Comment: Is PE Sexist?

Disclaimer: This is based on two examples and is therefore used to open a debate as to whether this type of behaviour is a trend or simply a one-off.  In these circumstances, the best response is to talk to the teacher(s) after the lesson or send an email to express your opinion.

There has been a recent discussion as to whether our PE lessons demonstrate sexism. This has been largely extrapolated from two significant examples that have taken place over these past few weeks, with the separation of genders in netball and basketball, and with glimpses of this showing in the current module, volleyball.  While the staff were not, by any means, consciously deciding to portray this sexist view, it brings into question how small incidences can resonate with students over time and how it affects their own views.

It was the beginning of a new module, mixed games, and it had somehow been decided that the 30 students would be playing netball and basketball.  However, we were split into gender-specific groups, with the “girl group” partaking in netball, while the “male group” participated in basketball.  The most shocking fact is probably that we followed in silence. When directly asked about the choice of separation, one teacher explicitly stated: “because netball is for girls”.  Although netball has a reputation for being classified as a ‘girl’s sport’ (whatever that means), does that suggest only girls can play it? And that only boys can play basketball? (worth noting nobody was asked neither which sport they wanted to participate in, nor able to suggest any other, perhaps more inclusive sport.) However, the teachers eventually became more flexible and allowed certain boys/girls to change sports.

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La Chatâigneraie is known for equal success in both girls’ sports and boys’ sports, especially in recent years

Although this situation was specific to netball/basketball, it is worthy to note this continued across to other sports.  In volleyball, the class had been unintentionally split with a majority ‘girl’ side and a majority ‘boy’ side when walking to the centre to decide teams in our first lesson.  Despite the fact one teacher suggested that it was fine, the other teacher very unsubtly made a comment, implying that there was no way you could have a full team of girls vs a full team of boys.  But yet again, we followed in silence.  In the end, it was ultimately decided through a combination of heights and genders.  

These examples mentioned are few, however, it was only at these points that the idea of sexism in PE within our International School ever entered our minds.  It seemed suggested that a group of pure girls would have no chance of beating a group of pure boys. This mantra begins to be ingrained within us so that by this year, we silently obeyed the separation of genders, and now the prospect of being in a girl group going against boys frightens us (in PE or across to extracurricular activities).  This pejorative teaching can be seen as a root of this underlying sense of gender inequality, making us, as girls, dependent on some level with boys.  Therefore, how are we meant to be teaching all humans to be strong individuals, when the root cause of their lack of confidence and feeling of inferiority is effectively drilled into them from the very education system meant to put students first?    

On the other hand, it is vital to note that our school is incredibly focused and passionate about aiming to include everyone and educate all on as many sports as possible.  As many of us know, politeness is the second ‘P’, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion etc, that we go over each year so we can retain its importance. No PE teacher would consciously discriminate against any of their students.  Since Emma Calcutt’s arrival, the number of girls participating in extracurricular sports has soared, and in fact, on average, it can be said that the female teams are doing just as well, if not better than the male teams. In the PE department, as you walk down the corridor there are photos of each team displayed.  Within those photos, there is a total of 215 females and 235 males. The number of females compared to males is astonishing, and something to be truly proud of. The department undeniably deserves commendations for those figures alone, and are inherently true activists in that sense for gender equality. In this context, the above argument concerning netball/basketball can be seen as a one-off error.


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Women’s basketball boasts exceptional talent including Diana Taurasi (above). It has also grown significantly in popularity over the last few years but isn’t yet as internationally celebrated as men’s basketball.


An example of the above can be demonstrated with the beep test that occurs Years 7-9.  Originally, there had been separate charts for each gender, dictating that reaching level ‘X’ gave you a good effort, and reaching level ‘Y’ gave you excellent.  However, the department decided to scratch the difference in expectations for each gender, and now there is only one combined chart dictating which level equals which effort.  This decision was made after the students spoke directly to the teacher(s), and although it can be said that it naturally places females at a disadvantage, at least now they are graded equally.

It is most probable that the examples mentioned only portray a one-off trait of sexism, as it is known that the school is in full support of the promotion of gender equality. However, does this example demonstrate a subtle trend, or is it simply an outlier?

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1 Comment

  1. Dear Update,

    A very interesting article indeed about gender issues in PE. Bravo and double high five to the person who wrote it. I am impressed by the courage it took to write it and the balanced, challenging view it offers. There is a sophistication to the writing and great critical thought in the ideas. Excellent tone, perfectly pitched. Let’s hope Someone hears it!

    PS. Just because I am an English teacher, I felt it worthy to note a common error with the use of ‘however’ in the middle of a sentence: “These examples mentioned are *few, however,* it was only at these points that the idea of sexism in PE within our International School ever entered our minds.” There should be a semi-colon before the ‘however’, as a connected idea, and complete sentence, follows. Just sayin’.

    *Xanthe Cobb* La Châtaigneraie Teacher of English: IGCSE, IB LAL EAL Coordinator, Secondary School Tutor 13.2

    *International School of Geneva* 2, chemin de la Ferme / CH-1297 Founex Tel. +41 (0)22 960 91 11 Fax +41 (0)22 960 91 20

    Visit Join our web community

    Think of the environment…do you need to print this email?


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