Why Spain needs more feminism in the classroom

It was a crime that shocked all of Spain: Five men raped an 18-year-old woman at Pamplona’s running of the bulls in July 2016, in a brutal assault captured on tape by the attackers.

The case – known as La Manada, which means “mob” – led to national outrage in Spain, both online and in the streets, and a nine-year jail sentence for the perpetrators.

Taken together with the #MeToo movement, which began in the United States in 2017 and quickly spread around the globe, sexual assault awareness has seen a sudden and dramatic increase in Spain.

Read more: Educación feminista: en los colegios y las familias aún queda mucho por hacer

Young women have joined feminist activism in record numbers, marching to defend the survivor of the La Manada attack, protest violence against women and protect abortion rights.

Last March 8, International Women’s Day, Spanish women staged a “domestic strike.” More people participated in Spanish women’s marches that day than in any other developed country.

The impact of La Manada and #MeToo in Spanish schools, however, has been much weaker.

Gender stereotypes start early

Children as young as six years old already show the strong influence of stereotypes about gender, according to a 2017 article in Science magazine. At that age, girls are less likely to say that members of their gender are “really, really smart” and more likely to avoid activities they perceive to be extremely challenging.

In the long run, the false perception about what girls can and cannot do explains, in part, why women are underrepresented in prestigious, rigorous professions like physics and engineering. They learn very early on that brilliance is a masculine trait.

It doesn’t help that women are almost entirely absent from the images in science textbooks.

Other developmental psychology research has shown that as young as four years old, children choose toys, games and roles traditionally associated with their genders: trucks and playing war for the boys, dolls and playing nurse for the girls.

As an educational psychologist, I know that school is one of the main places that children construct their worldviews. Through play and by observation, they accumulate the experiences that inform how they think about themselves, their gender identity and, therefore, their place in the world.

Games are more than child’s play: When children role play, they’re showing us the social models they believe to be true.

When little girls play house, or nurse, or perform other domestic duties, I recognize it as a sign that they have already internalized the stereotype that women are “natural” caretakers.

And when boys play at war, it can mean that they associate violence with masculinity.

Sexism at school

In an effort to avoid teaching stereotypical gender roles at an early age, some Scandinavian countries have banned fairy tales in schools and sought to use gender-neutral language in the classroom. Toymakers in the United States and United Kingdom have also stopped marketing products to children based on gender.

But surveys show that even in these countries, children still subconsciously hold sexist beliefs.