Gender-Inclusive Health Education: A Win for All Students
March 12, 2019
Gender Spectrum, an organization whose mission is to create a gender-inclusive world for all children and youth, has just released a report about gender-inclusive health education classes. One of the areas they cover is the benefits of having health classes that are not separated by gender. I remember when I was in sixth grade, and my class was split into two rooms one day. All the boys went to one room and the girls to another. In the room I was in, the talk was mostly about menstruation. As for the boys, I’m clueless as to what they discussed, although my guess would be erections and puberty for people with penises. Back then, I didn’t have an issue with the split rooms, but now that I think about it, being together would have benefited me, as well as my peers.
The report from Gender Spectrum states that, “When we separate students for this critical experience, we deprive them of much of the story they need to hear.” It recommends that students be together when it comes to puberty and health education. When students are divided, they remain uninformed about others’ experiences and get a message that “bodies unlike their own are taboo and should remain mysterious.” Not only does this limit learning, but it can also cause bullying. For instance, I’ve seen girls get made fun of by guys for a period stain or told they were “PMS-ing” if they were irritated about something. Separating students can reinforce stereotypes like this and also make students of different genders less understanding of each other. These stereotypes often get carried into adulthood.
Having students together can also give them a “guided experience of communicating about potentially sensitive topics with peers whose bodies and gender differ from their own,” while segregated sex ed—where students are separated—may encourage students not to talk about these things with peers whose bodies are different. This can later cause issues when it comes to communicating with partners about things like consent and prevention of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Another benefit of gender-inclusive health education is the possibility of increased conversation about what’s traditionally considered “masculine” or “feminine” and why people don’t fit into these neat little boxes. Being in the same room and sharing ideas can help others understand that gender stereotypes can be harmful and inaccurate. There is no such thing as being too “girly” or “manly.” Who’s to say what is “masculine” or “feminine” anyway? Gender-inclusive health education classes can be beneficial for every student, no matter your gender identity.