Sexism permeates our society because, from a young age, we are conditioned to accept and perpetuate discriminatory practices and gender roles. However, one remarkable eight-year-old has dared to challenge this norm by exposing the inherent sexism within a seemingly innocent question designed to elicit a biased response. In an English class, the teacher innocently created a list of clues for words containing the letters “UR,” aiming to facilitate learning by associating familiar occupations and days of the week with these words. One of the clues posed a significant problem: “Hospital Lady.”
Traditionally, society would associate this clue with the word “nurse.” Yet, Yasmine, an insightful young student from Birmingham, England, defied expectations and wrote down “surgeon.” Yasmine’s father, Robert Sutcliffe, promptly took to Twitter, highlighting the sexist nature of the question. Adding insult to injury, the teacher had included the words “or nurse” next to Yasmine’s correct response of “surgeon.” This overtly revealed the teacher’s intention of guiding students towards the stereotypical answer of “nurse.” Yasmine’s response was entirely appropriate, meeting the criteria of a “hospital lady” and incorporating the letters “UR.”
Yasmine’s decision to answer “surgeon” was influenced by her firsthand experience. Her mother is a surgeon, and her father also practices medicine in that capacity. This example highlights the importance of representation. When children witness women excelling in various professions, it expands their understanding of what is possible. As the saying goes, “if she can’t see it, she can’t be it.” When we reinforce gender stereotypes, we limit children’s aspirations, causing them to believe that certain careers are exclusive to specific genders. However, Yasmine’s exposure to her mother’s profession shattered those limitations. The influence of media is equally significant, as children absorb the content they consume, shaping their perceptions and aspirations.
Rebecca Brand eloquently emphasizes this point in her article on the significance of representation in The Guardian, stating, “Their developing minds are that little bit more unquestioning about what they see and hear on their screens. What message are we giving those impressionable minds about women? And how might we be cutting the ambitions of little girls short before they’ve even had the chance to develop properly?”
Twitter erupted with praise for Yasmine’s response, while simultaneously criticizing the teacher’s biased framing of the question. It is crucial for educators and parents of young children to be acutely aware of the messages they convey, the questions they pose, and the images and ideas they project. Impressions formed during childhood can profoundly shape a child’s worldview, making it all the more important to challenge sexist conditioning.
Startling research demonstrates that children as young as four years old already exhibit strong gender biases in their occupational preferences. Girls tend to gravitate towards careers traditionally associated with women, while boys lean towards male-dominated professions. This early gender conditioning has a lasting impact, influencing career choices as children grow older. Consequently, fewer girls pursue subjects like math and science, leading to a shortage of female representation in these fields. Similarly, boys are discouraged from pursuing careers in social welfare, nursing, and teaching, further perpetuating gender stereotypes and creating a shortage of male professionals in these areas.
It is evident that sexism infiltrates our education systems at an early stage, shaping the aspirations and choices of young individuals. As a society, we must actively combat these biases by fostering an environment that celebrates diverse career paths, irrespective of gender. Only by challenging and dismantling entrenched sexist conditioning can we create a future where individuals are free to pursue their dreams without limitations. Yasmine’s courage and insight serve as a reminder that change begins with questioning the status quo and embracing the power of equality and inclusivity.