three; the largest, best bit in the middle was for football only and football was for boys only - if a girl who encroached, or even looked as if she might, they all roared "GERROFF THE PITCH!!!!!!" and you backed away shamefaced.

I have a daughter and I am worried about girly socialisation and schools, although it's in the future. I can't believe things actually seem to be going backwards from when I was at school (about a million years ago) - my secondary school was strict and there were stringent rules designed to stop us being too sexy. But being mildly indulged in being "cutely" sexy seems a million times worse to me (grumpy old bat that I am).

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