Sunday, 4 September 2016

Getting it right for girls

Last week the EIS launched a report entitled ‘Getting it right for Girls’. This report shares findings about misogynistic attitudes in education and offers advice on how we, as an education system, can address this.

Misogyny, defined as -dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women - is influenced by factors such as the home environment, advertisement and the media. We have only to look at the recent media coverage of the Olympics to see misogyny in action, here. It is also true that there is a disproportionately low level of participation of women in public life and female politicians (and other prominent female figures) are routinely subjected to sexist comments in the press and via other media sources. I really liked to recent article in the Metro, here, which discussed Teresa May’s husband in the terms that are usually reserved for the female partner of a prominent male public figure. This piece perfectly highlights misogynistic reporting by the media.

The Legal Context

Misogyny can vary from overt sexual bullying to casual sexual comments or failing to conform to gender ‘norms’, which is often trivialised as humorous. The 2010 Equality Act identifies gender as a protected characteristic and as such schools and colleges are bound by the terms of the Public Sector Equality Duty, part of the 2010 Equality Act to;

·         eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation

·         promote equality of opportunity

·         remove or minimise disadvantages to meet the needs of the people from protected groups

·         encourage participation of protected groups

Misogyny should be challenged throughout the education system to modify behaviour and attitudes.

Misogynistic attitudes and behaviour

There are many types of misogynistic behaviours and attitudes all of which should be challenged. Some are developed in the home environment and through entrenched views, some are societal prejudices which are allowed to perpetuate and some are cultural. The following list in not exhaustive but gives some ideas of the daily prejudices against women;

·        Common use of misogynistic language such as ‘girly’ or overt sexualised and derogatory language

·        Dismissive or contemptuous attitudes towards females

·        Objectification of women and the use of social media to target sexual innuendo at females – which can be describes as bullying

·        Mockery and derision when women or girls adopt non stereotypical gender roles – this can leave the victim feeling rejected and the psychological effect can be long lasting

·        A double standard which criticises young girls who are sexually active

·        Physical violence is an extreme but commonplace expression of misogynistic attitudes, such as;

o   Physical, sexual or psychological violence

o   Sexual harassment or intimidation

o   Commercial sexual exploitation

o   Dowry related violence

o   Female genital mutilation

o   Forced or child marriages

o   Honour crimes

Gender pay gap

The effect of misogynistic attitudes and behaviours can be a significant hindrance to personal and social development. Statistically men are commonly the perpetrators and women and children more commonly the victims. Allowing the perpetration of dismissive, contemptuous attitudes towards women to go unchallenged can contribute to the persistence of the associated gender pay gap. The report shares a table of the percentage of male and female teachers in different roles (p10), below.

It is very interesting that Secondary, all grades is 63:37 (female to male) but secondary head teachers is the opposite proportion of 39:61 (female to male).


Changing attitudes and fostering community level intolerance and sanctions towards such misogynistic behaviour are required and all education establishments have a role to play in this.

Education establishments could;
·        Create a whole school policy with very precise language as to what is and is not acceptable

·        Have a school mission statement which safe guards against gender stereotyping

·        Have zero tolerance to misogynistic language and attitudes

·        Work with partners and support parents to tackle misogynistic language and attitudes

·        Considering how misogyny as gender stereotyping may impact on student subject choice and take steps to address this

·        Facilitate Equality and Diversity training for teachers which is linked to the values heralded in the Professional Standards and which underpins professionalism of teachers.

Misogyny has no place in the Scottish Education system or in society and is an issue that needs to be addressed. Education is well placed to move this agenda forward.  I recommend this report to you and you can access the whole report here.

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