Flipped Role Models: Gender equality

This past week I heard a clip of an interview with Hilary Clinton.  She describes that as a young lawyer she was looking at advice column focusing on the work place.  A reader had posed a question on how to decorate a new office that was received following a promotion.  The columnist responding wrote that he couldn’t determine the gender of the reader due to the fact that the reader had signed the question with initials.  However, the advice was that if he was a man and pictures of his family he should put the pictures up because everyone would know that he was a responsible, reliable family man.  However, if she was a woman she should not put up any family photos as people would think she wouldn’t be able to concentrate on her work.  Hilary went on to comment that some of these attitudes still exist today, even in the Western world.

I hope that as teachers we are in a position to educate students away from these attitudes.  I am enjoying the fact that right now at my school we seem to be operating on a flipped role model system.  Our Science Department employs a 100% women staff while our Math Department has a 50/50 split of men and women and our English Department is filled primarily with men (75%).  My women colleagues are similar to me in that they have advanced degrees in their subject areas and have worked in the workplace as scientists.  They are educated, intelligent, strong, hard-working women.  To me they are great examples to both boys and girls.  Meanwhile our liberal arts male counterparts down the hallway are highly intelligent, thoughtful, and interesting individuals also providing good examples for boys and girls.  I feel like between us all we are showing, by example, a system of equality in which men and women work side-by-side collaboratively, respectfully and valuing one another regardless of gender.

Here our team is playing in the cramped gym - you can see the bar on the right blocking parent view as we are seated in the storage area.

A couple of weeks ago our basketball teams played in a tournament in Antwerp.  I thought it was interesting that the girls’ team was consistently slotted to play on a smaller side court while the boys’ teams played in big, open courts.  Even the parents for the girls’ teams had to sit in a storage room to cheer their girls on.  I wonder now if, though surely unintentional, a subtle message of inequality was sent to the various girls teams that played on that court.

There is no excuse, in the Western world, for women and men to be viewed differently in the classroom or in the workforce simply because of gender.  I wonder if our example at the school is enough.  How can we, as educators and parents ensure that we pass on an attitude of equality such that it becomes part of the inner self and is no longer up for debate?