Saturday, 18 June 2011

Counteracting sexism when home educating a daughter

One of the great things about educating a girl at home is that one has the opportunity to work vigorously against society’s attempts to prevent her from achieving her full potential, both physically and mentally. There are those who believe that we live in a post-feminist world, where the major battles against sexism and male chauvinism have been won and that only extremists would continue to moan on about sexism. People expressing this view are generally either men or Daily Mail readers.

The indoctrination of females and crippling of their abilities begins from birth. Of course one can work against this in the home, but most girls end up spending a lot of their time in state institutions from the age of two or three and this means that they start learning from a very early age that society’s views about sex and gender are radically different from those which they have encountered at home. By the age of eleven, when they start secondary school, this process has been operating for eight or nine years.
Watch any science or maths class at an ordinary mixed comprehensive. By this time, the girls know their place. The girl who is bright and knows the answers will have learnt to do one of two things. She will either keep her mouth shut, for fear that the boys in the class and some of the girls, will make mocking reference to he supposed intelligence. This can be as subtle as boys exchanging glances and rolling their eyes when she answers the teacher’s questions or as crude as outright bullying. Or she might accept her role as freak and nerd and decide that being a loner is the price she must pay for excelling academically. This discrimination against bright girls is a separate thing from the general sneering which goes on in many schools at those who want to learn. The commonest strategy that girls adopt in the face of this sort of thing is to stop answering questions and pretend that they don’t know and have no interest in the subject. Unfortunately, this pretence can become the real thing if acted often enough.

A similar thing happens with the physical strength of girls. It is often said that girls are not as strong as boys because they are smaller and therefore have smaller muscles. This would be true if we all used our muscles at 100% capability, but few people other than Olympic athletes do this. A girl’s muscles are proportionate to her body, which means that she can support her body weight by her muscles every bit as well as a boy. This means that in the gym, climbing trees and so on, there is no reason at all for girls to do any less well than boys. Any apparent lack in strength is more psychological than physical. This too results from early education. The girl learns at school that it is not quite the thing to be able to climb higher up a tree than boys and so she does not do it. Very early on in their lives, schoolgirls learn to flatter males and avoid bruising their fragile egos by outdoing them either intellectually or physically. When my daughter was fourteen, I was running the church youth club. She regularly outdid the boys of her age at physical activities, including tree climbing and this caused some little unpleasantness. The reaction of the other girls was interesting. They obviously thought it bad form for her to show the boys up in this way and couldn’t see why a girl would do this. They were already in the habit of flattering the boys and pretending to be weaker and more stupid than they already were.

Home education for girls means that when the child encounters this sort of thing, she will see it as a foolish aberration, not a way that she should try and behave. In other words, it is quite possible when home educating, to raise a child free of sexism; a child who will attempt to do her best, whether or not it upsets any males in the vicinity!


  1. Well, I would hope that this is so. Seems to be in this house.

  2. In our case though, the girls both rejected any sort of pe/science from the outset. Oldest dd remains quite happy in her feminine role; sewing, art, animals, cooking etc.
    Youngest dd does like science/pe and I agree that at home she can enjoy these things without having to feel she shouldnt but I am not sure how she would fare in a classroom situation with boys.

  3. My aim (as a parent, not just a home educator) has always been for my children to have a home life that values who they are and challenges any assumptions based on their gender. For me that goes far deeper than whether or not they choose to sew or climb a tree - though both have had plenty of opportunities to do those things and both make a good fist of either. What I hope for my children is that they can shrug off many of life's messages about what makes a 'man' or a 'woman' and get on with being who they are.

  4. 'What I hope for my children is that they can shrug off many of life's messages about what makes a 'man' or a 'woman' and get on with being who they are.'

    And of course that is also where home education scores as well. Children brought up in enlightened homes will have had 'Jenny lives with Eric and Martin' and 'Heather has two Mommies' read to them from an early age! They will not encounter these books in schools and nurseries these days. All this must have had some effect. you should here how violently my daughter denounces Germaine Greer for her unacceptable views of trans people.

  5. Maybe I was just lucky, but when I was at school it seemed more socially acceptable for girls to do well at school than boys and there seemed little distinction between subjects in this regard. Certainly nobody raised an eyebrow at my taking physics and technical drawing at option time. The boys I knew seemed to admire my tree climbing skills. But maybe I was just too thick skinned to notice disapproval!

  6. I have to say I never encountered this at primary or secondary school mind you this was 30 years ago. Maybe it's to do with personality but I wasn't afraid to show I was bright or to demonstrate my tree-climbing abilities! I am not at all thick-skinned so I am sure I would have noticed negativity.