An assignment given by a Utah high school teacher is sparking confusion, disbelief, and even outrage after one student’s mother posted a photo of the instructions on Facebook.
The assignment, entitled “$5 Date,” came from Highland High School’s Adult Roles and Financial Literacy class, and requires students to go on a date with a classmate of the opposite sex and not spend more than $5. But that’s not all: They each must also follow the explicit instructions while they’re on it — and many of the suggestions given to the girls raised more than a few eyebrows.
To be fair, some were innocent enough, and could pass for general dating advice applicable to anyone: “Be ready on time” … “Relax and be yourself.”
But others? Well, have a look for yourself …
“Eat the food you order” … “Don’t waste his money” … “If you think you’re too fat, etc., keep it to yourself.” … “Don’t correct or comment on his personal habits.”
Um, what? Don’t waste HIS money? Yikes. The 1950s called — they want their dating pamphlet back.
Now, let’s set aside the awkwardness created by having an assignment where you have to find a date in order to complete it. (And also the fact that I would have failed that assignment with flying colors.) The message these suggestions send to young girls is shockingly out of touch in a multitude of ways. For one, they blatantly perpetuate the outdated image of women as beautiful, silent ornaments, only meant to be displayed on the arms of men. If you want to be a good date, the assignment implies, you’ll follow the boy’s lead and put your own wants and needs on the back burner. Not exactly the message most parents want to send to their daughters.
The boys, on the other hand, were given their own set of suggestions, which were again peppered with general advice for being a well-mannered human being. “Chew with your mouth closed,” reads one suggestion; “Be honest,” reads another.
But once again, the expected role of each gender was subtly — and sometimes not so subtly — outlined in several other suggestions. Case in point: “At a restaurant, say what you’re going to order so she’ll have a guide when ordering,” the assignment urges.
See? This is why I never go out to eat when my husband is out of town. I’m just utterly LOST without his food-related guidance.
All kidding aside, it’s pretty clear why Oxborrow’s post struck such a chord with so many people (to date, it’s been shared more than 1K times, though it has since been made private). Sure, there’s something to be said for teaching teenagers etiquette and manners; I’ll give you that. But reducing young women to the role of the subservient, “ladylike” follower and elevating young men to that of the strong, “superior” leader is the quickest way to set back gender roles several decades.
And considering Oxborrow’s the executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, that’s the last thing she wants us to do to our young girls. Speaking with Babble, Oxborrow shares just why she believes messaging like this can have damaging implications for the future:
“When we hear about girls being taught just to get along and not call out men’s behavior and being deferential, that’s really alarming, especially when our own data tells us that there is gender inequity to begin with. One in three women in Utah will experience rape, intimate partner violence, or stalking their lifetime.”
The good news is, the Utah Board of Education has taken action since Oxborrow’s post, by removing the $5 Date materials from the state’s curriculum database, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
“They’re inappropriate, and we’re taking them down,” Mark Peterson, spokesman for the Utah Board of Education, told the paper.
Additionally, Oxborrow has met with the teacher behind the assignment as well as the school principal, who have listened to her concerns and expressed interest in updating the curricula. She says the school plans on also working with student focus groups as well as with LGBT groups to be more inclusive in the future.
But after hearing the concerns of other parents and students — some of whom had been given the same assignment years ago — Oxborrow realized that these sorts of gender-biased assignments weren’t specific to this one teacher or even to this one school. Since sharing her post on Facebook, countless other students and parents have relayed similar experiences all over the state.
“I think people didn’t realize, I certainly didn’t realize, how pernicious this was,” shares Oxborrow. “I thought it was just one teacher, but it’s really statewide.”
That is a disturbing reality, considering that assignments like these are given to teenagers whose perceptions of themselves and those around them are still being formed. In assigning this project, the teacher gave students the impression that she approved its messaging enough to spend valuable class time on it. It implied that there is a “right” way to date, and a particular mold that should be filled.
But what about students who don’t fit inside that mold? What about students who identify as gay, bisexual, transgender, or other? How about heterosexual students who simply don’t subscribe to the roles depicted on paper — girls who like to be in the driver’s seat and boys who are content to take a backseat? What about kids who just aren’t ready for all of this yet? Kids like, oh say, an introverted ballerina with bad hair and a future career as a writer. (Just for instance.)
The bottom line is, assignments like these are insensitive at best and harmful at worst. At a time in their lives when they’re already going through so many changes, teenagers should be able to count on their schools for support and acceptance, not judgement and inequity, however subtly-implied they may be.