Leaving Gender Out of It

With school back in session, it’s a good opportunity for K-12 school districts to bid farewell to the many gendered events that take place on campuses around the United States. Many of these are holdovers retained out of a misplaced homage to tradition. But families of 2019 are not like families of 1959, and these gendered traditions perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes and limit students’ potential to develop their full selves. Here are six outdated gendered rituals schools should immediately stop. 

  1. Partnering girls and boys in elementary school. The old adage told (mostly) to elementary school girls goes something like this… “Anthony is only teasing you Joelle because he likes you.” Research shows that girls and boys start to segregate play at very early ages, and remarks like these from adults only accelerates these separations. The implications of boys and girls developing in different social worlds is that they miss out on opportunities to learn from each other.
  2. Dress codes targeting girls. Many of the rules in school dress codes unfairly target girls, especially girls of color. This gender inequality and racial disparity harms girls who end up missing instructional time to change into clothing that won’t “tempt” heterosexual boys—for whom these policies seem to be designed to protect.  
  3. “Lady” team names and mascots. Secondary schools need to take a page from universities on this subject. Why should the baseball team be referred to as the “Eagles” (sub in your school’s mascot) and the softball team as the “Lady Eagles”? While we’re at it, let’s bid adieu to Native American mascots and male mascots like Bulls, Gamecocks, and Cowboys that promote traditional masculinity.
  4. Homecoming King and Queen. Let’s follow the lead of West High School in Iowa which replaced gendered titles with six “Heroes of Troy” for the big game.
  5. Father/daughter dances and mother/son events. These events presume and reinforce outdated notions of a nuclear family structure, which has never actually been the norm. They should be replaced with family events inclusive of all students—no matter how they define a family. Keep the fun, but get rid of the labels.
  6. Sadie Hawkins dances. Billed as an opportunity to reverse traditional gender norms for one night only, this dance (which was forward-thinking for its time 100 years ago) really needs to go. Thankfully girls asking boys, girls, and gender non-conforming peers on dates is commonplace year round—with no need for special permission reserved for one dance per year.

Take Action! If you have school-aged children in your life, be on the lookout for these gendered practices and call on your school and district to update them to gender-neutral events this school year.