Sorry, Hannah, You Can’t Study Albert Einstein

sexism4.jpgBelieve It or Not: Sexism still exists in classrooms today, and we wonder – is anyone paying attention? Consider these scenarios that we recently witnessed:

1. A girl comes home from school, crushed after learning that the role of Peter Pan in her class play can only be played by a boy. Girls must take on “girl” parts; boys must do “boy” parts. How ironic, considering that in all the major productions of this story, Peter Pan has actually been played by a series of actresses, including Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan, and Cathy Rigby. Where is the challenge and fun in acting, if gender roles are not allowed to be explored? What kind of message does this send to children?

2. A girl is told that she can’t write a report on Albert Einstein, but must instead study a female scientist such as Marie Curie. The teacher has divided the assignment by gender. Although the teacher most likely had good intentions in wanting to expose the girls to female heroes and role models, the implications of dividing by gender are not simple. For one thing, most of the girls and boys were probably more familiar with the famous male scientists – simply because American history tends to ignore women’s contributions. It would be natural for the children to want to learn more about someone whom they already recognize.

When a girl in this situation is told she can’t study a certain famous person because she happens to be a girl, she is also being told, very subtly, that just being a girl is enough to prevent her from getting something she wants. Her enthusiasm for learning may be dampened. Redesigning the assignment so that girls and boys study both male and female scientists might be more effective. In this way, both girls and boys will be exposed to appropriate role models. When all is equal, there is less likelihood of complaints and objections. If it so happens that a boy objects to studying Marie Curie because she is a g-i-r-l, then this could be a perfect opportunity to teach the children about sexism.

3. A boy is told that he can’t choose to spend his money to get his nails polished during a lunchtime fundraising event at school, even though any girl can. He can pick from any of the other booth offerings, but not this one, because it is for girls only. Once again, a child is being told that gender is a basis for deciding what girls and boys can and cannot do.

Removing the Isms for Deaf Children: When incidents like the Peter Pan play, the Albert Einstein report, and the nail polish taboo, happen again and again over the years, they have a tremendous impact on how children think about themselves and the opposite sex. Not just girls, but boys, as well, end up paying an emotional price for sexism. Little by little, children learn that they are supposed to think and behave in certain ways, according to their gender. As noted by a teacher in this excellent article on teaching middle school students about sexism, girls often set lower professional goals for themselves, and both boys and girls easily fall into stereotypical thinking about male and female roles.

Deaf children already deal with audism, and will encounter more of it in their future. Our goal as Deaf adults should be to try to remove as many of the other “-isms”, including sexism and racism, from their lives. Parents and teachers can learn more about how to identify subtle sexism (in addition to racism and other -isms) by checking out these guidelines on screening books. Our goal, and we hope, yours, too, is for all Deaf children, girls and boys, to dream big, unoppressed by any “-isms’.

  1. Jean Boutcher September 18, 2006

    Nihil sub sole novum (Nothing new
    under the sun)! Audism and sexism
    are very much alive everywhere.
    Audists are to be blamed for
    “conditioning” DOH to inferior.
    Employers would prefer DOH with
    speech skills to DOD who lack
    thereof. We must educate hearing
    people to look at deaf people in
    a Gestalt manner.

    Interesting to learn today from
    President of the University of
    Miami Dr. Shahala, former secretary of
    health under the Clinton administration,
    that findings prove that women are
    not innately inferior in science.

  2. Jean Boutcher September 18, 2006

    Mea culpa! I inadvertently typed “DOH”.
    I meant DOD whom audists condition
    to be inferior.

  3. Cheryl September 20, 2006

    Thanks for posting this! Teachers along with parents and others in the community sure do have a tough job ensuring that no (or at least as little as humanly possible) sexism occurs in the classrooms. We must constantly keep this in mind and then show through actions at all times. It’s scary how much subtle (or not so subtle!)messages/actions are being said or done all around us but especially in the classrooms where students spend much of their time in. Teacher training programs are now mentioning this topic more and people are more aware of it (but do they really put them into action?). But it’s the current teachers in schools that need to have current, update training/in-services. Teachers and parents need to ask that the current training be provided. This will hopefully provide more accurate and realistic views and classroom practices for teachers to use with both girls and boys.

  4. Katherine October 1, 2006

    As far as sexism is concerned, a great book that comes to mind that is a must read, “Ophelia: Reviving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.” I read it when I was in my teen. It is very heartbreaking and true. I do believe there is many serious issues pertaining deaf children in regards to audism.

    While not exactly related, I want to share this. Growing up in this town, I’ve been fortunate to have between 15-20 deaf neighbors living within one to ten blocks. Hearing neighbors were pretty much inclusive of us and do not treat us any different in our childhood, at least in my experience. Many wonderful memories.

    When I was about 10 or 11 years old, a deaf neighbor decided to form a “Deaf army” vs. the “Hearing army” to show who is better after having a discussion with a hearing group.

    He ordered me, this other female deaf and female CODA to stay behind in the yard as nurses and to make mud with berries for our army to use as a weapon. At first, we obliged and found it to be boring. We didn’t like it and presented to him that we are needed in the battle because there’s not enough of us deaf people. This alone convinced him enough to let us join the army.

    It is interesting that he, as a deaf person, learned about sexism and imposed on his own people when we all have been subjected to audism elsewhere. I think because of his experience with audism makes it easier for him to be empathetic and listen to us.

    Now you wonder who won that war. Deaf army did by default! Ha. My mother was on the porch, who witnessed a deaf neighbor throwing mud from distance into a hearing neighbor’s mouth and he was crying. My mother got up and said, “The war is over and go home!” My group was marching and cheering with a little USA flag in our hands on our way to one of deaf neighbors’ backyard.


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