Kate's Blog
News and views about Roamer and educational robotics

Subliminal Sexism

There is a twitter feed doing the rounds at the moment that is fascinating.  The male writer tells us that he and his wife deal with clients developing resumes  His wife is noticeably slower at getting to agreement with clients and his boss has urged him to keep on top of her for her timekeeping (husband is wife’s boss).  The husband, one day, was dealing with a client who was being particularly awkward.  He disagreed with husband’s assessment, told him he (client) was using industry standards when he wasn’t and questioned everything husband was saying.  Husband then noticed he had been using his wife’s signature at the bottom of the emails in error.  He immediately wrote saying he was taking over the account. The client’s attitude changed immediately and husband could now successfully get client to implement all the strategies he had previously suggested “as his wife” without a murmur of disagreement.  Husband asked wife if this happened all the time. “Not all the time” she responded,  but certainly some of it. They agreed to swap email signatures for a couple of weeks as an experiment.  Husband was staggered to find the amount of hurdles his wife had to jump to get clients to the same position he got them to in a couple of emails.  He was even more outraged to find that she just considered it part and parcel of the job.

Well, while I don’t feel that I have suffered in this way I have always been incredibly aware of the sexist undercurrents that operate in classrooms. I remember a conversation I had with some boys when I asked a couple of girls to move a table for me.  One of them laughed and said that that was a boy’s job. I told his I didn’t believe that it was.  Another said that surely I wasn’t going to say that girls were just as strong as boys.  I told him “No”, generally boys probably are physically stronger than girls.  But since a table wasn’t going to push anyone to the limits of their physical strength the girls could move it just as well as the boys.

But no matter how much we try to ensure no sexism on our part it doesn’t stop all the key roles within the class being dominated by the boys.  They are likely to take the positions of smartest student, stupidest student, class clown, sportiest student, loudest student… while most reliable student, most helpful student etc are roles taken by the girls.  It was for this reason I sent E to an all-girls secondary school.  I wanted her to be in a world where every formal and informal position whether it be of success or failure was taken by a female.  She was in a class where the brightest was a female, the wittiest was a female and, indeed, the strongest, was a female.  (At the same time I ensured she socialized with males – she was a Scout, swam with boys, trampolined with boys, so she didn’t miss out on their friendship and end up viewing them as an alien life form which, admittedly, can be a danger with single sex schools).

With all these subliminal  forces at work in the classroom, from the earliest age, we were determined that Roamer would show no gender bias.  We weren’t going to make it “cute” or even worse, pink and sparkly to attract girls to the traditionally male curriculum areas of Maths, Computing, Technology.  Dave designed it so that the child themselves can decide what Roamer should look like and change it accordingly.  They are empowered to make it their own – and that is all part of the learning process and part of the process of giving children control of their own learning and NOT part of any process that tells girls what they can and cannot do.

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