This really interesting article was posted on the Huffington Post the other day. This article, which you can read in full here, discusses how many schools in India are implementing gender studies classes at public schools across India, thanks to cooperation between the Indian government and advocacy organizations. The goal of this, according to the organizers of these programs, is to get students thinking hard about how gender roles affect them and make some changes for the better. Maybe even bring down the  rates of domestic violence.

And so far the programs seem to be working, according to 15-year-old Shakir Parvez Shaikh:

“We talk about how boys and girls are equal as human beings, but how we treat girls differently,” he told Reuters. “For example, girls are not allowed to play cricket or watch as much television as boys because they have to do housework or because it is not safe outside for them. I didn’t realize before … I think it’s unfair.”

A lot of activists see these programs as one answer to a very sad problem. According to the National Crime Record Bureau,  India saw a nearly 27 percent rise in 2013 in reported gender violence, including rape, sexual harassment, and other related crimes. And for many the 2012 gang rape and murder of a woman on a bus in India is still pretty fresh in their minds. This has helped to spur the creation of these programs, which might help today’s youth see things in a different perspective and cut down on instances of institutionalized sexism, gender discrimination, and domestic violence.

When I read this article, two thoughts went through my mind. The first was that it was good that so many teens, boys and girls, were being exposed to these classes. With statistics like the ones cited above, these programs could bring down that rate significantly and help to foster a more egalitarian society. And then I thought, “Why can’t we have that here in the United States?”

And then I marveled at how we didn’t have any of those programs in the United States. Generally speaking, gender studies courses are normally only taught at the university level, which means that students might never be exposed to these ideas in the midst of taking science and literature courses. The concepts of feminism and gender equality do sometimes come up in high school or middle school settings, but they are usually in the backdrop of English literature or history classes, and they may not always be given the attention they deserve.

Current statistics suggest that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be victims of sexual assault, though those numbers may be potentially higher due to under-reported. Women still earn only 70 cents for every dollar a man earns, and in fields such as business, politics or STEM, women may face people who believe that women aren’t suited to those fields, that they are only promoted due to their looks or sex rather than their ability, and trying to be assertive is considered “bitchy”. On the flip side, men frequently under-report domestic or sexual abuse and are expected to be tough, virile and sometimes violent to show their masculinity. If you aren’t those, if you’re not depositing your DNA in as many women as possible, then you’re seen as less as a  men, something I see as absurd.

All these reasons and more are why perhaps gender studies courses should be taught in middle and high schools in America. Getting today’s teenagers to engage in these issues may bring down rates of domestic violence, reduce sexism in the workplace, and perhaps get Americans to stop treating the word “feminism” like a swear word. It seems to be working in India anyway, so why not try it over here in the States?

What would it take to get such a program in schools?

Now, I’m no teacher or education major and my formal training in gender studies consists of one class in my first term here at Ohio State (though I’ve informally found ways to expand my training). But even if I’m not, that doesn’t mean I can’t at least get the ball rolling or start a conversation. So tell me, if you’re reading this, have a background in education, gender studies, or anything else that could possibly relate to this, what would it take to create these sort of programs and implement them in a school system? What sort of course materials would be needed? And what sort of obstacles would such a program face? I’d love to hear what you have to say, as well as your thoughts on what I’m suggesting and if it’s at all possible.*

I know that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to change society rapidly or get rid of a prejudice or stereotype. But at the very least that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If anything, it means we should try harder to eliminate it, looking at every available option. And perhaps this can be one of them.

*However, if you use the comments section to be hateful or say really mean things, I will not approve the comments. We don’t need any of that here on this blog. I’ve already gotten plenty of that from Second Amendment and anti-circumcision advocates. Not really interested in seeing that again.

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Comments
  1. Courtney Gehres says:

    I recommend you to try to become a teacher sometime. This is the last of the worries of the school. You also have to realize that there can be problems if a parent’s child does not want to be taught about this. Also, there is the standardized test that everyone NEEDS to be worried about in the school system. This is too far out of the way for the school today. Sorry, but this is the truth.

    • While I do admit that you have a point, Courtney, there are some things that I take issue with. First, I think many educators would care a lot more about students getting along with each other, and would like to nip in the bud any situations that could create tension or discord between students. This includes anything along gender lines.

      Second, I do think that some standardized tests are more problematic than helpful. And if schools pay so much for electives, why can’t they include a gender studies elective? It wouldn’t be required, but it might be a good start and a step in the right direction.

      And if parents object to this sort of class, that’s their call. They can get an exemption. But finding a reason for an exemption is difficult. You might be able to claim a religious reason, but that has consequences of reflecting badly on anyone who claims that. And the whole “teaching man-hating” worry is utterly ridiculous.

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