Breaking the Mould Appendix 17

Breaking the Mould Appendix 17

Breaking The Mould – Appendix 17

Supporting more girls to use the football pitch at lunchtimes

One school had been actively seeking ways to challenge gender stereotypes for some time and identified this as an issue it wanted to work on because, while many of the children showed considerable openness with regard to ‘traditional’ gender roles, staff had identified that this did not extend to the pitch. Boys were dominating the pitch and girls that did try to play football complained that they often felt excluded.

They began by canvassing the children’s views about having a ‘girls only day’ on the pitch. “The majority of boys think it would be unjust if girls had their own time and it would be a waste of time because it would be left relatively empty while the boys would have to play in the playground doing stuff that wasn’t ‘as good’ as football. There would only be a few girls in there and they wouldn’t even be playing football.” The girls were split in their views. “Some didn’t feel comfortable going in with the boys because the boys were ‘too rough’. A few said they did feel comfortable and when we challenged the boys some of them just said, well, if a few girls come in, why don’t the others?

Both genders perceived that there were some ‘strong girls’ who could go in with the boys. Neither seemed to question whether the boys’ attitude or behaviour might have an impact on whether girls felt comfortable on the pitch – “although some boys did say ‘we don’t want the girls to get hurt, we could play less hard, and give them a chance so they can cope’. One boy said that “they [the girls] could do with some space of their own – but he was a lone voice. Some girls said that they needed more time on their own to develop their skills.

“Some of the responses were really stereotypical. Some of the boys clearly thought they were being courteous by saying things like girls get hurt more, or that they are weaker and we should go easy on them. Some girls also thought girls could get hurt more – though other girls challenged this quite strongly. One girl said that “if the boys get hurt when they play football it’s really dramatic – they make such a fuss. The girls would just get on with it.” When challenged, the boys did acknowledge that that this might sometimes be the case. Some of the younger boys said that they “only play rough because the older ones do and we have to compete.” Some thought that girls only time would only be fair if there was a boys only time as well “but one child said that it might also be valuable because it was good for the boys to have to play some other games’ – so not all of them were just thinking of it in terms of the boys being ‘excluded’ by not having boys only time.”

When staff asked whether other boys shared the view expressed by a few that they could change their behaviour to accommodate the girls more this was found to be unhelpful. “It produced a lot of comments affirming the idea that girls are ‘weaker’ (vulnerable, fragile, scared, as well as physically less strong) than boys. Although several girls challenged this privately at the end they didn’t do it in the session.”

The children were asked to write letters expressing what they felt about the issue. The majority were against the idea of a girls only session. Those that were in favour still tended to focus on the fact that “the girls needed their own time because they might get hurt (rather than because the boys behaviour might make some of them feel unwelcome or because they need time to practice their skills).”

The Head responded to the letters challenging some of the points – suggesting, for example, that the girls only time might provide them with an opportunity to improve their skills. The school decided to go ahead with allocating one lunchtime a week for girls only. They also made a decision to stop referring to the football pitch (it just became ‘the pitch’ with a view to encouraging other team games).

When it was first reviewed with groups of children, the boys were generally against it – but some thought it would be fair if there was a boys only day as well. Many thought it was a waste “’because most of the girls don’t use it’ and they (the boys) can’t play football in the crowded playground.”

About 50% of the girls were in favour. “They thought it was important – because the boys play roughly or they might want to practice their own skills. Three girls were identified as ‘strong girls’ who play football all the time’ and several of the boys asked ‘why don’t more of the girls be like that and come and play with us?’. One boy (who doesn’t play football) argued for both sides. Some girls were against it – some of them don’t want to use the space anyway as they still see it as a ‘football’ pitch – and they’re not interested in that. We have tried doing different things there but the idea of it as a football pitch persists. What most of the children agreed on was that the bigger/older children can be quite rough (mostly the boys). We asked them if they thought there should be a day for younger children. It was interesting that most of them could see the benefit of that but not of having a girls only day since the issue was essentially the same – some children (i.e. boys) playing too roughly.”

The matter subsequently went to the school council who decided they would like to replace girls only day with a session just for Yr. 3 and 4. One day a week is now allocated to years 3 and 4, and staff did notice that play was less rough on those days – and that there were little pockets of non-football activities also taking place on the pitch and more girls taking part. However, the headteacher, and a number of teaching staff felt that even if it were unpopular, and the reasons behind it weren’t fully understood by all the children, a girl’s only time was important and should remain.

“We’ve still got a way to go with this – but it has given us an opportunity to air some issues – such as how [boys’] behaviour on the pitch can tend to exclude some children – generally girls and younger ones. We need to think how we can extend these discussions into other areas of school life and link them to work in the classrooms around stereotypes and discrimination. It was interesting to see too that the ‘sexist’ views about girls being more vulnerable etc didn’t just come from the boys. It’s clear in this case that girls are really only more ‘vulnerable’ because of the behaviour of some of the children – usually boys – which is useful to consider for future discussions on where some of the stereotypes about gender come from.”