Sexist stereotypes and behaviour
False beliefs and over-generalisations about differences in girls’ and boys’ behaviour, preferences and abilities are prevalent throughout society. Such gender stereotypes can have a deeply harmful impact on girls and boys, placing arbitrary restrictions on children’s behaviour and aspirations while fuelling prejudice and discrimination.
Gender stereotyping in schools reinforces particular ideas about what is expected and acceptable behaviour from women and men: such as that women are weak and emotional, while men are strong and brave.
A significant portion of teachers report that sexism is an everyday occurrence in the classroom, and that small, seemingly insignificant events together create an environment in which pupils of both sexes come to see each other as different.
“I thought I was going to fail maths and science but the teacher told me it’s okay because girls tend to be better at expressive lessons.” – Female student
Gender stereotypes are sometimes reflected or reinforced by differential treatment in schools. The most common example students in this study gave concerned the activities that they are (or are not) allowed to participate in. Most frequently, this entails male and female students having to participate in different sports, either as a result of school policy or as a result of being excluded by other students - such as girls not being allowed to play football and rugby.
Male students are less likely than girls to express a desire to participate in sports associated with the opposite sex, but students report difficulties faced by male students who want to participate in more artistic activities, such as dance and drama.
“Was constantly bullied for being in the choir and enjoying drama. As a result of that I lost my passion for the arts.” – Male student
As students progress through the school and have more opportunities to choose the subjects they study, so the influence of gender stereotypes in shaping those subject choices can be observed. This includes the stereotype that maths and science are ‘boys’ subjects’ while art and English are ‘girls’ subjects’.
The resulting sex segregation within the same school is viewed by some students and teachers as inhibiting the development of equal, respectful relationships between male and female students.
Another example given by students of differential treatment concerns the tasks assigned to them by teachers. In particular, students commonly report cases of male students exclusively being asked to undertake tasks involving strength, such as moving desks and chairs or sporting equipment. Female students frequently report that they would like to be given the opportunity to do more physical tasks, and dislike being perceived as weaker than the male students.
“I teach design and technology. Every day I see sexist slurs towards cookery being only for girls and engineering for boys and that’s coming from other teachers.” – Secondary school teacher