This week saw the death of Margaret Thatcher. As much as I could, I wouldn’t like to get into an analysis of her rise or her time in power. That’s been done to death. I’d like to pick up on a theme that is critical to my life at the moment: the position of women in society. It was highlighted this week in many, many…many articles and discussions.
Having a female Prime Minister, Governor-General and, for a time a few years ago, Premier of NSW, it was overwhelmingly obvious to some that the glass ceiling(s) had been smashed, never to be reconstituted by a metaphorical, but so very friendly, O’Brien’s Glass worker. Those who often praised the now well-established equality of opportunity for women now breathed sigh of relief that they could now get on with life as it always has because there was a woman in the room too. Argument over. Pressure off. I am concerned about this relaxed and finite view of the issue.
Now that I am teaching at my second girls’ school, I am conscious that I must cater for the learning needs of my students in a different way to those of my colleagues in other schools – be they co-educational or boys’ only. Not that I think that tagging students as ‘going to a particular school’ means they fit a particular profile (see last post on tension between individual in a social-cultural context) nor that girls’ cannot do exactly the same things as boys [please don’t be pedantic and go down the bio-pyshical arguments in your comments – I know they have differences].
I present lessons in a way that is hopefully relevant to those students in my care. Each student is a learner and is a bundle of ethnicity/faith/assumptions/experiences/knowledge/skills etc. I do not pretend to be an expert in girls’ education, though I do intend on becoming more knowledgeable about how best to cater for them.
However, despite this.. awareness.. of my current educational clientele, I worry about how they view current public derision and often revolting assaults upon women in terms that are clearly gender based. It is truly cowardly and utterly hurtful to attack someone based on their gender. Being of a particular gender does not automatically dictate skills, capabilities, potential or anything else.
I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have had strong female role models and positive relationships with women over my life. My mother, sisters and wife are all strong, intelligent, driven people who have shaped my beliefs about women for the better. At the very least, I personally hold no assumptions about what women are or are not capable of doing. Just like it would be silly for me to think that all men are capable of greatness, I do not think all women will gain high office or achieve ‘success’ in a public way – just like not all men do – but the women in my life have proven to me time and time again that women do not need to compare themselves to men in order to judge their role in society.
In Year 10 History class this week, we had a great discussion – initiated by my students – regarding whether teaching was a ‘woman’s job’ and the idea of perception, culture, generational change and gender divides. For them, one of the most challenging questions I put to them was: can women teach girls better than men? A VERY heated debate followed. I’ve never really cared much about whether I’m working with women or men in education. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, interests and ambitions. What I do know is that I love being involved in a vocation that cares about the whole person, the action that person can take in society and the way society impacts that person. Is that a gender-bsed thing? I don’t know.
Unfortunately for the women in my life: my family, friends, colleagues and, most importantly for this post, my students, they saw this week that people who are honest and good people and who hold very real scars because of the policies of Margaret Thatcher seemed not able to help themselves in using gender-based expletives in their protests and abuse. See the great article by @bairdjulia on this in today’s SMH.
I do hope that my students can grow to be resilient and strong women in the face of this kind of mindless, neanderthal abuse. You can disagree with someone, you can even have deep seeded anger towards them and still not resort to punishing them for their gender. Just because someone is of a particular gender does not mean they are the same as all the rest. Slogans are cheap and quick and diminishing. Time to get arguments that work for longer than 5 seconds, folks.