It’s another school, another semester, and another sexist class.
A primary school in southwestern China’s Sichuan province has become the latest to offer “gender-specific” courses, segregating students based on their sexes and reinforcing stereotypes. According to a local media report Monday, beginning this semester Chengdu Caotang Primary School will introduce voluntary knitting classes for female students while offering boys courses in making model planes, rockets, and cars. The school started a pilot “girls and boys class” last semester, using different sex-ed textbooks for girls and boys, and has since expanded its curriculum to include the latest courses.
“In recent years, we have found that boys and girls are ‘being shaped’ in the same ways while growing up,” Fu Jin, the school’s principal, told the newspaper, adding that boys and girls aren’t being raised according to traditional “masculine and feminine” ideals.
Sixth Tone’s repeated phone calls to the school went unanswered Wednesday.
While a new generation of Chinese are breaking away from traditional gender norms, such outdated and misogynist values are still being espoused in some schools. In 2017, the country’s first “gender education” textbook for girls was distributed in select Shanghai schools. The 113-page manual included topics on puberty, relationships, and social responsibilities — and was slammed for perpetuating and reinforcing gender stereotypes. The previous year, a similar textbook meant for boys was released, instructing them to “man up” in their everyday lives.
Fang Gang, a Chinese sex education expert, said gender-specific courses offered by the Chengdu school only promote gender inequality and strengthen traditional gender stereotypes, and added that such education also violates China’s policy on gender equality by placing double standards on men and women.
“Men are placed in the public sphere, cultivating their competitiveness and professionalism, while women are placed in the private sphere, cultivating their roles as good wives and mothers,” he told Sixth Tone. “It’s wrong to set such gender binaries.”
Traditional attitudes toward gender roles are slowly shifting, as Chinese women are becoming breadwinners and men stay-at-home dads. Views on masculinity are also evolving, as young men unabashedly wear accessories and makeup, regardless of the name-calling it can lead to.
However, Wang Ziwei, a recent graduate of gender, media, and culture studies, said that deep-seated patriarchy and traditions in Chinese society make it difficult to dismantle conservative attitudes. “As an individual, it is very difficult to break such discourse established by these social concepts,” she said. “Because once your actions, words, and thoughts do not match mainstream values and habits, society tends to discriminate against or even pathologize such behaviors.”
Meanwhile, Fang said schools can end such differences by involving all students in activities, thereby cultivating a more comprehensive understanding of gender. “We should open more doors and windows and offer a variety of options, allowing children to choose their own future, rather than simply stipulating one for them,” he said.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: A student shows off a hand-knit sweater during an event at Chengdu Caotang Primary School in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Sept. 9, 2019. @中国新闻网 on Weibo)