Asked to give a thought provoking introduction to a lesson on feminism, one of my female A Level students decided on an approach guaranteed to get a reaction. She drew a vagina covering the entire, two-metre whiteboard, ostentatiously adding in the labia and clitoris. A teacher, author, and convenor of the Academy of Ideas Education Forum writes in Teachwire.
She explained that she was drawing on the iconic image from Germaine Greer’s seminal text, The Female Eunuch, and proceeded to tell the young men in the class they needed to get better at satisfying women’s sexual needs if we were to achieve full equality.
What followed was a lively and fascinating class discussion on the psychology and physiology of sex and the pros and cons of feminism. Job done.
I have been teaching politics and sociology to 6th form students for over two decades now and this is just one of the many stories I could tell you about my experiences of the young women I have encountered while doing so: self-confident, opinionated, feisty, independent, and ambitious for their futures.
Yet during this time I have increasingly felt like I must be living in a parallel universe; because the narrative about these same young women in the media and amongst experts seems to be almost entirely negative and problematised.
This negative narrative jars with my personal experience, but also with other stats that get much less of an airing in media discourse.
From the age of seven, girls now outperform boys in reading, writing, speaking and listening. And while boys still do better than girls in maths and science, the gap has closed considerably in recent years.
Female attainment at GCSE is significantly ahead of that of males, and girls stay on to study A Levels in greater numbers. As a result, more women are now going to university and are leaving with better degrees than their male peers.
Of course there is still more to do. Black spots of inequality stubbornly persist. While young women now dominate in the science of medicine, girls are still not studying physics in equal numbers despite multiple initiatives by the learned societies in science.
My worry is that continuing to focus on and emphasise disadvantage and discrimination undermines the huge progress we have made and, crucially, creates psychological barriers to young women confidently claiming and enjoying their newfound opportunities.
I am not suggesting there are no battles yet to be fought, or that the legacy of inequality will not take time and vigilance to eradicate completely. But I think we must also encourage young women to recognise and celebrate the incredible gains that have been made in education.
And my advice to anyone who thinks my female students are marginalised victims of sex discrimination is to come to my school and debate the motion with them; I think they might leave with a more optimistic outlook than the current narrative suggests.
Read the full article Do girls really have it worse at school?
What do you think? Where is all the positive media coverage? Are the girls in your school optimistic about their future? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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