I was born in the 1980’s, when girls in China have long been given the equal rights to attend schools. And it’s a time when most people, living in either rural or urban areas, believe that education could change a person’s life. Typically, in urban areas, where the one-child policy is strictly applied, parents want to give their only-child the best every sphere of life has to offer, regardless of the gender of their child. I was no exception.
A very large part of my learning years, particularly secondary and tertiary education, were spent in schools with strength in language teaching. As we’ve all heard the scientific finding that females are better language learners because of the difference in brain functioning from that of males, the environment I grew up in was predominantly filled with female. Thus, one would normally expect females taking the lead and exceeding their male counterparts for most of the time. Well, this was only an insignificant part of the truth.
Giving female and male the equal opportunity to attend school doesn’t necessarily mean we are treated equally at school. For example, male students were presumed to be better at sciences than female students even when they weren’t. Therefore, when boys failed in sciences, teachers would make excuses for them like they didn’t put their minds on it and they were given a chance to improve. But when girls failed in sciences, teachers accepted it as facts because they had presumed that girls were not so good at logical and abstract thinking and it’s normal for them to fail in sciences. If a girl happened to excel in sciences, teachers and others would consider her exceptionally smart and make it an irreplicable case.
The two very different reactions to students’ academic results, though common and seldom disputed, actually signaled a gender-based bias, and they could attribute to annoyingly different results. The boys were encouraged to work harder, and they also had the conviction that teachers believe in their abilities, thus fueling their confidence and success. In contrast, the girls got the conviction that it’s normal that they didn’t do well in sciences and teachers don’t expect too much from them, which could easily damp their desire to make greater efforts.
Such phenomena was particularly prevalent during my entire educational experience, despite it’s a female-dominating environment. In fact, it might be more unpretentious because the male students were then the minority and teachers considered them more “precious” under the influence of favoring-the-boys tradition.
This gender-based intelligence presumption was not the only challenge female face in education. The job hunt is the final straw. No matter how hard female students worked to achieve academic excellence, the better sought positions are almost always closed to us, pretentious or obvious. I knew this because I was one of the top, and one of the rejected. And I’ve known more with the same experience. No wonder there’s a saying: “Women marry smart are better than those do smart”.
Now with such injustice within the education system and on the job market getting more acute, and the unemployment rate rising each year, more and more girls are prone to believe in the marry-smart saying, thus depreciating the important role education plays in changing their lives. Deriving from the female-discriminating logic, such decadence in turn feed the mainstream idea of our male-dominating society, creating an evil spiral that offers little hope for women to rise up as equals to men.
Therefore, simply giving the same opportunity to attend school is far from enough to elevate women from their status quo. What we need most is not equality in form, but rather equality for real. The task of mainstreaming gender equality should first start in schools, where students not only learn knowledge but also learn the respect for all human beings, male and female alike.
It won’t be easily achieved since the old tradition doesn’t give way easily. My suggestion is to start educating the educators on gender equality, forcing them to both embrace the idea and advocate for it, thus creating a female-friendly environment where women are pumped with support and encouragement as men are, and not to be devalued to inferiorities to men.
No, we don’t need an education system that takes in passionate and ambitious girls and farewells heart-stricken ones. It’s even worse than deprivation of female access to education, for it gives hope and grounds it bit by bit. The real education we aspire is one that helps all of us to grow into confident, intelligent and self-respecting independents, MAN AND FEMALE ALIKE. And it’s a formidable and systematic challenge to the unjust tradition as well.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Girls Transform the World 2013.