High schools are infamous for sexist dress codes, constrictive prom rules, and other lessons in outdated bias — but this latest example takes the cake: In Utah, 11th graders were given an assignment to go on a $5 date after consulting handouts with separate “tips” for boys and girls, created by and for each other. Suggestions for the young women? “Be feminine,” “Eat the food you order. Don’t waste his money,” “Don’t fish for compliments, “Show respect for him,” and, “If you think you’re too fat, etc., keep it to yourself.”
Highland High School in Salt Lake City rescinded the assignment after the mom of a young woman in the class posted the assignment to Facebook, where it’s received 1,800 reactions, been shared more than 1,900 times, and has sparked a firestorm.
“Thanks for educating our kids, Utah Department of Education,” Jenn Oxborrow had written on the post, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. “We really appreciate your evidence-based misogyny.”
Yahoo Beauty was unable to reach school administrators. But according to the newspaper, the assignment was part of a state-required Adult Roles and Financial Literacy class, with handouts not written by the teacher but grabbed from a database of state-approved materials, said principal Chris Jenson. “She’s just mortified,” Jenson said of the unidentified teacher. “She wanted it to be a lighthearted lesson in social norms.”
Mark Peterson, spokesman for the Utah Board of Education, told the Tribune that the materials in question were being removed from the database. “They’re inappropriate,” he said, “and we’re taking them down.”
Social media criticism of the assignment has been fierce.
— Angelica Rustali (@jellysayshey) January 10, 2017
— kate (@unfilteredkate) January 10, 2017
— Julee Attig (@juleeslc) January 10, 2017
— Jenn (@jlms_qkw) January 10, 2017
“This is simply not OK,” Connecticut-based psychologist Barbara Greenberg, who specializes in adolescents and teens, tells Yahoo Beauty. “It’s so unbelievably gender-biased, and it puts us back in time.” It’s especially problematic, she says, considering its heterosexual assumptions and also the fact that, according to recent data, 50 percent of millennials consider gender to be a spectrum.
It’s a point Oxborrow also raised. “If you’re trying to figure out where you stand with your gender identity and then you get an assignment like this, it puts our kids at risk,” she told the Tribune. “Our teachers and our principals have to acknowledge some of this and teach in a sensitive, evidence-based way — and they’re not.”
Greenberg does, however, approve of teaching dating skills to teens.
“I love the idea of educating children about dating and relationships,” she says, “because usually such lessons are all about the mechanics and STDs. But what about how the heart and body are connected? It’s part of life, and we don’t really educate our kids about it.” That leads to troubles she has seen through her clinical practice, she says, including teens getting into abusive and obsessive situations.
Greenberg also calls out a specific tip that was included in the controversial assignment — “If you think you’re fat, keep it to yourself” — and notes that it was going in the right direction. “I didn’t like the way it was worded, but it would be wonderful for women to know that they don’t need to talk about their weight.” But in general, she says, the entire assignment was flawed, reiterating, “I don’t like the way it was gender-biased.”
Tips for the boys in the now-ditched assignment, meanwhile, included “Don’t feel entitled to a kiss (or more),” “Use good manners,” “Be honest,” “Don’t drive recklessly,” and “Don’t exaggerate to your friends about what happened on the date.” Which honestly adds up to some pretty good advice — for any gender, that is.