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“Don’t be quiet:” Teachers face sexism for years
"I felt that because I was a woman who showed emotions, I was less than," Taylor said.
August 17, 2021
Sexism in the educational field is a growing problem in schools.
Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender. Women are statistically proven to be subjected to sexism more than men in any type of workplace regardless of the dominating gender present. While men can be discriminated against it is not as common as it is for women in professional environments.
Sally Thomas, policy officer for women and girls’ rights and race equality for the National Education Union, has identified that young males in classroom settings disproportionately contribute to the objectification and sexist environment that is often found in schools.
Thomas wrote, “Indeed, both students and teachers in our report said that as a result of sexual harassment, girls learn to ‘take up less space,’ to position themselves at the edges of corridors, playgrounds and classrooms to make themselves less visible.”
AP Human Geography teacher Kendall Gomez has experienced discrimination from male students inside the classroom and from the lack of representation of women educators teaching history in the media.
“I think some students challenge my knowledge a bit because you typically see men as social studies teachers and women are often underestimated [being social studies teachers],” she said.
Gomez initially wanted to become a counselor but the more classes she took in college she realized her true passion for teaching and history. Gomez has also noticed the difference in level of respect she gets from her students in comparison to her male colleagues.
“If someone is struggling with a student’s behavioral issues it usually is a female teacher and the ones who don’t tend to be male; it really can come down to [students] respecting males more,” Gomez said.
She has also experienced more serious types of sexism that can be categorized as revenge porn.
“It was an attempt to use my body against me and not respecting me and my privacy,” Gomez said. “They had to search through my Facebook to find a picture of me in a bikini from my honeymoon and it was distributed as an act of revenge,”
Band director Kelli Taylor has also felt her fair share of gender discrimination in her 17 years of teaching.
“I had one student in particular who blatantly did not have any respect for me. He told everyone with ears that I had a nervous breakdown after I became emotional in class after a difficult rehearsal. I felt that because I was a woman who showed emotions, I was less than,” Taylor said.
The notion that women are more emotional than men has been scientifically been proven false. Scientists have found that men actually display their emotions more frequently than women. A study done found that when compared to men, women have a higher tolerance to emotions before allowing them to be displayed in facial movements or in their tone of voice.
Emma Smreker, a seventh year French teacher, has recognized the more subtle sexist aspects of being in the classroom, especially with questions that are inappropriate and out of place.
“The question I get the most is when will you have children? And I ask them ‘would you be asking Mr. Meerschaert that same question?'” Smreker said. “They are usually taken aback by this. If you wouldn’t ask the male teachers this then why would you ask a female teacher this?”
This is a common subtly sexist question that women are frequently asked. That topic is a very personal and private matter often considered rude when discussed, according to most feminist groups like Everyday-Feminism. Smreker said she was frustrated by these questions.
“I almost feel like that’s all [students] see me as,” Smreker said. “I’m not a teacher or an individual who has won awards and has a degree or worked abroad; I am someone who got married and someone who should pursue the next role as a mom.”
These three teachers feel they have to prove themselves that they are knowledgeable in their fields of expertise.
“I would say that it is just exhausting having to prove yourself when you have already put in the work. Usually that challenge comes in the form of a question. You just have to answer it the best to your ability and move on from it,” Gomez said. Taylor said she felt a similar struggle pertaining to the world of band directing.
“I was passed over multiple times for younger, less-experienced male directors which was frustrating. People thought I should teach young children because of the ‘motherly instinct’,” Taylor said. Smreker also has felt the weight of sexism in the professional world much like Taylor.
“I have a pretty extensive knowledge of the French language and I have been ‘mansplained’ my own job before. I literally have a degree in French. I am aware of how it works. I went to school for five years for this,” Smreker said.
It was unanimously agreed amongst these three women that the only way to stop the cycle of sexism is to talk about it with other women and to advocate for oneself whenever possible.
“Talk about it. Talk about it with your friends and parents,” Taylor said. “You are not alone while it happens, it shouldn’t happen and the only way to keep it from happening is to right the wrong.”
“Don’t let the small things go even if it might feel like a small comment but don’t let people get away with that boys or girls or nonbinary. People need to be held accountable,” Gomez said.
“Create support groups, find people to validate what you are feeling. Report it if you are in a position to take care of it. It’s all about speaking up. Don’t let it sink and fester. Every woman has felt belittled or in danger because they were a woman at some point and time,” Smreker said.
One organization that helps to make women’s voices louder in the working environment is WEDO.