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Let's Talk About Sexism

Let's Talk About Sexism by Kirsty P.

By Kirsty P.  @TeacherBusy

I've been teaching for 12 years; I've worked in two schools but visited many. I've been a teacher, a Head of Year and now a Lead Practitioner. Here's some things that have happened to me during the last 12 years in my career at various points:

  • I've asked groups of students to put rubbish in the bin and been ignored/laughed at.
  • I've been called a 'bitch'.
  • I've asked pupils to not sit on stairs at break time, or to clear a corridor, and I've been ignored.
  • I've organised meetings with parents where the parents have only addressed the male member of staff in the room with me, despite me being the Head of Year.
  • I've been asked if I'm on my period because 'You're in a bad mood today'.

All of these are sexist microaggressions. Is sexism the only factor in each of these scenarios? Of course not. Each individual instance here has its own context BUT to deny that sexism isn't a contributing factor is very naïve.

Last night I tweeted about sexism in schools. 

I knew I was opening myself up to a litany of interesting comments in response to the tweet but it was a real experience that I have had in my teaching career (not at my current school) and I wanted to make it clear that sexist behaviour does exist in schools. 

Within minutes the responses were coming in saying that the issue isn't always sexism, it's about authority, some kids are more likely to listen to the person with the greater authority asking them to do something. I agree with this, all schools have a hierarchy and though I don't agree with it, Headteachers, Assistant Principals, Heads of Behaviour/Year are, oftentimes, more likely to be listened to/obeyed than other members of staff, especially support staff who can sometimes be treated awfully in comparison to teaching staff, but what if we remove authority from this scenario?

A female teacher on break duty asks a group of teenagers to put the rubbish from their table in the bin before they leave: the group laugh, ignore and begin to walk away. A male member of staff with no greater position of authority stops the group and tells them to go back and pick up the litter which they do. It's very hard to claim that there isn't an element of sexism in that scenario, yet people, other teachers and educators are telling me that there isn't. And therein lies the problem, denying the existence of the sexism in the first place. Is it intended sexism? Maybe not. Is it so engrained in society to respect a female voice less than a male voice? Yes. Denying that that is the case is simply burying one's head in the sand.

Overall, my tweet was responded to in the comments, mostly by men (and that is just a fact, go back and look at the comments) saying that there are other factors at play, not just sexism, but it was retweeted mostly by women, female teachers/learning support assistants/support staff who shared their own experiences, their own stories of everyday sexism at work. By closing down any discussion about the possibility of defiance being influenced by sexism we are invalidating these women's' experiences and that can't be okay, can it?

I want to finish on a positive because there are always positives to be found and there were lots of great male educators in the comments asking what they could do to support female staff when they witness sexism. These are some things I'd suggest:

  • Acknowledge that sexism exists.
  • Talk to your female colleagues; ask them if they've experienced any sexism in school and show your support.
  • If you witness sexism in school, be an ally and support the female member of staff. Have the conversation with pupils about the importance of following instructions whether they come from a male or female member of staff.
  • Model males supporting females as often as possible. For example, if you're a male member of staff, seek opportunities to talk to students about sexism, how to recognise it and challenge it.

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Thursday, 08 June 2023

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