#WomenEd unconference and being 10% Braver

by Lyn Lawton @lynjlawton


Being a big fan of the book ‘10% Braver – Inspiring Women to Lead Education’. I decided to be 10% braver myself and put myself forward to deliver a workshop at the national WomenEd Conference this year. I didn’t actually expect to be chosen!

So it was with a few nerves that I set off on Saturday 5th October on an early train to Sheffield with 15 of our colleagues from Marple Hall. Yes, 15! I believe we were the most represented school on the day! We are lucky as our school is very supportive of #WomenEd: our Deputy Claire Gregory has blogged on the WomenEd Blog site about the challenges of senior leadership and motherhood; our headteacher Joe Barker – @MrBarkerMHS – has read the 10% Braver book and published his own #HeForShe blog; and we are also organising our own #WomenEd Lead Meet on 12th March with @lavelle_niamh and @anacastillo333.  The whole day was fantastic!

Highlights for me included Claire Price & Claire Birkenhaw’s session on banter and Keziah Featherstone & Jules Daulby’s session on How to f*** up and keep going. I think the last one really resonated with me – as a ‘girlie-swot’ I often panic if I think I’ve got things wrong. As Jules said – we need to re-claim that label as a positive!

My own workshop was about sexism in school. Here is a flavour of what it was about…

Sexism is still prevalent in our society and as schools are microcosms of that society – it exists within our school too (even if we don’t think it does). For example, I asked my Year 11 class last week ‘How many of you would say you were feminists?’ One lone girl bravely raised her hand. I posed another question: ‘How many of you think boys and girls should have equal opportunities in life?’ All, bar one male, raised their hands. I went onto explain that this means they are feminists!

However, the word has become associated with very negative connotations for a lot our students. One boy told me he’d seen feminists on YouTube pouring bleach onto the laps of males who were ‘man-spreading’ on the tube. He couldn’t understand that these women weren’t feminists and even when I proved to him that this had been fake news, he still insisted on holding onto his negative view of ‘feminists’.

In my workshop, I drew upon lots of research from the ‘Boys Don’t Try’ book by Roberts and Pinkett. For example:

  • Almost a third (29%) of 16-18 year old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school
  • Nearly three quarters (71%) say they hear terms such as ‘slut’ or ‘slag’ used towards girls at school on a regular basis.
  • Research shows that boys watch considerably more porn than girls and that it is socially acceptable for them to admit to it. This is inked to non-tender masculinity as it focuses on dominant men achieving sexual gratification from submissive women in demeaning positions.
  • In fact, many young boys learn about sex by watching porn – which gives them an unrealistic idea of what sex should look and feel like.
  • Revenge porn is also on the rise and schools need to discuss this type of pornography.
  • Students report lots of casual references to paedophilia and rape which in turn trivialises these crimes. For example, ‘paedos’ has become s jokey term to some and we also hear phrases like ‘I got raped by that exam’.

So what sorts of questions should schools be asking themselves?

Do our schools have a sexist log alongside the racist/homophobia log?
Do we have policies preventing sexism? If so, do all our teachers know about them?
Do we address sexism through PSHEE? Do we educate them about gender? Do we address pornography?
Do we sanction sexualised language employed by students?
Do we pause our lessons to challenge offensive language such as ‘paedo’ and force students to consider the implications of the words they are using?


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