My Bug is in a reading tutoring program after school, and he really loves it. After the last session, my husband and I got a sheet informing us of the classes being offered for next semester. We dug right in, because we definitely wanted to sign him up again. There was reading tutoring, Spanish tutoring, a writing class — and then I saw it — etiquette class for GIRLS in grades 5 through 8. What in the actual fuck?
Truth be told, there are etiquette classes all over the United States aimed at teaching youngsters good social behavior. It’s not a bad thing. Good etiquette is definitely worth knowing. Not everyone is born with the immense social graces that charm and woo their peers. It’s good to know how you should behave when you receive a wedding invite, at a party, or in certain business situations. Really, the list goes on and on.
My kids will never take an etiquette class. Frankly, I don’t have the money to send them to one, not in lieu of gymnastics and karate anyway. I plan on teaching them what I can while they are still under my roof. I trust that their teachers at school, coaches in sports, mentors at work, and maybe most importantly what they learn while we travel to different places, will be enough to get them through. However, this isn’t to say that there’s not value in a class that teaches kids proper social behavior.
Where my anger comes into play here, is that this class is specifically designed for girls. Why? Do little boys not need to learn manners? Is it not necessary for boys to learn how to set a table? Do boys not need lessons on dress code? Do boys not need to learn how to speak with thoughtfulness and care? Whether intended or not, an etiquette class marketed just to young women sends that exact message — and it’s bullshit.
This class offering at my kid’s school has me all in a tizzy for two reasons.
First of all, I’m the mother of a little boy. He’s incredibly intelligent, caring, and hardworking. While he doesn’t know that he wasn’t invited to participate in this class, I do. I know that whoever the powers that be are, they decided that these aren’t skills he needs to succeed in life. They decided that by virtue of having a penis, it’s not necessary for him to learn superior social graces.
Second of all, I’m the mother of a little girl. When I first saw the listing for the etiquette class, visions of 1950s Home Ec classes played through my head: girls learning to set a table; girls learning how to speak softly; girls learning to be good wives. I’m not saying that this is what will be taught, but that’s the vision I have, and it’s not what my daughter needs to learn about what is expected from women.
Bottom line is that, yes, there’s definitely some value in learning good behavior and habits whether a child learns them from a parent or a class at school. What isn’t acceptable is offering it only to little girls. We already live in a society where women’s voices can’t be heard unless their thoughts are spoken in a whisper. We haven’t, as a people, completely moved away from the idea that a woman’s place is in the home caring for her children. Our world still treats violence and aggression like prized possessions while good behavior is often thought of as weakness, and the girls are the ones who are expected to have good behavior.
In a world where social grace is truly a dying art, teaching etiquette is a good idea. Offering it only to girls, however, perpetuates sexist attitudes that both women and men have worked hard to eradicate from our society. We’ve come a long way, but clearly not far enough if someone at school thought this was a proper after school activity. Needless to say, neither one of my kids will be attending.