“The DON’Ts in Egyptian schools”: Cultivated gender stereotypes in the educational process | Sara Amr

February 16, 2012
By: Sara Amr

“Girls can be athletic. Guys can have feelings. Girls can be smart. Guys can be creative. And vice versa. Gender is specific only to your reproductive organs, not your interest, likes, dislikes, goals, and ambitions”- Connor Franta 

Photo via Sports Physiotherapy

“Estrgel we gaweb” (Man up and answer the question), “Mafesh ragel byaayat”(Real men don’t cry), “O’ody kways, enty bent” (sit properly, you are a girl).  These are all sentences students face every day in Egyptian schools, whereby they become socialized into knowing the differences between girls and boys. Notably, schools play a palpable role in cultivating gender roles, but they also indirectly promote gender stereotypes based on Egypt’s sexist culture. Gender stereotypes can be seen in preferential school subjects, activities, sports, attitudes and even personal characteristics. Just think of the following characteristics and notice how you subconsciously link each characteristic to a certain gender (Mathematical excellence / Artistic excellence, politeness/ aggressiveness, sportive/ musical). See the link? We will now discuss how this all came to be.

Photo via: The Daily Star

The power of imitation 

“E’reby ya Olfat” (Parse the sentence Olfat) – a famous meme from the movie Ramadan Mabrok Abo El Alamien Hamoda that is frequently referenced in Egyptian society. Surprisingly, the previous phrase can easily demonstrate how gender roles are cultivated in schools. Here’s how: A theory in psychology called the social learning theory emphasizes that children acquire their gender roles based on both imitation and communication. Students imitate their teachers because they simply see them as their role models. For instance, if a boy did not present confidently in front of the classroom, some teachers may consequently call him Sawsan (or any other girl’s name) because he did not “man up”. Subsequently, some of his peers will imitate their teachers by associating any non-masculine act with a female trait, saying things like “Malek ya Sawsan, ma tenshafy shwaya” (What’s wrong Sawsan, toughen up). Therefore, a normal act of insecurity became labelled a gender-based act; and in the process, degraded women and girls into believing that they are insecure and weak. 

Photograph: Kidstock/Getty Images/Blend Images

Behavioral adjustment 

Have you ever stopped doing something you love just because your society tells you it is not appropriate for your gender? Indeed, most of us have witnessed social pressures that resulted in changes of behavior. Without a doubt, schools promote this kind of gender-based stereotyping. Teachers usually demonstrate differential expectations for girls and boys. If a girl raises her voice in anger, some teachers neglect the causes of injustice or bullying that led to her outburst. Instead, they point out that raising her voice is a masculine act that needs to be tamed. 

Stereotypical school subjects 

Home economics for girls and agricultural education for boys. Oh, Really? The separation of school subjects is a major culprit in embedding gender stereotypes in our culture. In Egyptian schools, some subjects are more associated with girls and others with boys. Home economics, for example, is only ever required for girls. This sheds light on the gender-stereotypical notion that Egyptian women belong to the kitchen and Egyptian boys don’t need to learn to cook for themselves. Another prime example is Mathematics – a subject that has always been linked to boys. Boys are put under social pressure to excel at Math and disregard artistic subjects. On the other hand, girls are guided and encouraged to pursue art and music. 

Gender stereotypes in schools do not only degrade one gender, they propagate social pressures to meet expectations that equally degrade both genders. Hence, it’s not only about feminism or masculinism, it’s about the sexist cultivated traditions and values that hamper children’s potentials. 

Article edited by: Nada Salem

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