New feature: Gender in the playground

Primary schools are no utopia of skipping rope and gender blind comradery. Instead, girls are already learning to worry about their looks – and boys are learning male privilege, reports teacher Kate Townshend

I am in the classroom tidying up with a pupil named Ellen. One of the advantages (and difficulties) of being a relatively young teacher is that sometimes children will talk to you in an unguarded way. You get to hear what they really think about things, which is usually fascinating and frightening in equal measure.

Today is no exception to that particular rule. Ellen is telling me that she is giving up chocolate for Lent. When I commend her self control and ask if her family are religious she looks at me with amusement and tells me that really, she just wants to lose a bit of weight. Sensing my perplexity she elaborates on the statement with disarming, resigned honesty. “I would be more popular if I were thinner,” she sighs. Ellen is 10 years old.

During my experiences on the supply circuit I have been into a vast number of primary schools. And I have come to believe that there is a major and universal problem with the self-image of the little girls that populate them.

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