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Saturday, January 16, 2021
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Aug 8 2019 (IPS) - Trying to teach and inspire youngsters is a daunting task. Many teachers tend to suffer from a harrowing, bad conscience, obliged as they are to follow routines, rules, and regulations set down by their employers while knowing that these are difficult to apply and provide with desired results. Worst is a nagging feeling of inability to reach out to the students. Most teachers want their pupils to be good learners, critically thinking individuals who feel gratified and keen to change things for the better.
Occasionally, I return to my original profession as a high school teacher. Long intervals between such experiences make it possible for me to perceive attitude changes among students and myself. When I two years ago had another stint of teaching in Sweden I found a new obstacle to students´ interest in direct social interaction and learning – smartphones. In many schools, they are now banned from lessons, though not from the one where I was working. Many of the teachers were quite young and belonged to the mobile phone generation. They explained that smartphones had become an essential part of their lives and instead of being banned they ought to be integrated into education.
Smartphones infringed on many students´ attention. Several felt forced to look at them over and over again – texting, checking things on the web, playing games, doing selfies, nothing of which had anything to do with school work. I found some of my pupils to be incapable of concentrating on a specific task, listening to me or even watch a movie for more than five minutes. No matter how exciting they originally had found the film, they soon felt an uncontrollable urge to switch on and check their smartphones. When I asked what could be so extremely urgent, they generally lied and said it was their mother calling, or that they had been alerted about some kind of emergency. However, I soon found out that several of the girls were checking out Kim Kardashian´s website, while boys often had become absorbed in some inane game, like directing a rolling ball through meandering tunnels.
Before my latest teaching experience, I had been happily unaware of Kim Kardashian´s influence on women’s´ lives, but now I know that she and other members of her family have a combined Instagram-following of more than 536 million and that Keeping Up With the Kardashians, a reality television series following the lives of Kim and her four sisters, is running on its 16th season. However, Kim´s coffee table book Selfish from 2015, presenting selfies she had taken over the time of nine years, ”flopped” – selling ”only” 125,000 copies. Apart from ”acting” in a reality show and posting entries on Instagram, Kim has a line of clothing and other items mirroring the Kardashians´”aspirational and over-the-top lifestyle”, celebrating a body image of slim waists, large breasts and hips, ”a hyper-feminised, high-glamour look that seems calculated to entice the male gaze, sexy rather than being fashionable,”1 while Keeping Up With the Kardashians pays hommage to a fake existence of staged worries, petty concerns and idle gossip, where ”having fun” equals expensive activities at luxury resorts and spas, or the planning of and participation in clamorous, superficial and glittering parties. Kim Kardashian´s influence cannot be ignored, her fame and wealth make even a notoriously bad listener like U.S. President Donald J. Trump willing to lend her an ear.
The Kardashian style, as the family´s approach to life is called in the TV-series, is reflected by an app that was immensely popular among many of my female students. It is a role-playing game in which participants are invited to impersonate an ”up-and-coming” Hollywood celebrity climbing a status ladder passing ”levels of stardom” from E to A, completing tasks like posing for magazines and going on dates. This while the more enterprising among my school-tired male students were engaged in complicated and violent role-playing video games like Grand Theft Auto V and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. It felt as if the entire school system was under a massive attack from commercial interests, which apart from being mind-numbing are cementing prejudicial gender roles.
Antiquated attitudes about gender roles among several of my students made me doubt if they had participated in an obligatory subject of the Swedish elementary school system – home and consumer knowledge, which for several years train boys and girls in managing household chores and childcare. No one who has received that training might claim to be unknowledgeable about elementary household chores. Furthermore, in Swedish schools, both boys and girls are trained in needlework, as well as metal- and wood handicraft. I find this approach highly commendable as it benefits a sense of responsibility and gender equality. However, these admirable gains may be counteracted by mass communication supporting bigoted gender roles that limit and predispose abilities and perspective of both girls and boys.
If human development is to be achieved, the best resolution of any nation would be to promote general wellbeing and prosperity by providing effective and affordable health care and education to all of its citizens, irrespective of gender, wealth and social standing. Furthermore, such education has to benefit gender equality and encourage personal accountability. Most of my students were well aware of the concept of human rights, i.e. their own rights, though they were often unaware that this concept includes human duties, i.e. concerns about the welfare of others.
I recently came to think of this after reading a well-written Italian novel Sei Mia: Un amore violento by Eleonora de Nardis, which describes the suffering of a mother of three under the brutal and degrading regime of a spouse, who furthermore is married to and sharing a family with another woman. I am convinced that this novel illustrated the suffering of women all around the world. Women who on their own carry the entire responsibility of running a home and taking care of children engendered together with an irresponsible man, who furthermore, as in Sei Mia, abuses, maltreats and controls the mother of his own offspring under the feeble pretext that this is his right as a man, assuming that his gender excludes him from cooking, childcare, and expressions of emotional care for his family, as well as compassion and responsibility for the wellbeing of others.
It is scientifically proven that domestic violence generally occurs when an abuser assumes he is entitled to behave as a selfish tyrant. A male perpetrator of domestic violence is often supported, accepted and even justified by his socio-cultural upbringing and ambiance. A background and attitude that tends to be shared by his victims, who are unlikely to report this kind of violence to authorities that often condone the abuser´s behaviour. Several legal systems make a difference between ”domestic” and ”common” law and it is quite common that it is up to a victim to report domestic violence, under the pretext that this cannot be done by an ”outsider”. An absurdity considering that it often proves to be fatal for a victim to even consider accusing a violent, capricious abuser who exercises total control and to whom she is entirely dependent.2 Such a state of affairs produces an intergenerational cycle of abuse in children and other family members, who are brought up to consider such abuse as acceptable. Attitudes that may only be changed through an obligatory education, which breaks down gender inequalities. Efforts that have to be combined with the strict application of laws penalizing domestic abuse, while safeguarding male responsibilities for support of their households, making it obligatory to participate in the care of their children, for example by guaranteeing not only maternal leave from work but paternal leave as well.
There is a direct correlation between a country´s level of gender equality and rates of domestic violence, where countries with less gender equality experience higher rates of domestic abuse. Domestic violence is an abominable crime that not only cripples the ability for victims to participate ihe creation of genern tal, social wellbeing, it also tends to destroy or frustrate children´s development as compassionate and progressive human beings. Apparently, has Swedish education had a beneficial impact on gender equality and when it comes to the condemnation of domestic violence. However, I hope the impact of stereotyped gender roles propagated by trendsetters and some influential video game developers will not be able to diminish such achievements.
1 Sile, Karin (2019) “´They can sell anything´: how the Kardashians changed fashion”, The Guardian, 28 January.
2 Jackson, Nicky Ali (ed.) (2007) Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence. New York: Routledge.
Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.
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