Sex­ism and gen­der norms in phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion

The Compass - - Editorial - Kris­ten Downey writes from St. John’s

Youth in to­day’s schools are still be­ing held to un­re­al­is­tic gen­der ex­pec­ta­tions within phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion classes and sport par­tic­i­pa­tion. This dis­crim­i­na­tion and prej­u­dice must be elim­i­nated for the health and well-be­ing of our youth.

In to­day’s schools and com­mu­ni­ties, phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion is be­com­ing more in­clu­sive for youth. How­ever, gan­der dis­crim­i­na­tion still ex­ists through­out many pro­grams. Sex­ism is a main con­cern and bar­rier for many girls in our com­mu­ni­ties to par­tic­i­pate in ac­tiv­i­ties they en­joy. In ad­di­tion, boys are also of­ten held to un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions re­gard­ing their in­ter­ests and abil­i­ties. Given the so­cial pres­sures faced by th­ese young in­di­vid­u­als, we must col­lec­tively re­flect on how th­ese prej­u­dices af­fect the chil­dren and ado­les­cents in our com­mu­ni­ties and what we should do about it.

Thank­fully, so­ci­ety has moved away from the his­tor­i­cal idea that phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and sport are for males only. There has been much ac­com­plished by women in this field.

How­ever, young women in to­day’s schools are still vic­tims of sex­ism to vary­ing de­grees. As an op­pressed and marginal­ized group, women and girls face harm­ful stereo­types that falsely claim what is “nor­mal.” For ex­am­ple, it is not widely ac­cepted that girls should en­joy “rough” sports, fierce com­pe­ti­tion, or ac­tiv­i­ties seen as male-dom­i­nated. Due to th­ese so­cial norms, many women and girls are pres­sured into feel­ing it would be un­ac­cept­able to get in­volved with th­ese types of ac­tiv­i­ties. When young women do pur­sue their in­ter­ests and par­tic­i­pate in male­dom­i­nated ac­tiv­i­ties, they are looked at dif­fer­ently and harshly judged.

For ex­am­ple, a girl who plays on a rugby team may be viewed as oth­ers as be­ing un­fem­i­nine, or as hav­ing an abra­sive per­son­al­ity. Prej­u­dice and dis­crim­i­na­tion di­rected at in­di­vid­u­als due to their gen­der, when their ac­tions or ap­pear­ance are con­sid­ered out­side of the “norm,” can cause neg­a­tive con­se­quences to men­tal and phys­i­cal health, such as in­ac­tive be­hav­iour and eat­ing dis­or­ders.

Young men also face pres­sures within a phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion set­ting that are re­in­forced by stereo­types and ideals. Males are ex­pected to al­ways en­joy sports, play hockey, of course, and en­joy work­ing out. When young men de­velop in­ter­ests in al­ter­na­tive ac­tiv­i­ties, they may not feel like they fit in with their peers. This puts them at a higher risk for lower self-es­teem and a neg­a­tive body im­age.

Many men and boys feel the so­cial pres­sure to be ac­tive in cer­tain ways and to work at at­tain­ing a cer­tain phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance. There­fore our so­ci­ety, com­mu­ni­ties, and schools must do a bet­ter job of teach­ing boys, and all stu­dents, that they do not need to play hockey or lift weights to be seen as nor­mal. There are nu­mer­ous ways we can all live ac­tive life­styles that are not ex­clu­sive to a cer­tain gen­der. Phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity should be in­di­vid­u­al­ized ac­cord­ing to your per­sonal in­ter­ests, not to match so­cially con­structed gen­der ex­pec­ta­tions.

So what can we do? To start, we must be aware of stereo­types and try not to let them guide our ac­tions when in­ter­act­ing with young peo­ple. Elim­i­nat­ing prej­u­dice and dis­crim­i­na­tion starts with mak­ing sure our own ac­tions are not based on stereo­types. We must cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where all young peo­ple feel wel­comed and em­pow­ered to par­tic­i­pate in any kind of ac­tiv­ity they wish, no mat­ter the pre­vi­ous at­tach­ments to gen­der norms. Reach­ing out to the young peo­ple in your life, or of­fer­ing sup­port to the phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tors in your com­mu­nity are great ways to pro­mote gen­der in­clu­sive­ness in phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.

To­gether as com­mu­nity mem­bers, we must make an ef­fort to shift opin­ions and prej­u­dices of gen­der norms in phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, and sport. Dis­crim­i­na­tion can end when we stop let­ting our prej­u­dices shape our ac­tions and thoughts to­wards a cer­tain gen­der.

Seek new knowl­edge, cre­ate more re­la­tion­ships and en­cour­age each other so we may teach young peo­ple in our schools to be ac­tive in their own way.

Dis­crim­i­na­tion can end when we stop let­ting our prej­u­dices shape our ac­tions and thoughts to­wards a cer­tain gen­der.

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