Tolerance v intolerance; which would you prefer?

Photo by Rebecca Zaal on

In my previous ‘Problems with the British Education System’ post, you may have noticed I missed out a key issue: sexism. Why? Because I thought it was such an important issue that it needed a whole post of its own.

Sexism: prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

I’ve defined sexism here because I feel that to tackle this issue, we need a clear view of all that it encompasses. Yes, sexism includes sexual harassment, but it is so much more than that. It is crucial to highlight that SEXISM DOES NOT JUST AFFECT WOMEN. Men are victims of sexism too.

Prejudice – saying that girls are smarter than boys or that girls are weaker than boys, for example, is prejudiced (a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience) and, therefore, sexist.

Stereotype – similarly, saying that all boys are stupid or that all girls are weak are stereotypes and, therefore, sexist.

Discrimination – consistently predicting boys’ lower grades or not running rugby as a girls’ sport is, therefore, sexual discrimination, because the unjust or prejudicial treatment of people on the ground of gender is being carried out.

Sexism is real and it is happening all around us. Everyone has a responsibility to not just avoid being sexist themselves, but also to call out sexism when we see it happening.

Schools are breeding grounds for sexist behaviour. If we can stop sexist prejudices, stereotypes and discriminatory treatment in education, we can abolish sexism as a societal norm; it does not have to be something that is embedded into our social systems.

Nature v Nurture

It is a common fact that our childhood upbringing and experiences shape our views, opinions, behaviour and conduct, thus moulding us into adults.

If one’s education promoted prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination, it is likely they will become a prejudiced, stereotypical and discriminatory person. However, if one’s education promoted acceptance and tolerance, they will become an accepting and tolerant person.

In a battle between intolerant and tolerant, which would you rather be? Who would you rather associate with: a tolerant or an intolerant person? What society would you rather live in – a tolerant or an intolerant one?

I know my answer.

With specific regard to sexism in schools, there are two groups of people who have a responsibility to promote tolerance and acceptance and, resultantly, eradicate sexism for good.

  1. The first is adults (teachers, coaches, maintenance staff etc.)

Adults, you have many roles. To students you are: councillors, mentors, sources of authority, peace-makers, mother/father figures, friends, idols…the list goes on. Most importantly, you are role-models.

With this knowledge comes power and with this power comes responsibility.

You have a responsibility to promote equality inside and outside the classroom; a responsibility to discourage sexism in yourself, in other staff and, of course, in students. If ending sexism requires drastic measures, drastic measures must be taken.

Next time you praise a girl for her silence or discipline a boy for their outspokenness, think about why you are really doing that.

Are you encouraging conformity within the girl? Or are you assuming the boy has nothing useful to say?

Is the silent girl scared to speak up? Or has the outspoken boy noticed an error you made?

2. The second is students (no matter the age or stage)

Teaching is a partnership; I think students often forget that. Sexism affects all ages so to eradicate it, students and teachers must work together, hand in hand.

Don’t sit quietly, even though you know the answer but are afraid of being called ‘clever-clogs’ by the boys.

Don’t shout out the answer just because you are a ‘boy’ and ‘that’s what boys do.’

Equally, don’t not challenge the boy for stealing you answer just because you are a ‘girl’ and ‘that’s not what girls do.’

Girls are guilty too:

Don’t tell him to ‘grow some balls’ just because he won’t touch the spider you were afraid of.  

Don’t shriek and tell the teacher when he puts the spider in your hair after you told him to ‘grow some balls’.

Actions make a statement, but words, words carry the real power. Use them wisely.

Challenge the boy who tells you “being kicked in the balls hurts more than giving birth,” politely, sceptically, inquisitively. Make him think about what he just said. Make him feel what you felt hearing that.

Don’t let the girls get away with calling you ‘scrawny’ after seeing you in the gym. Coolly remind them that you’ve never seen them there.


Sexism is a real issue. It’s happened in the past with life-altering consequences, it’s happening now with damaging effects, and it will continue to happen in the future, unless we make a stand to make a change.

Let’s start in schools.