Baseline survey number 2: comms on a shoestring and an unnamed foetal research buddy

With our first baseline evaluations under our belt, B and I headed out last week to our second pilot school: Archbishop Sumner Church of England Primary School in Kennington.

We’re exclited for Rosie to start delivering to her year 1 class!

We’re exclited for Rosie to start delivering to her year 1 class!

I have now reached the waddling-and-puffing stage of pregnancy, and I couldn’t blame the kids for seeming slightly distracted by my giant bump and constant snacking.

We made some improvements based our first round of evaluations: a £1.99 phone tripod bought on Clapham High Street, an improvised tower of board games to sit the tripod on (the kids kept kicking the table), and a very wise decision to cut yours truly out of the shots.

Once again, the interviews surprised us. Sadly, we weren’t too shocked that most of the children said that some jobs are just for men and others are just for women, that boys are stronger than girls, or that it would be strange for girls to play with trucks or for boys to play house. What was interesting were the explanations for some of these answers:

Why don’t the girls play sports at playtime? Because the boys take the good ball and only the purple deflated ball is left. We heard a LOT about this ball.

“Do the girls ever play football with you?”  “No. The girls play football with the  purple  ball.”

“Do the girls ever play football with you?”

“No. The girls play football with the purple ball.”

Has anyone intentionally given girls the bad ball to discourage them from playing sports? Of course not. But this class seems to have perceived sports as a boy thing, and so the boys get the first pick of ball.

It won’t shock anyone that a number of pupils responded that girls are supposed to care what they look like more than boys do. When we asked why, pupils tended to say that girls want to be beautiful, but there was more confusion about whether boys also want to be handsome. One girl said that boys don’t care about that stuff; “they just care about playing!”. We wished they all just cared about playing, or saw dressing up as a kind of playing, rather than something they were supposed to do.

“Do boys care as much about what they look like?”  “No… wait— actually they do.”

“Do boys care as much about what they look like?”

“No… wait— actually they do.”

As the pilot goes on, it will be really interesting to hear more about the pressures boys feel, and about how freely they are able to express themselves on a range of topics.

Clearly, there is a complex web of factors influencing what kids think it means to be a girl or boy. These have to do with the media, marketing, class, race, religion, random life events, and a slew of other inputs. But could a few small changes cut through this complexity? What if the boys had to turn over the good ball for a week?


Janeen and Bilkis

Baseline survey number 1: dog pee, zombies, and stifled laughter.

After months of planning, meeting, talking, workshopping, testing and fretting, we came face to face this week what it’s all been about: little people!

B and I put on our researcher hats and our best neutral tones of voice and headed out to St. John’s C of E Primary School in Bethnal Green. I think it’s fair to say that we were both a bit nervous to be interviewing twenty some-odd year 1 pupils— we had no idea how they would respond. W.C. Fields said to never work with children or animals, and I’m sure a lot of researchers would agree.

But, once we were there, they had trouble getting us out before home time. These kids were HILARIOUS. One delivered a monologue about dog’s peeing habits; another sat down with a sigh and said ‘It’s been a long day. I mean, not for me — for miss.

One of the epic students we got to interview!

One of the epic students we got to interview!

St. John’s is a great place to run our pilot because it’s full of enthusiastic, creative teachers, and is really committed to supporting the mental health and personal development of its pupils. Year 1 had just finished a unit on friendship, and we could tell that a lot of messages about feelings and kindness had already been absorbed. As we went through our survey questions, we found that there were more kids than we expected who, for example, thought it was ok for girls to play with trucks and for boys to play in the home corner. We wanted to give a gold star to their parents and teachers.

However, we also saw that there’s still a lot of work to do. Overwhelmingly, pupils thought that some jobs were just for men and others were just for women. One of the 'jobs for men’ included ‘going to university’, because ‘men are better at hard schoolwork’; one of the ‘jobs for women’ included ‘making the bed for the men’. One girl said it was ‘women’s jobs to make themselves look prettier’. Nearly all of the children we spoke to thought that men were stronger than women.

Also, we saw that, while a number of children knew that they were supposed to challenge certain stereotypes, a more open-ended conversation with them revealed that the stereotypes still remained. For example, one boy who first answered that there’s no difference between the way boys and girls play later went on to give us a long description about how boys like to play zombies and shoot them in the face and girls don’t like things like that. Part of the big challenge ahead of us lies in digging beneath what kids know is the ‘right’ answer and shifting what they really think.

We left St. John’s giddy from hanging out with these interesting little kids for a few hours— can’t wait to get on with visiting our next school on Tuesday.


Janeen and Bilkis

Hitting the ground running in 2019

Have you noticed? Gender is everywhere. Did hashtagMetoo grab our collective attention, or did it just tap into a growing wave of anger at the state of things? Either way, businesses suddenly seem more interested in the career advancement of women, higher education institutions are looking at how to get more women into STEM, the rich and famous are increasingly attaching their names to gender-related causes, and your family probably had an argument about it over the holidays.

This attention is all good and needed: Women hold 29% of FTSE 100 board positions (with only 7 female CEOs), represent less that 20% of those in STEM careers in the UK, and are paid less by 78% of companies in the UK. Even more darkly, one in five women have been sexually assaulted, 91% of rape and sexual assault victims are female, and an estimated 1.2 million women in the UK experienced domestic abuse last year. I'm sure each of us could go on and on.

However, there are a few key things missing from the way we're responding to gender inequality in society:

1. Interventions mostly focus on women and girls, but we need to focus on men and boys just as much. Why don't more men take a lead role in parenting and go part-time at work? Why don't more men become teachers and nurses? Why are men more likely resort to substance abuse and violence as a response to stress, anxiety and depression than women? Why are roughly 3/4 of suicide victims men? Both men and women suffer from gender inequality.

2. We're starting too late. There are lots of great programmes for girls, but they mainly start in adolescence. Gender identity embeds around age three. While the formation of a gender identity is a part of how toddlers learn to understand the world, this identity does not need to limit what children think they're allowed to like, how they should act, or what they are good at.

I've seen both of these issues play out in my own children. My four-year-old daughter has already strongly gravitated to what she herself calls "girlish things", but is constantly reminded by all of the adults around her that princesses can also be brave, play football, and like math. My two-year-old son loves balls and trains, but he also loves baby dolls and dancing. Most of the adults around him latch onto how he's going to play for Spurs and not how he's going to be a great dad or dancer.

If we don't start teaching boys that it's ok to express themselves, nurture others, and show vulnerability, we're never going to chip away at the walls women keep running into in adulthood.

This is why we started You Be You. Our aim is to break down gender stereotypes starting early in primary school -- for kids of all genders, races, religions, and social backgrounds. To do this we'll need the help of everyone who surrounds a child: teachers, parents, carers, and other children. It's a massive undertaking, but we're taking it one step at a time.

Step one for us is the classroom. We were amazed that busy and surely exhausted teachers, head teachers and researchers were willing to volunteer their evenings to help us, but it turns out that people who work with children really see the need for this. We now have a set of fun and creative lessons that can be used to teach existing subjects, and that teachers are excited about. Our pilot launches next month, and we can’t wait to measure the impact these lessons have on pupils.

It's early days, but we feel encouraged by how much support we've already gotten, from the education sector, local MPs, and our generous funders at Unltd. Watch this space-- we'll be updating periodically on how the pilot is going!


Janeen and Bilkis