Gender equality in schools: How feminism is being censored by pupils and the schools themselves

By Pip Sears
Artwork by Natasha Mabille

I am 17 years old, attending a high achieving school, and fighting for gender equality. This is an atmosphere in which you would expect feminism to be accepted, but you would be surprised. Sexist jokes are seen as funny, it is perfectly alright to call a girl a “slut” due to what she chooses to wear and “feminism” is used as an insult. How can this be right? How can it be acceptable to discriminate against women and just expect us to take it? I have decided it is time to make a stand and join the many other voices calling for action in schools. We need to be heard.

Recently a friend and I set up a gender equality society for our school. You would think that this would be straightforward and quickly accepted, wouldn’t you? It wasn’t. We had to explain endlessly to staff what it was we wanted to achieve so they could inspect our ideas. We were told that our poster was too “militant” and we were called a group of “moaning girls” by people who had never even attended our meetings. I know that comparatively this is a mild response and that my school has very quickly agreed to our vision, while others attempting to start similar societies in other schools wait much longer for the school to agree and are aggressively bullied both online and verbally. But why should this response be accepted simply because it isn’t as bad as what others have faced? Mine is a relatively liberal and progressive school and yet we still face discrimination. Any negative attitudes towards feminism, however small, show how deeply the problem is ingrained in society.

In schools, feminism is not taught in PHSE and is not talked about as an issue that we will face. We are left guessing which has a hugely negative effect; boys are not taught from a young age that women are their equals and girls are not taught that they have a voice. Many of the people in my year still think sexism is funny and that it is ok to make fun of girls who are openly feminist. Everyday sexism is not dealt with or challenged, and as a result, girls don’t know how to face it. Any girls who points out that sexist jokes aren’t funny are promptly told they are “making a fuss” and “it was only a joke”.

It is not just boys who are guilty of exacerbating inequality in school; girls are feeling the pressures of gender performance and responding by calling each other sexist names, judging others by their appearance and generally playing into the stereotype without a thought for what damage it does. We are not being taught well enough how to battle with discrimination from a young age. So many don’t even see the problem.

The school rules embody gender equality, as well as the pupils. On our non-uniform days there are strict rule about what girls can wear, especially during the summer where we are told that shorts and any top that shows our shoulders or midriff are inappropriate as they distract male pupils and staff. We are treated as though objectification is our fault and that we must change ourselves to prevent it. There are no such rules for the boys. Although we have asked the school to change the rule, or at least the reason behind it, we have been met with silence. Blaming women’s clothing for other people’s actions has not stopped there. Recently we had a PHSE session on rape in which a pupil felt it was perfectly acceptable to say that the assault was the woman’s fault if she was drunk and dressed promiscuously. Schools cannot be teaching young people about equality well enough if this is seen as an appropriate statement.

The lack of education on feminism means that many young people think that it is just man-hating and shouting for female supremacy. Accordingly, being called a feminist at school is still an insult. In fact, we were explicitly told not to call our society a feminist society due to the reaction it would cause. Schools know about the prejudice and ignorance and yet they do nothing to change it. Girls are still seen as objects and are judged on their appearance so much that levels of eating disorders have reached a record high in the last few years. Why is nothing being done to change this gaping hole in our education? We would not accept it in other areas, so why here? School is where you are supposed to learn skills and values that prepare you for real life and yet we are never told that being female should make no difference to how you are treated and what you achieve or what you want.

Both girls and boys are suffering because of this gap. We must fight to improve our schooling system so young people can live better and learn more. We should introduce feminism into mandatory PHSE and encourage more discussion of women’s issues in class (and stop laughing at the jokes). We need to teach girls how to recognise discrimination and that it is not something you have to accept, and boys that girls are their equals in every way and should never be treated as less. We all have a responsibility to improve the education of young people because we are the future and right now, I’m not sure I like the look of the future if things are left as they are. Now is the time to make a change and fight for the equality our society so desperately needs.

“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger, women are already strong. It is about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” G. D. Anderson.

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