Monday 4 June 2012
Like all the primary school children today, Maxi Minx proudly wore a jubilee crown made of card, cotton wool, stickers and fake gem stones that she’s constructed, coloured, stuck and cut-out herself. She also won one of the class prizes for Best Crown, which she was as proud about as me and her Daddy. Then I found out it was the prize for Best Girl’s Crown in her class. Suddenly suspicious, I delved a little deeper…
Apparently there were 2 prizes per class: one for the best girl’s crown and one for the best boy’s. The girls’ prizes were chocolate make-up sets, and the boys’ chocolate tool sets.
I don’t think I’d find it too difficult to argue that the prizes are appallingly sexist: lots of children would have preferred the other gender’s prizes! And as Maxi is only 6 years old, I actually disapprove of giving her pretend make-up at all, as if it were a thing she should aspire to use. I hope that I manage to bring my daughters up secure and confident enough in their skins to not need make-up sets! Of course I don’t object to them using it as and when they choose (when adult), but I don’t necessarily want to encourage it. I want them to consider choosing to wear it akin to choosing whether to wear a skirt or trousers; the red shoes or the black ones; lipstick or nothing?
No, what I’ve taken issue with is the basis of the differentiation: why give a prize for the girls and one for the boys? In a primary school? Why not just give 2 prizes per class?
After puberty, there are distinct physical differences between the genders, so it’s customary and appropriate to differentiate on that basis. But is there any disparity between the sexes in their creativity? Artistic ability? Competitiveness? Not to my knowledge! Why are the girls and boys not competing directly in this wee competition? When they leave the cloisters of school, they will compete directly with each other for jobs, opportunities, partners… Well, they will outside of places where people still get jobs because of who their families are. And that happens worldwide: I’m not having a dig at the place where I love to live. Isn’t school all about preparing children for the outside world? So why artificially constrain their horizons now?
You might think I’m being a little sensitive, and how on earth does it matter that the school has differentiated between girls and boys to enable each class to get 2 prizes? Well, consider it one more way: what if they’d given a prize instead for best Catholic crown and best Protestant? Or best white child’s crown and best black child’s? There would be uproar! But they are as arbitrary splits of the class as gender (in Maxi’s class it’s about 60/40 girl/boy).
So why is it ok to do this? Is it? Am I being unreasonable? I believe that the school are merely trying to do something nice for as many of the children as they can with available funds. So should I gently ask the headteacher to consider more carefully the messages he and his staff are teaching our children in future? Or should I crawl back under my rock? Please, please comment with your opinion. We probably won’t all agree, but I’d value your thoughts, and would appreciate your help seeing other perspectives.
ETA: It’s worse than that, Jim… I discovered that when Midi Minx’s nursery class constructed fake first-aid kits and dressed-up, after their visit to the local hospital, the girls were dressed-up as nurses, and the boys as doctors. What?! What kind of non-verbal message does this give 3 and 4 year old children? What are the school doing about their requirement under the Gender Equality Duty 2007 to “promote equality between women and men”? I shall find out tomorrow and report back…