This is a list of recommended books put together from DECSY’s Resource Centre. I chose good quality books that related to gender equality in different ways. Most of the books challenge gender stereotyping in one way or another whether by offering alternative roles, jobs or behaviour. Some of the fiction books are chosen because of the strong central female character(s), many of them also reflect ethnic diversity or are set in countries of the global South. Biographies of famous women are included. It was harder to find books that portrayed alternative ways to be a boy or gender fluidity in general but these are included where they have been found. The recommended age groups are, of course approximate. There is a huge list of ‘girl-empowering’ books (and other media) on the American A Mighty Girl website although many of these are not available in the UK and have an obvious US bias. Please do get in touch if you have any other books to recommend.
Gender Respect Pupil Conference: What happened next
The four school council members who attended the pupil conference were buzzing on the train home to Barnsley. I wasn’t sure if this was just a feel good factor or a sustained desire to bring about a change.
You can see what they planned to do on this film from the pupil conference:
By Thursday of the following week, they were knocking on the nursery door with a list that they had already completed. They explained they had started a presentation, made a poster for around school, were working on leaflets and now needed our Headteacher to allocate a whole school assembly.
Our Headteacher was delighted and taken aback by their passion. He quickly provided a date for an assembly for them to work towards. Dearne FM, the local radio station, were at school the next day spreading the news about how eager the children were to address Gender Respect.
Today they were very professional, confident and worked clearly in a team to share the message to the rest of school. I’m delighted that the ‘pupil voice’ is now discussing more than dressing up days and fundraising and that children are supporting their own community by voicing their feelings and desires.
It was interesting that after numerous days working together, the boys didn’t show for one of the lunchtime sessions. The girls said that the boys had needed a day to play out and that they had let them. The boys in effect had left the girls to write and design so they could play out. However, the boys still wanted a say when it came to decision making.
It generated a discussion and I reminded them that we are all in it together with a shared responsibility. You cannot opt out and yet still want a say. They understood the message and recognised that sacrificing playing out is part of teamwork. They agreed that after the assembly they would meet one lunchtime a week.
They still have the passion for Gender Respect and I’m looking forward to seeing the impact across the school.
We were delighted to welcome 2 primary and 2 secondary schools to our Gender Respect Pupil Conference. The day started with introductions and some drama games. The first involved walking around the room ignoring one another, showing no respect to anyone. Gradually, the pupils were encouraged to show more and more respect to one another, ending in high fives and friendly hellos. The other game they enjoyed was acting out different careers, sports and household chores. One person stood in the centre e.g. doing the ironing, and someone asked them what they were doing, They responded by choosing a different action e.g. I’m washing the car. The pupils were very engaged in this activity and were especially keen on greyhound racing!
After the warm up, we split into primary and secondary workshops. Both workshops looked at these questions:
What is gender equality?
What can we do in our schools?
We came back together at the end of the day to share our thoughts and ideas. We were overwhelmed by the passion and enthusiasm these young people had and we’re really looking forward to hearing about how their projects are going.
In the secondary workshop pupils divided into two groups and drew life-size outlines of a male and a female. To begin with, they were asked to focus on the appearance of a ‘typical’ boy or girl, with clothes and accessories. After being asked to think about what a girl or boy might say, the ‘typical’ gender jobs and what a ‘typical’ boy or girl might think, the pupils began to think deeply about how these stereotypes might affect the way someone views themselves.
To enable them to think about the effects of stereotypes more specifically, they were asked to fill in a three-way table, thinking about how stereotypes affect a persons sense of self, a persons relationships and job prospects. A theme that was prominent in both group discussions was the idea of someone not being able to be who they truly are due to pressures from society;
‘They have to conform to society.’
‘Comparing yourself to friends.‘
‘You are always under pressure to maintain an appearance.’
‘Feel like they are putting on an act.’
‘Acting cocky to get noticed.’
They were then showed a video called ‘The Man Box’, which included quite a disturbing story, to which all the children watched in a very mature and respectful way. The children were asked to write down what the video made them think and feel, which included words such as disgusted, shocked, frustrated and angry.
From all the things that had been discussed throughout the day, the pupils were asked to reflect on gender respect problems within their schools and how to tackle them. One group in particular wanted sexism to be treated equally to racism within schools and the rest of society.
The children impressed me with their enthusiasm and passion for gender respect, as well as treating sensitive issues with maturity and regard. It was clear that this was an issue they really cared about and want to help tackle. The students said that they really enjoyed meeting other schools and learning from one another.
In the primary workshop, the pupils were shown a series of images and phrases showing stereotypical and non-stereotypical images of jobs, emotions and sports. They were asked to choose one that they felt interested in. We had some great discussions about women in the army, boys dancing, men and women playing football and boys crying. The phrase ‘You throw like a girl!’ proved to be an interesting one too, with one boy pointing out that this was a compliment as girls throw very well!
We then did a continuum line with ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ for the following statements:
‘Boys are embarrassed to do dance.’
‘Boys are all good at DIY.’
There was an interesting gender split with the dance, with the boys saying that they would not be embarrassed to do dance. The general feeling about DIY was that some boys are good at DIY but some certainly are not!
Next we thought about what was good about being a boy/girl/either. Here are some of their thoughts:
Girls: dance, being smart, people don’t judge you when you cry, you can wear trousers and skirts.
Boys: Straightforward, self-confident, being smart, dance, nerd, exercise, maths.
Either: long and short hair, ability to do sport, sensible, make up.
We discussed the pressures and difficulties of being a boy/girl and wrote them on post it notes around an outline of a body. These included;
‘Boys get teased for dancing.’
‘It’s harder for girls to do football because they’re not as good as boys.’
‘Girls should get the right amount of money for doing the same job.’
‘Some boys think that they’re superior to everyone else.’
‘Boys find it hard to cry in front of other people.’
‘In other countries, boys go to school and girls have to stay at home and work.’
They then ranked these pressures from most to least important, using a diamond 9 shape.
Using these ideas, the pupils worked with their schools to create an action plan of something that they felt needed addressing in school. 2 groups wished to create a play to act out in assembly, looking at respect for one another and challenging teasing. The 3rd group wished to organise a dance competition to encourage more boys to have a go at dance. We look forward to hearing about the success of their ideas.
Comments from the teachers:
‘The day was a great opportunity for children to meet others from different schools and outside the authority of Sheffield. They didn’t know each other and yet soon started to share their ideas. The performances/ presentations were meaningful and pupil led. Our school council members have also chosen to be ambassadors and wish to champion respect for the school. They want to address attitudes they see towards female dinner staff from children and also encourage other pupils to challenge controlling behaviour when a child is told by another child they can’t join in because of gender, race or age. They want to start with an assembly and posters and will meet weekly. It was interesting that they choose an area in which staff at school have previously discussed but haven’t had an opportunity to raise with the children. I feel that they can have a real impact with this work.’
‘I found the day really exciting as the children were so interested and had such good ideas. It gave me lots of hope for good things happening in the next generation and I can’t wait to hear what happens in the schools.’
Kathryn and Heather ran a Gender Respect workshop at the CRESST conference for peer mediators on 7th January, 2016. We ran the workshop 3 times with 3 different groups of children in Y5 and Y6 from 10 schools in South Yorkshire.
Our aims were:
- Explore what it’s like to be a boy or a girl in South Yorkshire
- Identify attitudes we have about boys and girls
- Think as peer mediators how we can make it fairer.
We used the same images of sports, careers and emotions that we had used in the scoping study as stimulus for discussions. We used continuum lines with agree and disagree about a view or attitude that emerged to generate further thought and discussion.
These are some of the attitudes that we drew out from the lively discussions:
- Many girls want to play football at play time but don’t because boys are too rough.
- When we asked boys ‘Is this true?’ some replied ‘Yes, because we’re more competitive than girls.’
- Football is a boys’ sport. Boys are tough and can be aggressive.
- Girls are not as good at sport.
- Girls can be stronger than boys and they can play football as well as boys.
- Some boys like dancing and are good at it.
- Boys can be embarrassed to be friends with a girl.
- Some schools had girls only football at play time. Other girls said they did not want this. They wanted to play with boys but for boys not to be so rough and obey the rules.
Strong views were expressed about equality, that men and women should be able to do every job.
- Boys and girls can do every job.
- It’s good to see a woman pilot and men looking after children.
- Usually women do childcare. They have carried the baby so they are more in touch. However, men can look after children too.
- Comparisons with the past. Men used to go out to work and women stayed at home. Now more women go out to work.
- You sometimes see women being angry, but they’ve got good reasons to be angry. They do not get equal pay and are often treated unfairly and not with respect.
- It’s unusual to see men cry but they all agreed that it’s acceptable for them to cry.
- Boys and men act really tough. If they cry, they think they’ll look weak.
We asked the children: ‘If you had super magical powers and had one wish, to make things fairer and kinder between men and women, girls and boys what would that be?’
- Girls and boys can play together
- Don’t judge people by if they’re black or white
- Girls are the same as boys and everyone is treated fairly
- Girls and boys are in the same team in any sport
- Make girls confident to do sports
- Make more jobs accessible to different genders
- Freedom of choice
- Change attitudes
- To make sure men and women get treated equally and have the same rights
- Boys and girls shouldn’t judge each other by what they look like
- Everyone having the same opportunities
- That men and women should share their feelings
- To make every man, woman and child get along so everyone should stop bombing and attacking people.
- For people to aim for their dreams
Finally, we asked them ‘As a peer mediator, what could you do to make it fairer?’
- Talk to the school in an assembly, about genders getting along with being friends and making sure you are able to do what you want to do. E.g. being able to play football if you are a girl.
- Don’t judge a book by its cover
- To make sure you’re not taking sides
- Don’t judge people by their gender
- Giving people the opportunity to play
- Make girls try to play sport and not make boys make fun of them
- Play together fairly. Treat people respectfully. Practise together.
- Collaborate more
- Listen to other people’s opinion
- Encourage people to believe in themselves and do what they want with their life
- Use encouragement to build their confidence
- Make a rota (that’s clear) for girl’s football on a certain day, same with boys, ‘We have a rota but whenever I look at the football pitch and there are always boys, the same boys.’
We really enjoyed the workshops and felt very encouraged by the opinions of the young people. We realised we had the benefit of being with a selected group of hand-picked 10 and 11 year olds, trained in listening and mediation. The children were forthcoming in their views and able to discuss their differences. They had strongly held views about the importance of equality – between men and women, boys and girls, black and white. This held true for occupations, emotions and relationships. We were very interested to hear that some girls and boys did not like the banter about ‘Girls are best. No! Boys are best.’ which they said was very prevalent in their schools. ‘Because we are all human beings. We want to be treated like human beings.’ However, in the everyday experience of playground football, girls expressed their reality of exclusion. This held true across all 10 schools represented. It may be boys had not heard this before and discussions like this could make a difference, especially as peer mediators are mostly engaged because of conflicts at play times. However, some boys’ view that they were more competitive than girls seemed insightful, and may reflect an underlying culture.
Thoughts for the future of the Gender Respect project: We were encouraged that some children spontaneously suggested holding an assembly on gender equality. We hope their teachers will be able to support them in this. This idea may be developed at the young people’s conference later this month. All the children said they would love to come to a Gender Respect student conference if there was one in the future.
As a school, we knew that our SRE policy was becoming a little out of date and needed refreshing. The first thing that we did was to rename it so that it is now called RSE, with the emphasis on the relationship aspect. Although it is only a subtle change, the response from other teachers has been amazing! It’s the sort of thing that makes you ask why you never did it sooner. By simply swapping two letters, we’re now saying that we’re going to be learning about how we relate to one another; what it means to be in a relationship; how we treat others, and yes, an element of what we’ll be learning about is sex, but as part of a relationship centred around love and respect. The idea has gone down well.
In addition, we decided to restructure what each year group will cover. Being an academy allows us some flexibility with this. Beforehand, I picked the brains of some of the members of the Gender Respect Project for ideas and then sat down to map out our RSE overview. The new curriculum took shape and is now part of our policy. In brief, we begin in Y1 with a focus on naming parts of the body that can be seen on a clothed person e.g, head, hands, arms, legs, etc. During Y2 children are learning about the life cycles of animals. In Y3 and Y4 children use PHSE / P4C sessions to explore the concept of consent. This is a new addition to our curriculum and aims to bring awareness of valuing another person’s personal space, that nobody has a right to invade it in any way. Clearly, this is not a session in sexual consent – the children are too young to be discussing that – however, it does lay some foundations for such discussions at secondary school. Moving into Y5, children learn about the content associated with a typical SRE curriculum: puberty, menstruation, reproduction, etc. Formally, this had usually been taught in Y6, but we chose to move it so that the Y6 could focus on more thought provoking issues such as relationships and families, name calling, body image, bullying and self-esteem. This is also a new addition to our RSE curriculum, but an element that some would argue is the most important of all.
We have yet to try out our new structure. As I write this, letters have been sent to parents informing them of our changes and we have invited them to take a copy of our policy and / or attend a Q and A meeting to address any concerns. To date, (over a week since the letters went out), only one parent has responded and has asked to see the policy. The rest seem satisfied. I might be speaking too soon, but early indicators suggest the idea is popular with parents too. Maybe there is a collective understanding that to live happily alongside others in our modern day society, we need to dedicate time to learning about the values promoted by the Gender Respect Project. Let’s hope so!
Update: The policy has now been adopted by the school and a copy can be found here: Relationships and Sex Education overview