Girls are strong too

During high school I had a male PE teacher who made sexist remarks and treated the girls differently from the boys.

On one memorable occasion, he had us practicing kicking soccer goals. He set the girls up at one line first and then said, “and the boys will kick from the line alllllll the way back here.” Whenever it was my turn, I made a point of kicking the ball from where all the boys were kicking it.

At the end of the class we packed all the equipment away in these two wheelie bins. The teacher said, “Can I get two strong boys to take these bins back inside?”

I was so frustrated at that stage that I grabbed both bins and took them back by myself. My teacher followed me to the storeroom and asked, “Why did you do that?” Fifteen year old Jess blurted out, “Girls are strong too you know!”

He was a bit taken aback and I followed it up with, “I think you’re a bit sexist.” 

To this teacher’s credit, he was responsive to my feedback and for the rest of the year he treated us all equally. I like to think that it changed the way he taught other classes too.  

The reason I wanted to write about this experience is because I wanted to explain what it felt like when someone treated you differently due to your gender. A lot of the time we talk about the moral reasons for equality, but I think sometimes we forget about the human element – how does it make you feel?

That teacher through his actions made me feel like he thought girls were pathetic and useless – that we needed an unasked for handicap to compete with the boys. Those kinds of feelings hurt and kill self confidence, in more areas than just the sports he was teaching.

The point of this post is not to lynch that man and say he’s a horrible teacher. When we spoke about my feelings, he talked about his desire to make sure everyone could participate – unknowingly going about this in a way that made us feel excluded.

The point of this is to encourage you to call out sexism and unconscious bias when you see it happening. My silent protest of doing everything that the boys did explicitly against instructions wasn’t working. I had to speak up.

The other thing we can do is take affirmative action. I’ve been interested lately in the Victorian government’s “This Girl Can” campaign which is designed to inspire women – cis, trans, non-binary and gender diverse – to get active in supportive and welcoming environments.

A 2016 study by VicHealth revealed that women are less likely to be active than men with only 50% of women getting the required amount of exercise on a weekly basis, and that 52% of women expressed a fear of judgement as the reason for avoiding exercise. Fear perhaps of not being good enough or fit enough. Participating in a campaign like this to encourage women to exercise is a great tool to address the imbalance in a positive way.

When I think about gender equality today, all I think about is getting to stand at the same line as the boys. Then stand back and watch how hard I kick a goal into that net!

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