Friday, August 10, 2012

No Limits

At the end of last June, the above four signs appeared on the street side of a building on a local high school property.  (Originally, the school was intended to be a vocational facility; however, because of the number of families that moved to the area–and other high schools in the community near capacity–it became a traditional academic facility as well.)

It's difficult to see some of the signs clearly (unless you click on the picture to enlarge it), but the four vocational fields identified are Metal Fabricator, Carpentry, Culinary Arts, and Hairstyle/Cosmetology (yes, I know, the first and last should be Metal Fabrication and Hairstyling/Cosmetology, to be consistent with the other two).  Each sign shows a picture of a young person one might expect to enrol in that program.  Obviously, the pictures are intended to help local young people see themselves take the apprenticeship training and eventually work in one of these areas.       

What concerned me about the pictures–and the point of my post–is that some of them perpetuate gender stereotypes.  In the Metal Fabricator picture, for example, is a handsome young man, while in the Hairstyle/Cosmetology picture is an pretty young lady. That's all well and good, as far as gender stereotypes go, but what if a local young lady wanted to enrol as a Metal Fabricator, and what if a local young man wanted to take the Hairstyling/Cosmetology program?  Would either be discouraged because he or she didn't see someone of his or her gender in the picture?  Even worse, would either think something was wrong with him or her because he or she was interested in a non-traditional program or career for someone of his or her gender?  

It feels to me that, when the signs were made, assumptions were also made: namely, that the Metal Fabricator program would never appeal to a young lady, or the Hairstyling/Cosmetology program would never appeal to a young man.  But, of course, we all know these assumptions could be wrong.  And no one should ever be discouraged from pursuing a field of study or a line of work because someone of his or her gender isn't traditionally found in them.

The sign for Culinary Arts has it right.  In it, a young lady is in the foreground, while a young man is in the background, obviously suggesting someone of either gender might be interested in this program or career.  If only the same consideration had been paid to the pictures on the Metal Fabricator and Hairstyle/Cosmetology signs (not to mention the Carpentry sign, as well).  Sure, on the Metal Fabricator sign, show the young man up front, but ensure a young lady is behind, too (or, even better, show the young woman up front and the young man behind, just to mix things up a bit).  And vice versa regarding the Hairstyle/Cosmetology sign.  

All I'm asking is, let's think broader than the obvious.  Let's not make assumptions based on gender or stereotype.  Open up the world of school programs and careers for both genders, in all areas, because no one should ever be pigeonholed or discouraged from doing what he or she really wants to.  

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