Some girls still tread on the path of Cinders

8th February 2008 at 00:00
Is it a bird? No. Is it a plane? No. In fact, it's not actually Superman at all, but girls. Yes, girls. In 2008, school is going fully co-educational. Some healthy dollops of oestrogen to balance out the waves of testosterone that have been the norm.

I decide to help the boys in Year 7 to get ready for this by embracing their latent princesses and taking the whole year-group to see Cinderella. Just how helpful seeing men dressed as women with enormous fake bosoms would be I am reluctant to say.

On our way into the theatre, a boy pipes up: "It's a girls' story, Miss." I point out that there's no sign above the theatre door saying "Boys Banned". "Will there be sword-fighting, Miss?" No. "A car chase?" No. "Blood and gore?" Only if these questions persist. Yet they are mesmerised immediately by the glitter and sparkle of Fairy Godmother opening the show.

Their focus only lapses during the romantic singing of Cinderella and Prince Charming, when the pupils shuffle awkwardly until one wit shouts out, "Hurry up and snog her then!"

During the interval, I gather feedback. "It's OK, Miss, but there's too many fairies pirouetting in pink for my liking."

I look around the audience. All the girls, have dressed up: tiaras and frilly tutus, pastel satin gowns and fairy wands abound. Meanwhile, the boys are blowing up aliens on their mobile phones and playing a game involving loud competitive clapping.

When the miniature white ponies appear pulling the crystal carriage, all the girls give a collective "Aaah". The boys look at me in disgust, clearly disappointed. One of them tells me he'd rather have stayed at home and played on his Wii than gone to find a princess. Girls, he announces, are simply boring. Clearly, he hasn't witnessed the girls in the St Trinian's film: their lyric of "hockey sticks and balls of steel", coupled with their motto "embrace anarchy", demolishes the puny princess theory. "What use is a crystal slipper anyway?" asks one. "I dunno, but you could flog it on eBay," comes the entrepreneurial response.

The next morning, at break time I see a rare sight in our junior playground: a boy holding the end of a skipping rope while girls skip and chant. He doesn't look coerced either. I look for signs of girls joining in with touch-rugby, but see none. Still, these things take time, no doubt.

I wonder how the boys will cope with no longer being the "cleverest" in class, given that girls now outperform boys in exams. Then I recall not all girls have it so good. Millions around the world are denied even a basic education, simply because of their gender. Our task in this country is to ensure girls and boys alike are given the opportunity to shine and be the best they can be.

Boy. Girl. Prince. Princess. Ugly Sister or Principal Boy. We shall treat them all the same - even if my boys have yet to understand the enduring allure of crystal slippers and all those other accessories that we girls crave.

Julie Greenhough, Teacher at a London boys' secondary school.

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