The findings of the report are dismaying, if not altogether surprising. It states: “A number of large scale surveys find girls and young women consistently reporting high levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence in school.”
According to Tory MP Karl McCartney, UK schools need to spend more time celebrating the traditional masculine roles that men were “born to do.” As a mother of school-age boys, I’m obviously very concerned about this. Does my sons’ school offer lessons in manliness? If not, how can I be sure they won’t mistakenly end up doing things women are “born to do,” such as hoovering, ironing and remembering to send birthday cards?
Not only that, but how can I be sure that girls – any girls, I don’t care which – won’t get better exam results than my brilliant boys? This stuff keeps me awake at night (this, and fuming over white male MPs standing up in parliament to complain about the “shrill equal pay brigade,” but best not to dwell on that now).
There’s a long history of boys underperforming, by which we mean “not doing as well as girls.” The assumption is that boys should naturally be doing as well as their female contemporaries. This is not an idea of equality we apply to all areas of achievement. We do not, for instance, talk about women “underperforming” at sports. We do not insist that men have no innate physical advantage (something that would be quite obvious were the Olympic 100m sprint to be replaced with competitive menstrual bleeding or breastmilk squirting). Yet we refuse to accept that girls could just be better at certain academic subjects. Of course not. There must be something wrong with the way these subjects are being taught.
As Paris Lees once wisely observed, “sexism didn’t disappear when women started wearing trousers.” This is sad but true. Trousers, while a practical item of clothing, have not yet brought an end to sexual violence, reproductive coercion or the male appropriation of female labour and resources. Depressing though this is, there is one glimmer of hope. What if, argues Lees, men were allowed to “adopt feminine styles”? Perhaps that’s what’s been missing all along. It’s not that men benefit from male supremacy; they just haven’t discovered the joys of a nice tea dress or a fetching pair of kitten heels.
I am all for clothing equality. Being 5’1” with an ample chest, I never shop in menswear sections myself, but have always felt the strict divisions in terms of styles – in particular, the prohibition on men wearing skirts or dresses – to be arbitrary and wrong. It is a means of reinforcing the belief that the social and psychological differences between men and women are far greater than those between women and other women and men and other men. While women, having fought for their trouser-wearing rights, are now permitted (in most countries, at least) to emulate the dress sense of the dominant class, for most men, “women’s clothing” remains off-limits. Even the comedian Eddie Izzard, who once said of his wardrobe “they’re not women’s clothes, they’re my clothes, I bought them,” has since backtracked, now describing himself as “somewhat boyish and somewhat girlish” (despite being 54).
When it comes to children’s clothing, the differences are even more stark and ridiculous. Apart from the obvious, the bodies of pre-pubescent boys and girls are not significantly different, so it is not as though shape and size can even be said to be a factor. But enter any children’s clothing department, and you will find the flowery pink-for-girls, rough-and-tumble blue-for-boys stereotyping impossible to avoid.
Privilege is a very complicated thing, as privately educated white men know only too well. No one gets to choose who their parents are, not even people whose parents happen to be extremely rich. Hence it would be terribly unfair to judge a child on the basis of which school they attended. We should all aspire to be class-blind, even those whose inferior education has made them less likely to hold opinions that matter anyhow.
Thus it is with horror that many have received Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock’s suggestion that companies should ask job applicants whether or not they went to a private school in order to “develop a national measure for social mobility”.
Quite how such a measure will counteract the UK’s horrifying gap between rich and poor is unclear, but it is enough to strike fear into the heart of every defender of those great British values: meritocracy and fair play.
According to the Telegraph’s Charles Moore, Hancock “is trying to impose . . . systematic bias in employment”:
“Instead of employers working out who is the best candidate for the job, he is trying to conscript them into his babyish attempt at class war.”
Meanwhile, Lord Waldegrave, a former Conservative minister, now Provost of Eton, has threatened to resign from the party over the proposal, describing it as, “quite wrong to punish children for decisions taken by their parents, and to run the risk of choosing crucial public service jobs not on the basis of merit but of social engineering”.
Who wears the trousers in your relationship? In my case, it’s definitely my partner. I’ve always been a skirt and dress person. Unnecessary cloth-based leg separation just isn’t my thing.
Nonetheless, while I question both the practical and stylistic merits of trousers and shorts, I will defend to the death the right of other women to make their own sartorial choices. For this reason I am broadly in favour of Trousers for All, a UK-wide group campaigning to give girls the option of wearing trousers as part of their school uniform.
While most schools already permit this, there remain a number who do not. This week, as part of The University of Manchester’s social justice festival JustFest, academics Dr Katia Chornik and Professor Claire Hale will argue that this is in breach of the Department of Education’s School Uniform document and The Equality Act 2010. “Both documents,” says Chornik, “emphasise the need to avoid uniforms which are expensive and which treat one sex less favourably than the other. In our view the practice of banning trousers for girls is gender discrimination and prejudice against females.” But is it really?
The education secretary Nicky Morgan is proposing a “curriculum for life” to help young people deal with what the Guardian calls “modern social issues brought on by the internet age.” These are, we are led to believe, new issues. Brand new, never-been-seen-before, state-of-the-art sources of teenage angst, such as sexting and revenge porn.
True, there was nothing like that in my day. We just had boring, hands-on sexism – sorry, did I just say sexism? It seems we’re not supposed to mention that. It might be the driving force behind this particular misuse of communication technology but no one seems willing to say. Looking for a hierarchy? Nothing to see here. We are meant to think this stuff is just happening at random because “modern times.” There’s no link between rampant individualism and Tory policies, and absolutely no connection between a form of abuse which targets women in particular and sexism at large. It’s just that smartphones were invented before we had time to work out what to do with them. Right? Or are we just finding another way to talk around misogyny because to actually confront it would be more than we could bear?
Morgan mentions NSPCC research showing that “six in 10 teenagers have been asked for sexual images or videos online.” What she does not mention is the very clearly gendered nature of the NSPCC findings. Indeed, the researchers explicitly state that “no understanding of sexting would be complete without an appreciation of the extent to which an often completely normalised sexism constitutes the context for all relationships–both on and off-line”:
As researchers going into the schools to meet with young people, we were distressed by the levels of sexist abuse and physical harassment–even violence–to which the girls were subject on a regular basis. […] Perhaps the broadest level at which sexism operates in the young people’s lives is to be found in the deeply rooted notion that girls and young women’s bodies are somehow the property of boys and young men.
This is not some gender neutral trend. It is young men seeking to claim ownership of young women’s bodies. What’s more, this is nothing mordern at all.
It is utterly pointless to talk in vague terms, as Morgan does, about “peer pressure or coercion” (pressure from whom? who is being coerced?). Pointless, too, to suggest that “the internet and the advance of the digital age […] bring new pressures”; what they bring are new weapons for men to use in their age-old war on women. You can complain about the weapons, sure, but it’s a morally vacuous complaint if you’ve no interest in ending the actual war. Continue reading →
The reason for my conversion is a school inspection. 100 years ago people in the small village where I work wanted their kids to be educated. Passionately, desperately wanted them to be educated. And the landowners, who were exploitative patronising rentiers but not yet living in an age where they were convinced this was just because they had worked a bit harder at uni, felt they ought to help out a bit. And everyone came together under the one organisation that had united them for generations, and they founded a Church of England school for a village that chose Christianity in the same way it chose breathing. And across the country people did the same. And as a whole it was probably the greatest, most positively transformative charitable act in English history. And because of that act of charity, the Anglican Church Inspectors came, saw and reported.
Since this is education in 2014, though, they didn’t just look at whether the school delivers what those original founders would have wanted. Instead we had to show a Distinctive Christian Character ™. School needed to be saturated with that character, values and prayer boards all around. And, evidence was needed that our DCC produced improved standards. Which is why I found myself trying to explain how it Christianity (not God, the inspection doesn’t quite demand that) had improved our maths results. And so the original breath-taking act of redemptive charity led 100 years later into a neo-liberal hell where choice and brand is key, and where performance related pay rules: if this school has the added value of being Christian and is supported by the Church, then the Church has the right to ask how that support adds value to anything and everything. Continue reading →
It was the lovely Mark Steele who pointed out that, when it comes to spending money, it’s the poor who have all the choices, “swanning around in charity shop cardigans and galavanting on shopping expeditions like the women in Sex and the City, squealing ‘Hey let’s go to Poundland and buy a dishcloth’, in ways the rich can barely dream of”. Meanwhile wealthy people like James “I’m not a rich person” Delingpole are scrimping and saving in order to give their offspring the same pricey schooling they received. No Poundland dishcloths, charity shop cardigans or, um, skiing holidays for him. Instead, it’s school fees all the way and what’s more, according to the chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, wonderful parents such as him are made to feel like “social lepers”.
I could have done the decent thing and used my earnings to help drive up property prices in a good state-school catchment area; or I could be splurging the same amount of dosh on an annual skiing holiday, a safari and a lease on that nice, chunky Range Rover I’ve always coveted. But instead, miserable, selfish bastard that I am, I’ve chosen to squander my money on my children’s education. What kind of monster must I be?
What kind indeed? In his view, “a loving, caring sort of monster”. In mine, just a rich one, no better nor worse than anyone else, were it not for his truly monstrous dishonestly regarding the broader inequalities in play. Continue reading →
I am the mother of two boys. I know I’m not perfect but I do try to be a good parent. Unfortunately it appears that for the past five years I have been remiss. I have failed to “channel” my sons’ boisterousness.
According to James Delingpole – now the Ross Kemp of posh rightwing journalism – “we seem to have forgotten that boys will be boys”. I for one am guilty of this. I look at my boys and think “they’re boys”. But rarely do I go on to conclude “and thus they will be boys”. This might sound like a minor omission but it’s not. What it actually means – and this is a serious fact, because the Telegraph says so – is that they’ll grow up to beat the shit out of other boys. And possibly also girls. And maybe even household pets. Basically, because my boys have not been allowed to “be boys” (as defined by the Victor Book for Boys circa 1964) they will grow up to be violent hooligans as opposed to men of courage – the kind of men who win wars, slaughter beasts and present Top Gear. Continue reading →
I wrote this post in a fit of rage-fuelled inspiration. Only kidding. I am, after all, a mere woman. What I actually did was take hours, nay, days to plod diligently through several drafts, listening to the creaks and groans of the slow-moving cogs that drive the female brain. Hopefully it’s therefore an okay piece. I mean, I’ve tried my best. What more can we women do, given that pure unadulterated genius – or failing that, just the ability to think quickly – is way beyond our reach?
I am a well-educated person – possibly over-educated, given that a) I’m a woman and b) I have kids. I have lots of qualifications, partly due to my class background, partly due to luck – but mostly, it could be argued, due to fortunate timing. After all, I took my GCSEs in 1991, only shortly after the introduction of the exam. As we all know, GCSEs favour girls. Had I been born a few years earlier I’d have had to take O-levels and we all know that boys, being innately clever as opposed to innately arsed to do coursework, consistently outperformed girls when it came to these. We all know that, and yet it’s actually total bollocks. Continue reading →
My son, currently in Year One, is studying the Norman Conquest, or “knights and castles” as it’s been sold to him. He understands the dating and knows that 1066 was nearly a thousand years ago, before even Mummy was alive. He has a basic grasp of the chronology (“Edward, Harold, William – who was a baddie ‘cause he wasn’t Anglo-Saxon, then a goodie ‘cause he won”). There are bits and bobs he still misses , but it’s understandable at that age. For instance, he thinks women and girls didn’t exist (“because knights and princes and soldiers and kings were all men, Mummy!”). That’s okay, right? It’s perfectly possible to have a reading of the past that obliterates half of humanity, isn’t it? After all, my little boy’s only five (don’t worry, I’ll get him to read some Caitlin Moran when he’s older, then he’ll realise we women were just all busy suffering from cystitis). Continue reading →
There is a simple reason why some of the best private schools, and some of the best state schools too, focus on developing a young person’s whole potential. It’s because it prepares them for the future.
So says Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary. And who can argue with that? Well, I can, for starters. I’ve nothing against developing potential in the young and preparing them for the future. Nor do I mind teachers playing a part in this. All the same, I suspect my understanding of “potential” and “preparation for the future” isn’t necessarily the same as Twigg’s. Continue reading →
Dear state school pupils with aspirations to go on to higher education
I am sorry, for I have failed you. You may be blaming tuition fees, or unpaid internships, or the loss of EMA for ruining your prospects, but actually it’s me and others of my ilk. For I, a fellow state school pupil, had opportunities, great opportunities, and I wasted them, and now everyone thinks you’re rubbish as a result.
We are led to believe that this country is run by a cabal of Oxbridge graduates who dominate politics, law, business and the media — and it is. All the same, I am an Oxbridge graduate. I’ve done both the Ox (BA) and the –bridge (PhD). So really I ought to be pretty damn powerful, with lots and lots of money. Alas, I’m not. I’ve always assumed it’s because, from a position of privilege, I’ve been able to make choices and money and power weren’t my priorities. Turns out I got it wrong. It’s because of the school I went to. I mean, it wasn’t a bad school. It was actually a pretty nice grammar school but still, it was hardly Cheltenham Ladies College, and that matters, you see. That’s why I lack the “soft skills” necessary to succeed. It’s also why everyone thinks that you do, too. Continue reading →
On New Year’s Eve my family and I sat watching the BBC’s review of the year. In between resigned mumblings about how we were all “too old for this” and my mother’s general tuttings at people having done stuff of import without having consulted her first, my partner and I noted some glaring omissions. Yes, it’s all very well to get excited about London 2012, the US elections and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. But what about my partner starting his new job? And our three-year-old getting potty trained in record time? These – alongside our five-year-old getting a speaking part in the school nativity play – have been the key events of our year.
Media narratives are always shamefully selective, aren’t they? I’ve never forgiven Channel 4 News for not mentioning the death of Hollyoaks’ Dan Hunter in 2004, despite the fact that the headlines came on immediately after we’d watched the horror on Debbie Dean’s face as Dan’s rally car exploded. Seriously, priorities, people! If you’re wondering why viewers switch off, look no further. If we can’t see a narrative that’s relevant to us then the whole thing is pointless. Continue reading →
During her speech at last week’s Girls’ School Association conference, GSA president Louise Robinson criticised the government’s policy of encouraging independent schools to sponsor academies. To her it was “beyond the pale” that those middle-class parents struggling to pay ever-increasing fees should have to witness “[her] school offer its expertise and experience to parents who could have sent their children to [her] school, but chose not to”. I find her choice of words fascinating. Isn’t it odd to view specific educational benefits as USPs sold to parents rather than ways to enrich children’s lives? Nowhere are learners – neither Robinson’s own charges nor those in the hands of what she describes as “the local competition” – so much as mentioned. Whatever happened to at least pretending to care about the greater good? Isn’t that also a USP, and one which has served the private sector well? And yes, Robinson didn’t just come right out and say “we’re a business, not a charity”, but that’s what it sounds like. Continue reading →
According to James Dyson the British are turning their backs on the things that once made them wealthy by studying humanities instead of science and technology. I reckon he’s onto something. Take me, for instance. I’m British. I have a BA in languages, an MPhil in European Literature and a PhD in German and I’ve never invented a single piece of useful household equipment in my life. I haven’t even had anything accepted by Take A Break’s Brainwaves Roadshow. And yes, it’s not very scientific to draw conclusions from just one example but I’m not very scientific. That’s the whole problem.
Dyson is worried, not just about getting vacuum cleaners around troublesome corners, but about the whole future of our nation: Continue reading →
I am a middle-class mother of two, educated to PhD level. I work in an education industry. You’d think that when it comes to my own kids, I’d be hothousing like mad. Nonetheless, when it comes to sending them to school, I can’t help feeling I have let them down. I mean, I send them (the eldest one, at least – the other’s still too little). And I help them with their reading and whatnot. But so far I have singularly failed to do any of the following things:
save enough money for an emergency private school fund
make a tactical home purchase in a sought-after catchment area
pretend to be a Christian in order to get my sons into the voluntary-aided “outstanding” school down the road (which is actually closer than the school Eldest ended up in)
The last of these things is partly down to laziness, partly down to a desire not to be a hypocrite (and okay, a teeny bit down to the fear that if God does exist, namedropping Him in order to get a school place might make him rather wrathful come Judgement Day). The first two are down to money. I don’t have enough cash to play the system. So I get to keep my principles, but only because I’m too skint to sell out. Continue reading →
I am a feminist. I am also a miserable sod. Usually I assume these two things to be only loosely related, but perhaps I’m wrong. In any case, I’m blaming the menz.
I’m not a sociology teacher. I don’t know how you’d teach a Key Stage 5 sociology course. I am, however, quite surprised to learn that in some places it is being done through the medium of 1970s stereotypes (my own specialism is in languages, hence I eagerly await the day when intercultural understanding is covered by “French people wear ONIONS round their NECKS” and “TWO world wars AND one world cup” – no idea what’s going on with the capitals there, but if it’s THE latest thing in pedagogy, I’m going WITH the FLOW). Continue reading →
Imagine being so much of a loser that you get out a biro and write the word “winner” on your hand, in a desperate attempt to suppress the knowledge of just how how pathetic you are. Imagine being so confused and distracted sexually that you consider watching your fave non-sexual TV programmes – say, Holby City, or perhaps the footie – the perfect accompaniment to orgasm. Imagine taking a photo of a faceless woman giving you a blowjob and tweeting it to 23,000 laddish followers, just so they can raise a glass at your cock being sucked since that’s sure as hell not happening to them. Imagine then then following this up with random tweets offering “respect” to dead soldiers and kids in wheelchairs, just to demonstrate that deep down, you adhere to a mawkish, sentimental “I love ya, bro” code of ethics straight out of a Carlsberg ad. Imagine … Actually, I have no idea why I am asking you to imagine any of this. It’s bad enough that so many lonely male students apparently aspire to live it. Continue reading →
At 9am this morning I found myself in a meeting where it transpired that I was expected to have already trawled through the DfE’s Reforming Key Stage 4 Qualifications consultation document. Due to unforeseen circumstances (otherwise known as blogging about bitchy feminists) I, um, hadn’t. It didn’t matter though. I managed to wing it. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what EBCs are (hell, I could do it and I don’t even have O-levels). Besides, reading the document in advance would have just been cheating, rather like using “source materials” as an “examination aid” while sitting a history paper (I do, by the way, look forward to future history questions: What does the artist in this cartoon – the one which you’re not allowed to see – wish to suggest about Disraeli’s foreign policy? Failure to happen to imagine the correct cartoon will result in no marks.) Continue reading →