The concepts of stereotypes, coercion and forced marriages in public education

One of our guest bloggers, Elin Weiss, describes a class at a high school which, without critique, explored gender stereotypes. Questions that reflect the perspective on sexuality and gender, and consequently our human rights. Analytically

During a discussion with one of my colleagues, at the high school where I work, we talked about the schools responsibility to actively counteract stereotypes depicted in textbooks, and about how well the school actually does this. All schools should be actively engaged in these efforts and according to Skolverket (the Swedish governmental entity overseeing all public education), schools are meant to embody and convey equality and counteract traditional gender roles. After said discussion, I participated in a scheduled class in English.

Students were meant to practice their comprehension of spoken English. As such, the teaching teacher presented a text from a record which accompanies the textbook, and number of worksheets, all in accordance with the USA themed curricula. Students were meant to listen to the text and then answer a number of questions regarding the text.

The students listened to a text called ”High Horse’s Courting” which is about a young man named High Horse, from the Sioux tribe, and takes place around the 1930s. High Horse is in love with a girl and wishes to marry her, he offers the father of the girl a number of horses as a dowry but the father is not impressed. So, High Horse turns to his cousin Red Deer for help, and decides to steal the girl. The story is about how High Horse eventually “wins” the girl and proves to her father that he is “a real man”.

It is plainly uncomfortable to sit in a classroom together with 14-year-olds and listen to a text where questionable plots and stereotypical gender roles are broadcasted. The text contains, according to me, numerous acts of coercion and is about one individuals “love” for another individual where the one individual simply does as he pleases towards the other. When love cannot be bought the next strategy is to try to steal and coerce love.

Probably for a long time I have been feeling sick about a certain girl because I love her so much, but she will not even look at me, and her parents keep a good watch over her. But I keep feeling worse all the time; so maybe I sneak up to her tepee in the dark and wait until she comes out”.

The girl whom High Horse claims to love doesn’t even want to look at him and her parents are controlling her. My opinion is that it is questionable to accentuate a text in education which does not only pertain to unrequited love where one individual consents to love someone unrequitedly, but also accentuates how a man wants and have to have a special girl despite the fact that she has no interest in him.

So High Horse got his girl after all, and I think he deserved her”. Nothing is mentioned about what the girl deserves or desires.

Stereotypical gender roles for men, or boys, are also depicted and the most important element is ”to be a real man”, to be validated by other men as a true man.

”Cousin, if you are man enough, we can steal her this time.” And High Horse said: ”I am man enough to do anything anybody can think up, if I can only get that girl.” and ”It was not the horses that he wanted. What he wanted was a son who was a real man and good for something”.

I do not think that the story about High Horse portrays and promotes equality or counteracts stereotypical gender roles, and I do not think that this text is suitable for educational purposes.

However, the text could be used constructively as a stepping off point for debates regarding coercion, individual rights, women’s rights, “importation” of women and forced marriages. In such a manner, I could understand how this text is to be used for educational purposes, but as it is being used now I am very taken aback by the fact that it has been published in and chosen for modern Swedish education.

by Elin Weiss

You can also read Elin’s text on the blog ”Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (UK & Ireland”) here