In a photograph published by the New York Times in late October, Alice Paul Tapper holds the “Raise Your Hand” patch which is awarded to Girl Scouts who actively participate in classroom discussions.
by Alison Standish, COLUMNIST
9 November 2017
Now even class participation has a gender label.
Ten-year-old Alice Paul Tapper had all the right intentions. This young girl was on a field trip when she noticed that the boys in her fourth-grade class were actively participating in the discussion while the girls remained silent, politely sitting in the back of the bus and refraining from lending their voices to the conversation. This upset young Alice, who then decided to take action. She started a movement to create a new girl scout patch, a patch that encourages girls everywhere to raise their hands and participate in class, according to a personal letter written by Tapper and published by the New York Times on October 31st.
This patch, called the Raise Your Hand patch, has taken social media by storm.
Everyone is loving the idea, and everyone everywhere is encouraging girls to speak up and to let their voices be heard.
But what about the boys?
This patch is gender specific, catering only to girl scouts and to young female students. The goal of this new idea is to encourage girls to speak up, to let girls’ voices be heard. There does seem to be a logical explanation behind the specificity, for science has shown us that girls do tend to be less self confident than boys. (According to a book written by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code.) This could explain the difference between female and male class participation, and the reason why this new movement caters to girls only. But what about the young male student who sits in the back of class and is too afraid to raise his hand, who is too concerned about giving a wrong answer to lend his voice to the discussion? There’s no patch encouraging him to participate. There’s no one telling him to speak up. Why? Well, because he’s a boy. It’s not just about the physical patch, which, quite frankly, is something we don’t need. It’s about the metaphorical “patch,” the non-physical encouragement that is now poured on children to participate in class. Why is this encouragement given only to girls? There are boys, too, who struggle with self-assurance.
The thought of encouraging class participation is all well and good. The Raise Your Hand patch itself, while unnecessary, is a good physical representation of an excellent idea, the idea of class- participation being encouraged. However, I do believe that the gender bias that went into its creation only highlights issues that weren’t really there in the first place. Girls aren’t silenced in school. Nobody tells them to keep their hand down. They make that decision for themselves. With this new Raise Your Hand patch, girls are encouraged to participate. The patch itself, meanwhile, may just as well remain invisible. But the repair it accomplishes will be profoundly evident. Theoretically, more and more girls will now begin to make a personal decision, the decision to raise their hand. Boys who keep their hands down also do so because of a personal choice. They don’t need a physical patch to change that decision, and neither do the girls. What is needed is the non-physical inspiration and encouragement to speak up in class that comes along with the unnecessary patch. This is what the boys aren’t getting.
I don’t believe that the inspiration for class participation should be targeted at females only. I think that this movement should reach out to anyone who has a hand to raise, and that includes boys. Just because it seems as though the majority of boys do actively participate in class, it does not mean that they shouldn’t be just as encouraged as their female classmates are to speak up. It might be true that in certain instances, like Alice’s fourth-grade class field trip, the boys participate more than the girls. But this does not mean that boys shouldn’t be equally encouraged to let their voices be heard. As a matter of fact, by targeting this encouragement at girls only aren’t we theoretically saying that girls need more encouragement than boys? Aren’t we doing exactly what we’re trying to stop doing, discriminating between genders?
We aren’t patching up gender inequality. We’re creating gender inequality, and we’re doing it by discriminating between boys and girls. The gender bias associated with a movement that could otherwise be a healthy way to encourage kids to participate in class is detracting from the good it could do for our society. The stereotypes that created this idea–the stereotype of a timid, quiet girl and a rambunctious, noisy boy–are stereotypes that we should be working to abolish rather than highlight. There are noisy girls, and there are quiet boys. There are girls that participate too much, and there are boys who don’t speak up enough. As a country that claims to appreciate diversity and equal rights, we should already know that. If a movement that encourages class participation is going to be started, it should include the entire class, a class that includes both boys and girls, both quiet people and eager participators, both raised hands and hands kept to the side, both voices heard and voices kept silent.
Everyone should be encouraged to raise their hand.
Alison Standish is a student journalist and columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the HOWL