Why Are Gender Groups Important?

By Annika Holliday ’20

Two sixth graders work with CatlinSpeak co-editor Sophie on their article.

Two sixth graders work with CatlinSpeak Co-Editor Sophie on their article. (Photo: Nico Hamacher)

Editors Note: For three weeks, the Catlin Gabel sixth graders split into gender groups, in which most classes were segregated by sex. At the end of their experience, the sixth graders reflected on the merits of single-sex education. After the class chose the best pieces, the elected writers visited our New Media Studies (CatlinSpeak) class and workshopped their pieces with our staff. These articles are the final products of the class of 2020’s hard work.

Can you imagine a class with only sixth grade girls? I had this experience for three weeks in April. There are many reasons why I think we should continue to have gender groups. First, the way that models are presented in fashion magazines sets an unrealistic standard of beauty because the images are photoshopped. Secondly, it is important for students to understand how their judgements and ideas might be based on stereotypes. Lastly, in an all-girl classroom, some girls may feel less intimidated and more willing to share their feelings and thoughts.

With photo editing software the media can erase pimples and freckles, smooth out the skin, make the waist skinnier, lengthen the neck, and even enlarge the eyes. What models look like in magazines is impossible to achieve because they simply are not real people. These are distorted images of beauty and affect girls self confidence and self esteem.

This is the reason why models in magazines look so perfect. It has created many stereotypes for young girls. On the whiteboard, our class brainstormed female stereotypes and judgements. We watched videos and looked at pictures of females models. In the videos and photographs we viewed, the women were clearly photoshopped.

Our all-girl class then researched strong, courageous female leaders throughout history in a “Women of Merit” exercise. Who would we want to invite to a dinner party? These women, who ranged from the Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut to Joan of Arc to Georgia O’Keeffe, were courageous, interesting, artistic, strong, and willing to be different. The gender groups allowed me to learn about women that I did not know about before and I now have new role models.

There have been forty-four presidents of the United States and none of them have been female. I think this has to do with female stereotypes. The message to girls from the media is to be pretty, feminine, quiet and obedient. A president needs to be strong, assertive, smart, and dominate. Females are perceived to be nice, kind, nurturing, and quiet. After hearing Hilary Clinton speak in Portland last month, I am hopeful that she might become the first female President.

Why do we let the media establish the standard of beauty?

Fashion magazines show us how to dress, what brand names to buy, and how to behave. Unfortunately, girls are influenced by all of the advertising. Even if the media shows quiet and obedient women, we have the right to yell out our ideas and write them to the world.

Lastly, in a girl only classroom, girls may be more willing to share their thoughts and ideas on gender stereotyping than if they were in a mixed gender classroom. Some research shows that students learn better when they are with their own gender. I felt that our class was sometimes more focused without boys. It was also fun to be with my friends even if it was only for a few weeks.

In conclusion, I thought gender groups were an interesting part of my sixth grade experience. Some people might argue that the time spent on gender groups would be better spent learning more about Humanities, English, Math, and Science, but I disagree. It is important to realize that stereotypes might influence our decisions and to learn about strong women leaders throughout history.

Girls need to understand that the images of models in magazines are distorted and affect perception of beauty. Lastly, in a classroom with all girls, girls might feel less intimidated and more comfortable sharing their ideas. For these reasons, gender groups should be continued at Catlin Gabel School.