This Viral Post About A Middle School’s Gym Clothes Policy Is Just The Tip Of The Iceberg On Learned Sexism In Schools

There are a lot of instances when gender equality is at risk in the classroom — the way educators handle dress codes, group discussions, assigned literature, and even how they talk about careers. While these all serve as opportunities to correct imbalances, unfortunately they still very much exist. For instance: telling boys they don’t have to launder their own gym uniforms, like one school apparently did.

The above situation befell one unnamed parent, who authored a Reddit post on Sunday about a letter she received from her children’s middle school outlining their gym uniform policies. Apparently, the school mandated her daughter take her uniform home to launder, but the school would just wash her son’s, since boys apparently can’t be trusted with the task.

I was floored when I went to the school and was told that my 7th grade daughter would be responsible for bringing her gym uniform home, laundering it, and bringing it back while my 8th grade son would “just give it to the school for them to wash” since they didn’t trust the boys to do the same. I’m so angry! Either wash all the kids uniforms or none of them. Don’t tell my kid that if he doesn’t accomplish something (especially a historically feminine activity like laundry) that someone else will do it for them. My kids have been responsible for their own laundry for 5 years. Boys don’t wash their shit? Take off points. Easy as that. Fail them if they don’t do what they’re supposed to. Don’t coddle them. Thanks for listening.
Should I write a letter and (potentially) ruffle feathers? I’ve already made it VERY clear to my son that that is NOT how the world works.

The post sparked some well-deserved outrage, with respondents supporting the OP in her endeavor to write a letter to the school, as well as suggesting there might be a Title IX complaint at hand here. Others shared their own stories about facing sexism in middle school:

As part of our abstinence-only sex ed, we were sent home with robot babies that would scream and cry in the middle of the night, which were also fitted with an accelerometer and a timer, to prove you had “soothed” the baby in an appropriate time frame. (Alternatively you could carry around a sack of flour with you for an entire week; no tape or anything. You were graded on the condition of the bag of flour at the end of the week.)
The. Boys. Didn’t. Have. To. Do. This. Project.

And beyond:

And this explains why years ago when I was an executive chef I had to teach, yes teach a 22yr old man how to sweep and mop. Then have his mommy come at me with claws out because her son, her baby boy should never have to learn women's work. Uhhhh hellllloooooo it's a kitchen! You wanted to work in a kitchen. Yes you will sweep, mop, do dishes and clean up after me. Yes a woman. And who in the hell sends their mommy in to scold their boss. I told her she was doing him a great disservice by not getting him ready for life. She came back with "that will be his wife's job" I just shook my head and said "like that's going to happen " so needless to say he didn't last maybe a week more before I fired him. Yup mommy came back to tell me I was a horrible person. So ladies or men, teach your kid life skills. They need it. It's not child abuse to expect your kid to help clean. It will only benefit them.

Some posters pointed out that the school may have been trying to save middle school boys some embarrassment, since they tend to sweat and smell slightly more than middle school girls thanks to those pesky hormones. But it still sends the message to girls that laundry is their job, and reinforces the old stereotype that boys will be boys — i.e., not nearly capable enough of taking on a mundane task like laundry.

There’s been a lot of discussion of late about how sexism in schools affects women in the long run. Dress codes are particularly fraught, and for good reason; the enforcement of these rules more often than not is rooted in the idea that women are "responsible" for what their male peers' actions, depending on what they wear. Case in point: I went to a religious middle school with a very strict dress code, and unsurprisingly, the rules were a lot tougher on the girls than the boys. We couldn’t wear sleeveless tops or show leg above the knee, which was easy enough to avoid, but one of the code’s more annoying quirks was that it forbade us from wearing shirts short enough to ride up above the tops of our pants if we sat down or bent over — because, our teachers said, our lower backs were “distracting” for the boys. It turns out this isn’t an easy thing to avoid when you’re 13 and your body is changing faster than you can afford to replace your clothes, and my female classmates and I spent a good chunk of time wearing embarrassing oversized gym shirts to cover our offending skin. I never once saw a boy get “shirted.”

The dress code issue is one of the more obvious examples of gender imbalance in middle school, but as the Reddit posters (and a slew of other experts) have pointed out, even more subtle forms of sexism, like the uniform issue in the main post, or the sex-ed classes that put the onus of parenthood on mothers, are still very much a persistent problem. Studies have shown that most Americans still split up household chores along gender lines, likely because these norms are reinforced at young ages — i.e., girls still get baby dolls and play kitchens as gifts, while boys get Nerf guns and toy cars — but studies have also shown that marriages tend to be happier when housework is more evenly divided, regardless of gender.

All the more reason, then, to mandate that children of all genders do their own laundry at a young age. If they can’t be “trusted” at 13, there’s no time like the present to learn.