Girls, it's stupid to worry about seeming 'clever'

Katie Grant
Friday 01 April 2016 12:33
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Primary school children aged 6 and 7 will sit exams for a week in May
Primary school children aged 6 and 7 will sit exams for a week in May

The horror of being branded a “slut” or, conversely, “frigid” is a near-constant concern for schoolgirls today. A fear of being labelled uncool, fat, ugly or gay is just as acute. Now there is another term to add to this lexicon of smears to inspire dread and shame in girls across the nation: clever.

Girls are avoiding participating in class because they are afraid of being seen as smart, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers has warned. Discussing sexist bullying in schools, Dr Mary Bousted said female pupils perceived as “swotty” are subjected to insults and name-calling.

The environment and social structure of the girls’ school I attended deviated so far from what is considered typical by most, it could have existed in a parallel universe – a Twilight Zone where eyes were rolled, lips pursed and arms folded if you admitted you hadn’t completed your homework – and that was just the pupils.

When I look back on my schooldays I remember how anything less than a B grade was enough to warrant a “See me after class”, Science Club was the place to be (I got asked to leave, sadly) – and being called a brainbox was a compliment of the highest order.

So keen were some pupils to crack on with their homework, they couldn’t wait until the school day had finished to tackle their assignments and rushed back to their respective form rooms to get started at break time.

For all its flaws (and there were many) I have a grudging respect for this peculiar institution for instilling in us that intelligence was a virtue, and that we were more than a match for the boys at the school next door in terms of intelligence, confidence and ambition. But this is not the norm.

Schools have always been hotbeds of insecurity and gossip. A cruel jibe can sting for years after the event. Wanting to fit in, be liked and feel attractive is totally natural and certainly not a modern phenomenon. But everyone has the choice to stand up and tell the refuse to conform to other people’s expectations.

This vow of silence is totally misguided. Letting the boys do all the talking and allowing them to take responsibility (and all the credit) for group assignments achieves nothing – except to reinforce in their minds that it’s a man’s world. The stupidity of worrying about being seen as clever – something that is really, actually, quite good – beggars belief.

Being frightened can feel like second nature for many girls as they make their journey from home to school and back again. But they must not allow this fear to follow them through the school gates and into the classroom.

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