SCHOOLS, especially single-sex schools, are notorious for reinforcing gender-normative behaviours, most of which have been passed down and practised for generations. From the way 'ladies' are supposed to sit, act, walk, dress and talk, to the selection of subjects that will make a boy be able to provide for his family as a man, the classroom is a microcosm of the kind of society of times past, which as adults many people work to change.
But sometimes that yearning to amend what has become known as “normal” comes too late, or is made impossible because ingrained gender roles and stereotypes narrow choices so much, that change is merely a desire that cannot be actioned.
We asked some readers, looking back, how were gender stereotypes reinforced in your school, that may have helped narrow your life choices?
Sandra, 50, chef:
Teaching only girls home economics is messed up. I know that back in my day girls did home economics and boys did mechanics, and that would have been an issue for any boy who wanted to be a chef or any girl who wanted to fix cars. I would have hoped that this had changed, but my grandson goes to a co-ed school, and wants to follow in my footsteps, but he was laughed at when he asked to do food and nutrition. These stereotypes were OK when I was a girl, but this is the year 2020, and schools still think that boys shouldn't be in the kitchen.
Jodiann, 22, researcher:
In HFLE (health and family life education) when we'd take the career-personality test, if you'd get realist (hands-on jobs) they would give you the particularly feminine jobs rather than the whole list. So they wouldn't give you carpenter, plumber, etc as options even though they fall into the category. I went to an all girls' school and nobody who graduated got any practical life skills, and the girls who acted more 'boyish', and would probably gravitate towards hands-on careers, were ostracised.
Marie, 27, architect:
At my school, we had to ask special permission and get special classes at another school to do technical drawing (TD). The boys got to do it from first form, while we had to ask to do it in fourth form. And luckily my school was 'enlightened' and I got to do it. I had other friends at other schools who are in my field, who had to do it in privately.
Julia, 23, counsellor:
They only teach about nuclear/Christian value-based families in home economics, HFLE and religious education. Our HFLE teacher spoke about virginity like it was the most valuable thing a woman can have — not her brains, her hymen! Luckily my group was more woke than she was, but can you imagine if we were more impressionable? We would all be married right out of high school and be sitting at home with 2.5 kids, while our husbands went out to work.
Crystal, 41, pharmacy tech:
I had a physics teacher who would always complain that girls shouldn't be doing physics, and he ruined the subject for me with his words. Initially I wanted to do engineering, but he would rant and rave each time he had to teach us, telling us that physics was a boys' subject. Needless to say, I tried, but found it too challenging, just like mathematics. It's years later now, when my teen daughter is doing the subject with a female teacher who is more sensible, that I realise how manageable physics actually is, with the right kind of support. And yes, I'm encouraging my daughter with her dream to become an aviation engineer.
Alyssa, 30, marketing executive:
There is still a lack of open-mindedness in topics about contraceptives and abortion today. This I know because my nieces are in high school, and these topics are still taboo, even though several girls have dropped out due to pregnancy. They reinforce the stereotype that good girls don't have sex and don't need birth control — to the girls' detriment.