Gender Respect Project 2013-2016

Aiming to help children and young people to understand, question and challenge gender inequality and violence.


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Teacher Blog: Chella

periodpositive square jpgI’m an independent education researcher, comedian and designer with an MA in Education from Sheffield Hallam University, a PGCE in Drama and Media from Bretton Hall College and a BFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University. It’s been a real treat to be able to combine all my interests as part of the Gender Respect Project!

The research I undertook for my MA dissertation, Period Positive Schools, looked at ways that media literacy, art and drama could be used to challenge menstrual taboos in the classroom to support young people of all genders. It developed out of my comedy, art and fanzine project, Adventures in Menstruating, and continues as #periodpositive, in association with DECSY’s Gender Respect Project.

#periodpositive believes that menstruation education should be:

  • Free, unbranded, objective, inclusive of reusable’s (like menstrual cups and cloth pads), and easy to understand
  • Consistently taught by trained staff, factually accurate, up-to-date and well-researched, with learners’ needs in mind, and regularly evaluated with pupils and menstruation education practitioners, with excellent communication to other faculties, parents and community partners about the content of lessons
  • Able to scaffold and complement lessons on fertility, puberty and reproductive health, with an awareness of physiological differences and medical conditions related to reproductive health and healthy menstrual cycles as a vital sign
  • Supported more comprehensively across he curriculum, particularly in science and PSHE but also in media studies and design and technology
  • Aimed at different age groups, starting well before puberty (and ensuring to use the correct names for body parts, even with very young children) and revisited regularly
  • Inclusive of all genders, cultures, abilities and sexualities (the way all high quality SRE should be), with adapted resources where appropriate
  • Supportive of easy menstruation management in school and equipped to signpost diverse and effective ways of menstruation management in future

I’ve carried on my research with the support of colleagues from the Gender Respect Project, presented #periodpositive at the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference this past June, and have recently started working with some local youth homeless shelters. The research is based on a lot of awesome work that’s come before me – particularly the advertising research of Dr. Elizabeth Kissling (US) and the education research of Shirley Prendergast (UK). Some of the menstruation education lesson activities I’ve developed rely on drama techniques developed by Augusto Boal (Brazil) and Dorothy Heathcote (UK).

The most compelling bits of my research findings are the impact of advertising messages on the fears kids have reported about menstruation. Their concerns have been of shame, secrecy and leakage fear. There’s a history of language use and deliberate marketing in schools that demonstrates a clear link, and it all comes down to two things – secrecy-vs.-privacy, and shame. Privacy is fine – that’s a boundary you’re setting and it’s about safety, choice and consent. Secrecy, on the other hand, is not ok. Secrecy is someone else – whether that’s a parent, teacher, advertising message or society more generally – telling you that you need to be quiet about something – or that you need to do whatever it takes to make a part of you invisible. That’s no way to be, as anyone who experiences intersectional oppressions or whose gender identity, race or ethnicity, sexuality, or disability is not immediately apparent.

And that’s where shame comes in. No one has the right to imply that anyone’s identity, body, or bodily function (or dysfunction, for that matter) is shameful, makes people uncomfortable, or should be hidden or kept secret, and yet that is how menstruation education is most often approached (or avoided) in schools. By not taking more interest in the quality and purpose of the current menstruation education currently on offer in all but a handful of schools (and there are some where individual teachers are aiming to change this), there is a tacit complicity in the status quo, which #periodpositive serves to challenge.

The aim of #periodpositive is to serve as a benchmark for open and informed provision and information about menstruation and reproductive health, by anyone, in any country, but as a starting point, I’m focusing on UK settings that support young people.

I’ll be posting updates of my research throughout the Gender Respect Project, and sharing lesson resources. I’m also taking Adventures in Menstruating to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with the PBH Free Fringe.

For more information, please visit www.periodpositive.com, and check back here for updates in September.

 


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YES LET’S!

Thinking about how young children learn to 'do' boy or girl at the Gender Respect Residential.

Thinking about how young children learn to ‘do’ boy or girl at the Gender Respect Residential.

For the Powerpoint shown at the residential click: Project Powerpoint

Our project started with a residential weekend for all the teachers involved. Here Chella, one of our teachers, tells us about what they got up to.

Yes! Let’s!

Research Residential diary.

As one of the teachers selected to take part in this three-year research project, I was really excited that we’d be kickstarting it with a residential at Wortley Hall, just north of Sheffield – it’s been an amazing opportunity to get to know the other researchers and members of the steering committee, and to really immerse ourselves in the ethos of the project in some beautiful surroundings.

On the Friday evening, steering group member and experienced drama practitioner Heather Hunt started us off by leading us through some icebreaker activities during a walk through the grounds. We played ‘Yes! Let’s!, which is an improvisation warm up game all about making suggestions and enthusiastically accepting ideas from others. This activity paved the way for much trust and good will among the group.

The drama work continued that afternoon with a visit from the outstanding local theatre company, A Mind Apart, who used Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques to support the group to explore and reverse gender stereotypes in our own pasts and in our current classrooms. This was quite cathartic for those of us who addressed moments from our own schooling that had an impact on how gender stereotypes were modelled to us as children.

We rounded off the evening with a lively ‘nature or nurture’ debate using the Philosophy for Children format, and began to think about ideas for our initial action research.

On Saturday, we started getting to grips with some quite disheartening definitions of gendered violence and key data from the UN about girls’ experiences of violence both locally and globally. It really was valuable to have time away from school and the usual demands to really delve into this material with much support from DECSY’s Helen Griffin.

We felt empowered, though: the attitude of the game ‘Yes! Let’s!’ – of working together, taking the risk of trying out new ideas, and creating a safe space to share and contribute – was a brilliant and inspired way to begin this project – it’s the attitude that will sustain us while we carry out this research for the next three years.

Ultimately, that’s what we want young people to do. The ‘Yes! Let’s!’ attitude is one we hope to engender in our students, so they can take action and build momentum to challenge gender stereotypes, inequality, and violence and fully participate with us in the Gender Respect Project.

By Chella Quint