Girls, Women, role models and fairy tales…
Girls, women, history and ‘fairy tales’….
I was in discussion at a school recently, asking if World Women’s day was acknowledged and discussed. I also bemoaned the lack of women on the curriculum. I was quite restrained for me and accepted that perhaps content was dictated by government, they did have a ‘get-out’ option. The replies I received have stayed with me for some time. Firstly, I was told it wasn’t their fault that a woman hadn’t ‘invented’ penicillium. I wanted to retort, no, but what about the scientific breakthroughs women have achieved over the millennium. I did say there were women who had achieved other things. However, at that moment, missing my point entirely, a very senior educationist stepped in and said, but they were teaching fairy tales and that was biased towards girls and it was very hard to find content to keep boys engaged. So we should be happy there was something for the girls. I believe my face said it all when I responded without thought, no, fairy tales were not gender biased and it depended upon the rendition, interpretation and retelling. I wanted to know why women were underrepresented in the inventions, science and space aspects of the primary curriculum. What happened was an answer that made me realised gender inequality is ripe everywhere, these two people were women and that made me even sadder.
I have since this encounter ran it through my head many times. I have felt angry at the presumption that fairy tales are more interesting to girls than boys and then I suddenly became really cross at the presumption. Star Wars is a classic modern day fairy tale. What were the tales being taught and who were the writers of these tales? Were these the tales where the girl or woman was ‘saved’ by the man? Or were these the tales where actually male and female roles were questioned or were these the ones that reinforced the facts that women are weak and vulnerable and only succeed when a male figure intervenes? I didn’t get chance to ask to see a book list or take this any further as they really didn’t want to engage with me. I hope I’m misunderstanding their opinions and views.
We must challenge women’s place in society and how society views women. Sexism is around us and our young children will uphold these ideas unless they are offered alternatives. This means sharing the curriculum equally between male and female role models, science is male dominated, but it doesn’t have to be and there are many female role models from history and the present to start these discussions and inspire both boys and girls. Fairy tales can be re-written so the lessons and constructs within are positive for all of society. We must consider this, and especially with our youngest members of society. Female mental health issues are rising and the issues are coming into play early on in their lives. Discussions of who is better, boys or girls, are just the beginnings and if our schools can’t see this and act then what is the path to follow in this very scary forest?