Illustration by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist.
We all remember what it was like to be sixteen. The pressure to be a man led boys to grow those dreaded teen-‘stashes and direct uninformed vulgar remarks toward their female classmates. Girls struggled to maintain their self-esteem in the face of mounting pressure to show skin and be like all of their friends. Nobody knew which way was up when it came to sex, and the confusion surrounding gender and identity was enough to make your acne-prone head spin.
In September 2010, the Ontario Ministry of Education will introduce a new course titled Gender Studies, designed to help teenagers get a better grasp of all these perplexing issues. The course will be available as an elective for grade eleven students province-wide, creating a safe place where gender in our society, and in others, can be discussed.
“We’re always looking at our curriculum in different ways, looking at societal changes, and we felt this was the right time,” said Steve Robinson, spokesperson for the ministry. The decision to introduce the course was reached in consultation with a number of stakeholders, including curriculum review boards, educators, and the Safe Schools Action Team.
Among the topics to be covered in the class are the norms of masculinity and femininity, how gender is portrayed in the media, power relations between men and women, homosexuality, sexism, transgender issues, equity, and gender-based violence and oppression.
The Miss G Project for Equity in Education, a grassroots young feminist organization campaigning to end oppression in and through education, spearheaded the mission to bring the course into high schools. Sheetal Rawal, co-founder of the project, said the idea developed in 2005 from a conversation between herself and a friend in a dorm room. “[We were] talking about our experiences in high school and those of our younger siblings. We thought it was bizarre that people often don’t get a chance to talk about how gender norms and expectations affect their lives until and unless they take particular courses at a post-secondary level.”
As Rawal sees it, safety is a big part of what makes the course a necessity. “As recent studies in this province have shown (Falconer, CAMH, Roots of Youth Violence), gender-based violence in schools is ever-present and needs to be addressed through preventative measures. One of those measures is education and creating a safe space for students and teachers to discuss the very real issues present in their personal experiences, their communities, and their lives in general, both within and outside of the classroom.”
The course isn’t just for teenagers who are struggling with their gender identity, said Rawal. Gender issues are relevant to everyone, and a broader education in the subject can create a better, more informed, and understanding society.
By the time the classrooms empty out for summer vacation, the goal is that students will be a little less confused about how gender affects their lives and the lives of others. Maybe girls will feel a little more comfortable expressing their individuality, and perhaps boys will give up their macho personas and bust out those razors. Fewer teen-‘stashes, at least, would indeed contribute to the betterment of society.
Big thanks to Karen Whaley for drawing our attention to this tidbit.