Removing gender stereotypes to achieve gender equality starts in the classroom
The organizers for the San Luis Obispo Women’s March originally estimated a few hundred supporters would gather in tandem with the Washington D.C. protest on Saturday, Jan. 21. Instead, over 10,000 gender equality supporters gathered at Mitchell Park in SLO for a non-partisan, non-violent demonstration with the hope of reaffirming that women’s rights are human rights. Other declarations, such as undocumented worker rights, signs denouncing the new administration, and environmental protection, poked skyward. The one mile route was filled with men, women, children, and even dogs marching in unison. Protesters clutched signs, snapped photographs, and chanted mottos, such as “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” and “Women’s rights are human rights!”
The Women’s March was one of the largest peaceful one-day demonstrations ever, according to U.S. Uncut. With an increase in societal pressure to grant women equal rights, coupled with the worldwide protests for immigrants’ rights, gender equality is at the forefront of the fight for human rights.
In October 2015, California passed one of the strictest laws in the country combating the gender gap where for every one dollar a man earns, women earn a measly 84 cents. Long gone are the days where only men “put the food on the table” and women could be fired from their job because of pregnancy. These outdated values are replaced in this modern era where women demand equal pay and treatment in the workplace.
“Gender equality to me is when both men and women are not oppressed by society’s labels and tradition of gender roles. It’s not about putting men down, which sadly people judge the word feminism by that. It is about recognizing the injustices due to gender and if we are aware of it, then we can make change,” said senior Madison Owens, a feminist who attended the Women’s March in SLO.
Schools, lawmakers, and employers are mobilizing in favor of gender equality. This includes public acceptance for women’s opportunities to excel in job placement and promotions without fear of ridicule in the workplace, as well as the ability for men to publicly express emotions without fear of humiliation. In particular, the classroom is the ideal setting and teachers are often mentors who encourage students to form their own opinions about what gender equality means to them: stereotypes, common phrases the deepen the divide, and possible solutions are topics to discuss. School gender bias occurs threefold: unspoken stereotypes continue to discourage girls from taking STEM classes, cultural norms encourage male dominance in society, and educational interactions may unknowingly reflect these biases, according to Boundless.
Daily ways to achieve full equality in the classroom include diversifying job titles, asking females to participate in male dominated events, and addressing issues that crop up when students show gender stereotypical behavior.
“I definitely have more females than males in my floral design class…If you look at that as far as what society perceives those courses to be or what’s accepted socially, that feeds into that gender [inequality]. I don’t say ‘You can’t sign up for my class’. I want anybody who wants to take my floral class to take that class. In class, I treat everybody equal,” said floral and horticulture teacher Theresa Clark, who added that in her class, a student’s ability to design is focused on rather than a student’s gender.
However, gender equality shown in the classroom stretches far beyond the school day. Understanding the origins of inequality is key to combating it; slang and pop culture are just two examples of stimuli that encourage inequality.
Statements such as “You throw like a girl”, “You cry like a little girl”, and even saying “Man up”, which subconsciously connects a man with strength and a women with weakness, contribute to girls thinking they are less worthy than their male counterparts. Popular rap songs often degrade women using vulgar language; celebrities such as The Weeknd, Drake, and Jay-Z are pop culture symbols of misogyny. Lyrics contain offensive language calling women derogatory names and explicit acts are proliferate, and yet the singer’s face little to no repercussions and are often rewarded through Grammys, such as the above artists recently collecting 24 awards for songs riddled with sexist lyrical.
Sexism affects men as well, even though it is not publicized as often. Gender stereotypes for males include competitive prowess, peak physical appearance, and the expectation of a high paying job, among more, according to Alternet.
“Gender equality to me would probably be all people being recognized to have the same capabilities as one another to the true extent of what they can do. Feminism… is advocating equality but specifically standing up for females due to the oppression that they face, no matter what gender you might be,” said junior Guillermo Rendon, who adds that offering a kind word and standing up for others who are treated unfairly is not hard to do.
Having the same rights and opportunities open to both genders is critical for gender equality.
“Gender equality could be ‘Is my class balanced’ but there’s also are genders given equal opportunities to classes or situations,” Clark said.
By initiating subtle changes in everyday activities, the impact of gender equality can reverberate through a community. Small changes are often the precursor to larger movements, and gender equality is no exception.