We let people dye their hair, get piercings and tattoos. We encourage people to stand up at rallies and yell divisive opinions. We vote on controversial matters that will change the very course of our future. So why would we not let someone, who may happen to have ‘male’ on their birth certificate, wear a skirt?
With compulsory ‘Relationships Education for primary pupils’ and ‘Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) for secondary pupils’ ,which includes LGBT relationships, being introduced by the Department for Eduction from September 2020 – the idea of enforcing gender neutral education is not that foreign a concept. Both legislation will cover same sex relationships with the hope that it will ‘foster respect for others and for difference’.
From the 1st of September this year, all schools in Wales had to adhere to a gender neutral uniform. Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education praised the move saying it allowed ‘our children’ to ‘focus on fulfilling their potential and enjoying a healthy academic and social life’.
Closer to home, this academic term The Priory in Lewes turned female students away for wearing skirts. In 2017 the school announced that all newly enrolled students must wear trousers and this year extended the rule to cover the whole of the school. In a bid to be gender neutral, the school mistook the idea of inclusivity to mean the removal of diversity.
Why should gender come into education?
The concept of being gender neutral is to allow all students freedom of expression, with that not being confined to the binary ideas of gender. With schools in Wales now instead letting all students wear whatever uniform they should want, it facilitates a sense of choice, which sadly The Priory failed to do. Maybe had gender neutral uniform been law, this issue could have been dealt with correctly.
By refusing to identify LGBT relationships within schools, it can make members of that community feel wrongly isolated. This was one of the contributing reasons for including LGBT relationships in the compulsory 2020 legislation.
According to Lifeline, an Australian charity focusing on suicide prevention, isolation increases risk of depression, substance abuse, feelings of worthlessness and thoughts about suicide. In consideration of these findings, the 2020 legislation acts to ensure no member of the LGBT community is susceptible to the effects of isolation, so why is it that gender neutral students are?
Feeling included is an important idea in schools as well as all walks of life. It’s just one of the reasons as to why we’re encouraged to join clubs, societies and to meet new people. Nobody would choose to be isolated. Yet, so many non-gender-conforming students are pushed into isolation due to the lack of inclusion in an institution that is meant to provide support to all pupils.
Sweden is known for championing equality and being at the forefront of innovative thinking. One example being the 1996 experiment of gender neutral pre-schools. The research showed that ‘young children who favour same-gender playmates develop more extreme gender-typed interests and behaviours over time’.
Furthermore, children from gender-neutral pre-schools also held fewer gender stereotypes. Making them more open-minded and liberal individuals with a wider field of future opportunities.
I struggle to comprehend any argument’s legitimacy in claiming that gender neutral schooling could be an issue. Wouldn’t you want your child to go to a school where they’re not discriminated against and have equal opportunity? That’s the definition of a good school.
Why should gender come into education? I would like to think we all accept that to discriminate on the basis of gender is wrong. Therefore, why should gender come into play in an academic setting at all?
In reality, including gender neutral education in RSE lessons is not that big of a deal. It would occur in already compulsory lessons and would foster respect for others in the younger generation. The introduction of gender neutral education would create an environment centered on inclusivity that children feel safe in.
Moreover, children would be given the freedom to choose their life-paths from a wide field of options, not just those that are socially constructed as gender appropriate or specific. They could truly be themselves.
The question isn’t just should a gender neutral education be law, it also addresses whether personal prejudice is more important than the mental health of the UK’s future society.
University students exist in the final chapter of a long and painful period of identity formation. Starting from the day we enter nursery, and ending on the day of our graduation, the person we become can be contextualised in regards to the institution we were reared in.
Those from art schools can be expected to be more attuned to their surroundings and self-expression. Individuals from boarding schools, studious and independent, while those who are home-schooled may be knowledgeable in subjects not taught on the syllabus, and therefore may have different perspectives on various topics.
One faculty of this identity is an individual’s relation to sex and gender. Since the 1800s, social attitudes to gender have revolutionised, and this occurs partly due to their treatment in our institutions. Humans are social animals, and their identities are composed of a number of external factors, one key factor being their attitude to, and treatment from, their peers. Gender neutrality may homogenise student’s treatment of each other, leading to a bland society, rather than the heterogenous one envisioned by the LGBTQ community.
Gender is a wide spectrum. The hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine represent poles of an infinitely diverse scope, and if the hyper-masculine/feminine is typical, then society is increasingly atypical. Why has this atypicality come about? Perhaps due to the rebelliousness it represents.
Needless to say, there have always been individuals who represent an alternate image of what society deems fit; this manifests particularly in dress codes, which gender neutrality revels in subverting, but also in one’s manner, their hobbies and tastes. If the status quo becomes gender neutral, the ways in which teenage angst is expressed will change. To me, the subversion of gender to rebel, which is what currently happens, seems a safer and more expressive means of disobedience.
I would define myself as cis male. My pronouns are ‘he’ and ‘him’, yet at times in my life I have worn female clothing in public. This occurred, at times at school, where gender neutrality was not practiced and I was, therefore, atypical.
The performativity of gender means something quite special to me – the notion of performance as a means of escape, expression and relief is sacred. The gender I choose to perform reflects something of my attitude to the realm in which I participate.
At school, turning up in a kilt (the standard female clothing designation) was an act of rebellion aimed not just at the division of gender, but at all the arbitrary rules imposed daily. The dress, to me, was used as much to comment on homework deadlines, enforced participation in sport, and age-divided play zones. If teachers would let me wear a dress in an effort to embrace inclusivity, then feasibly I should have been allowed to participate in hockey, or get a tattoo.
To be different was something exciting
But for these shows of subversion, I was also taunted. There were countless parties at school from which I was excluded, perhaps for not abiding to the standards of the rugby lad-culture that was purveyed. I was tripped up or targeted in sports lessons and I was called every name under the sun.
Did this bother me? Yes. I found it at times utterly frustrating, embarrassing and saddening. I withdrew from school. However, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. In being “odd” – as it was termed – I found a group of friends who, for their respective reasons, were just as strange. Finding myself part of a subculture who created inside jokes, partook in subversive acts and relationships which allayed my guilt and lead, in time, to the intensification of subversive acts.
When sixth form came and, suddenly, to be different was something exciting. I found that party invites started coming, I started making friends. I even spotted the odd painted nail. It was something of a victory.
A school system that is not gender neutral provides a limitless scope for rebellious acts. One’s choice of clothing, partner, and friends, aid the individual in shaping their identity within a safe space where the codes of universal tolerance are stringently upheld.
A school system that is not gender neutral is not inhumane. It allows for the realisation of one’s diversity and protects the individual with rules that prohibit discriminatory bullying.
Laws do not need to be implemented to ensure a particular social reaction to Queer students. People react to difference with criticism, but sometimes these comments can be key in forming one’s resilience.
Image credit: Ted Eytan – Washington