Gender studies in Israeli high schools…

// 23 June 2008

Hebrew graffiti, Rosie the Rivetter and women's symbol This is an interesting one – there’s a feature up on profiling a high school in Israel which has introduced gender studies classes.

Girls and boys at Mevo’ot Eron High School are taught seperately in “feminist-oriented” gender studies classes:

According to Henya Shapira, the coordinator of gender studies for girls at Mevo’ot Eron, “the girls are drawn toward the support group; they prefer those talks to classes on the history of feminism.” The result is discussions on how to deal with a restaurant manager who doesn’t pay a waitress’ salary, the girls’ relationship with their mothers or sexual relations with a boyfriend. There is one strict rule all must abide by: Everything said in the classroom stays in the classroom.

“We are trying to understand what the right path is for each issue and to clarify what each of us thinks,” says Ravit Inbar, a senior. “If one of the girls has a new boyfriend, the discussion immediately moves to the issue of sex. It is totally irrelevant to talk about these things with the boys. Each of us knows she can talk about whatever she wants and it will not go any further [than the room].”

In the boys’ class, displays of feelings and openness are far more rare. Most of the discussion in the boys’ gender studies classes deals with conventional social concepts, such as keeping one’s distance from girls who hit on boys.

This is interesting too:

When the gender studies classes started, Dori recalls, there was a furor over [teacher] Rakefet Zohar’s remark that giving boys gender classes was like casting pearls before swine.

“Today I would never think of saying anything like that,” Zohar says. “We were more radical back then, and the situation was tougher, both among the boys and within the school administration. In time, we moved from a status in which we were feminists first and only afterward female educators, to the reverse. All in all, this is a revolution that succeeded. In the first year or two, people thought we were crazy. Now we are running the school.”

There has been a certain trickle-down of feminist attitudes. Eight years ago, when the gender studies classes first kicked off at Mevo’ot Eron, the boys went to gym class while the girls met for gender study sessions. A year later, male teachers and students also began to benefit from the project. In the past few years, the boys have requested that at least some of the classes be co-ed. Some teachers have softened their stance on this question, but Zohar, for one, is still firmly against the idea: “Our whole life is an encounter with males. There has to be a place that is ours alone.”

You’ve got to wonder what sort of feminist-slanted attitude the school takes to the Palestine/Israel situation, but still. Wouldn’t it be good to see gender studies classes in UK schools?

Photo by nicasaurusrex, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Aimee // Posted 23 June 2008 at 8:02 pm

Yes! Definitely! In most schools nowadays, I find that there is no one questioning or responding to issues of gender. Because there is no mention of it anywhere it isn’t even considered, and this re enforces the idea that these gender roles are ‘natural’. I firmly believe that we should be teaching children to be analytical, to assess the sources of their beliefs and the beliefs of society and to question ideals and apply their own logic to them before accepting it. We need to cultivate thinkers not mindless sheep.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 23 June 2008 at 9:57 pm

Yes, I echo Aimee’s comments we desperately need gender studies within the education curriculum, together with media studies. Because it is the media which reinforces the widespread belief that gender is ‘natural’ not socially constructed.

But even raising the issue of gender causes many to raise their eyebrows because doesn’t the media constantly provide us with pseudo science studies which claim to prove gender is biological and fixed. Oh but this is about biological sex differences not gender – still the media does not recognise the difference.

Kuja // Posted 24 June 2008 at 1:09 pm

My brother studies Psychology at A-level, but his course doesn’t focus on gender differences – except for in experiments about social expectations in which they constantly refer to women being assumed “more likely to comply with the authority figure”. Perhaps if we had gender studies here, we could teach kids that humans don’t just come in two generic models. Wouldn’t it be nice to grow up in a country that doesn’t squeeze you into a mold?

Redheadinred // Posted 24 June 2008 at 1:39 pm

Kuja, I’ve taken sociology at a-level, and I can say that there’s the same stereotypes in that subject as well! According to the stuff we read in the textbooks, a *radical feminist* is a woman (never a man) who doesn’t ever do or wear ANYTHING ‘feminine’, and a *liberal feminist* is a woman who is thankful for the ‘priviledges’ already won for women. Oh yeah, ’cause we have the vote and everything… and then there’s the blind assumptions that women are the way they are biologically and not socially, as if we’re born with make-up and pink stilettos on.

Aimee // Posted 24 June 2008 at 4:15 pm

The thing is though, kids don’t LEARN this stuff. They’re never told that adverts and telly and the daily mail aren’t actually telling you the truth, they’re not told that there might be alternatives to mainstream thought and they’re never ever taught to question or challenge the status quo. The closest thing, I think to anything remotely close to where we need to be is studying history. And by history i’m talking higher level history, wheras we should be teaching this from the word go. In history we learn about the validity of sources based on provenance, we learn about biased opinions and propaganda, but only a few kids learn this now, and far too late. Already by then the damage is done.

Soirore // Posted 24 June 2008 at 5:26 pm

Redheadinred I’m surprised by your sociology class. When I took A level sociology the emphasis was very much on gender as a social construction. Analyses of feminism were never simplistic and I learnt some great feminist theory.

Perhaps I’ve been exposed to an unusually high number of feminist teachers but even before GCSE feminist issues were being raised, especially in subjects like English (looking at misogynist language and feminist novels) and History (women’s changing roles and absences from mainstream history). Many schools do teach our children to think critically about gender even if they don’t have a gender studies curriculum.

Redheadinred // Posted 25 June 2008 at 3:25 pm

Well, Soirore, I don’t know about the format of your classes, I guess that would make a difference. Ours were pretty much: reading word for word from textbooks and then taking notes onto the board. The teacher didn’t have a good view of feminism herself, infact she constantly stated that ‘just cause I’m talking about this doesn’t mean I’m a feminist, people!!!’.

I’ll just recount an amusing and frustrating tale from my sociology class. Getting sick of the demonisation of feminism, I said

‘I believe in equal rights for men and women, therefore I am a feminist.’

Most of the class said they agreed that men and women should have equal opportunities and rights. I said,

‘That’s what feminism is.’

The boy sitting behind me looked perplexed and said, ‘No, it’s not, that’s like hairy armpits and stuff!’

And don’t think he was joking, either! This is after we’d taken nigh two years in the subject of sociology, and no one had any idea what feminism was. In fact, no one really knew what marxism, or socialism or ANY of the ideaologies we had supposedly been studying were, and looking at the books we were working from it’s not surprising.

Kuja // Posted 27 June 2008 at 12:33 am

Redheadinred: I can’t imagine how irritating those lessons were for you! How come for men they’re rights and for women they’re “privileges”??

Soirore, I had a few feminist teachers, they were great at avoiding gender stereotypes – or even at just pointing out when something was a stereotype and telling us to question it. But my history teacher, like Redheadinred’s sociology teacher, seemed to want to protest her “not feminism”. Once she told us about a lesson she did during her degree when her teacher wrote “HIS STORY” on the board, and then began by saying “So where is HER story in History?”

And my teacher actually freaked out, thinking she was in a lesson for men-haters. Because, you know, if you think you’re as good as a man? You’re denying him his privilege. Did I say privilege? I meant “human right”!

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