In 1972, Title IX was revolutionary. It allowed young women access to education and athletics that had previously been withheld from them. On Saturday, Title IX turned 40, and while women might be able to take the same classes and have the same athletic opportunities as men, we still have much to do in fighting against the gender norms in sports, and even more to do when it comes to fighting the social stigma that comes with “girl classes” and “boy classes.”
According to a piece on NPR, high school classes are still gendered, regardless of who can take them. Typically, shop and auto classes are for boys and parenting and fashion classes are for girls. In an interview with Zoe Shipley, a 15-year-old girl who has a passion for mechanics, she told NPR that she’s glad Title IX has allowed her the option of exploring what she loves. She said, ”It’s just kind of cool to learn how to fix a car or learn about it,” but she also admitted that she was teased quite a bit for being the only girl in the class. ”They would call me grease monkey. I’m like, so what? At least I have the option to choose what I want to do, you know what I mean?” she said.
Title IX may have given her the option to take the courses she wanted to take, but we still have far to go if we are to make classes totally inclusive for both genders. Some of my female students have openly told me that they have shied away from taking classes filled predominantly with male students because they were either afraid of being teased or constantly flirted with. Others have told me that their parents or those doing the scheduling have assumed that, since they are girls, they’d rather take female-centered electives like parenting or cooking classes rather than others that might be offered to them. It’s not just young women who face this stereotype either. Young men are similarly teased, judged, or pushed toward certain elective classes according to their gender, as well.
If we are going to realize the full extent of the benefits Title IX can give us, we as a society need to consider the stigmas associated with certain classes. Pushing our young men and women into classes based on their gender doesn’t do anyone any favors. Even if we don’t push students, simply suggesting that girls like one thing and boys like another can be damaging. Instead, allow young people to pursue their interests regardless of the gendered assumptions our society seems to accept.
As educators, we have an even more daunting task ahead of us. We need to encourage students to follow their passions regardless of gender, but we also need to be aware of what is going on in our classrooms, especially if we teach a typically gendered subject. Young men and women who are teased or harassed because they are seen as the odd one out in a classroom can suffer dramatically in the face of such adversity. As teachers, we need to be aware of this and combat it in our classrooms. Teaching acceptance is the first step toward changing society’s attitude towards gender and gendered classes.
Photo Credit: Kheel Center, Cornell University