In today’s installment of, “What Were They Thinking?”, a California high school recently hosted a “Battle of the Sexes” assembly, in which students were tasked with making posters arguing for which is the better gender. The results were a sexist mess. In fact, the premise itself is a sexist, binary-reinforcing, reductive mess, so it was never going to end up anywhere good. On the boys’ side: Photos of great male leaders and inventors. On the girls’: Make up, diamonds, and bikinis. Head, meet desk. Thankfully, one brave female student fought against sexism at this “Battle”; senior Mindy Pflug tweeted images of the event with a single, damning comment: “.....I am beyond appalled.” Lady, you are not alone.
Held at La Serna High School in Whittier, California, this “battle,” according to a Facebook post by Pflug, was supposed to be “a friendly challenge,” in which boys would compete against girls in relay races and other games. The school’s student leadership organization was in charge of decorations, though all students were allowed to sign up to help decorate. Although the assembly seems to have been held with good intentions, I think many would agree that it was a bad idea in the first place. This kind of event essentially asks students to promote antiquated gender stereotypes, which is, unsurprisingly, exactly what happened. Photos tweeted by Pflug show that the boy’s side of the gym was decorated with a giant blue sign, with “Who REALLY runs the world?” emblazoned across the top. Underneath were pictures of famous dudes, including luminaries like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. The girls’ side, in contrast, was pink (because of course), and was decorated with images of makeup, diamonds, and bikinis.
According to Pflug, the display also featured the Beyoncé lyrics "Who run the world? Girls," but there were no references to influential women of history or important cultural contributions by women. Plug told Seventeen, “I was beyond offended, along with many other girls at my school."
Some people have argued with Pflug’s criticism on Twitter by pointing out that female students were involved in making the girls’ poster. But the fact that women were involved doesn’t in itself negate the sexism of the posters. As Pflug points out on Facebook, “women can contribute to sexism too. This only proves that sexism is so normalized that some women do not realize it until it's too late, if they realize it at all.”
As Pflug explains, there were a lot of people involved in setting up for the assembly, including student leadership and the school administration. The fact that no one—male or female, teenaged or adult—thought that it might be problematic to have a giant poster praising male power alongside one associating women solely with appearance is completely insane, and illustrative of how deeply ingrained gender stereotypes can be. Pflug writes on Facebook,
[T]he entire student organization and administration oversaw the decorations, and didn't see anything wrong with it. The entire point of creating awareness on this topic is to bring the public to realize that casual sexism such as this should not be normalized. Sexism is so normalized that no one saw the problem here. I am here to say that this is not normal, it is unacceptable and harmful.
Pflug told Seventeen that she has faced bullying in the wake of her protest against the Battle of the sexes, but she has also received support from other students.
Despite the backlash, Pflug has responded to the controversy with intelligence and poise. Graduating in June, Pflug is set to attend the University of California, San Diego, in the fall, where, hopefully, she will continue to speak out against gender stereotyping and casual sexism. Good luck out there, Mindy!