Little things matter

Based on the lecture by Gunilla Holm on October 3th, related readings and group discussion. Group: Anniina Tan (writer), Jenni Matilainen, Liisa Arponen and Tytti Luuri

Finland is often perceived as a pioneer in gender equality issues. In many ways that is true; for example, Finland was the first country in Europe to give the voting right for women in 1906. However, even today gender equality is not fully achieved in Finland. The gender inequality exists for example at the Finnish labor market that is still divided into ”women’s professions and men’s professions” as well as ”women’s tasks and men’s tasks”. This is problematic especially in women’s perspective as the traditional women’s professions and tasks are generally paid less than men’s professions and tasks.

After the lesson on October 3th we discussed in our group about the gender segregation and why it is so hard to dispose. As discussed in the classroom, boys and girls are treated differently as soon as they are born. Paechter argues in her article “Masculinities, femininities and physical education: bodily practices as reifies markers of community membership” that the gender determines how the child is treated (or even raised) and how she or he is expected to behave. Even if the rearing at home is gender sensitive, the situation changes as soon as the child goes to the kindergarten. Despite the actions taken to eliminate the gender normative structures, Finnish educational institutions like kindergarten and school still reproduce the traditional gender roles. Children learn quickly at the kindergarten which roles and plays are for girls and which ones are for boys. When playing house, it is natural that little girls take care of babies while little boys go to work outside the home. Children also learn what kind of appearance is suitable for girls and boys; what kind of clothes they are supposed to wear and how they should do their hair.

At school gender based segregation is shown visibly for example in single-sex physical education groups. Girls do more “feminine activities” and boys do more “masculine activities” in their PE lessons (Paechter). The segregation is also hidden in the schools’ policy; how teachers speak to students and what kind of behavior they expect and tolerate from them. Girls are often expected to be kind, gentle and hardworking while boys are expected to be wild and smart. These visible and invisible factors affect inevitably how kids see their possibilities in the future; what kind of professions they feel are suitable and possible for them as girls or as boys.

How can we encourage kids to become just what they want and ignore the gender based expectations given to them by the society? First we should try to eliminate the structural mechanisms in education that produce the segregation between boys and girls. For example, any kind of division based on gender is simply inappropriate and should have been buried a long time ago. Teachers should also pay more attention to their actions and treat the kids as kids, not as girls and boys. Secondly we should all look in the mirror. Gender determines or at least affects in our daily choices; the way we dress our kids, the toys we buy for them, the hobbies we take them to. These little choices we make on behalf of our children are so natural that we don’t even see them. That’s why these things are so hard to change.






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