News / Edmonton

Edmonton-area school taking heat for 'outdated' women's studies course

The class preaches empowerment but teaches girls about about face shape, polite conversation and applying make-up.

Cristina Stasia, director of instruction at the Peter Lougheed Leadership College, says gender studies are important in schools, but should teach all kids to think critically.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Cristina Stasia, director of instruction at the Peter Lougheed Leadership College, says gender studies are important in schools, but should teach all kids to think critically.

A junior high north of Edmonton is taking heat online for a new women’s studies course that preaches empowerment, but teaches girls about about face shape, polite conversation and applying make-up.    

The class launched Feb. 1 at Eleanor Hall School in Clyde, and is open to students in grades 6 to 9. There are 25 girls signed up for the option as part of the school’s Career and Technology Foundations program, according to officials from Pembina Hills Public Schools.

But criticism online has been swift, after a school board newsletter dated March 15 described what students would be learning.

Related: Class geared to girls at Alberta school should teach more life skills — like marrying rich: Mochama

“Girls self-image and self-esteem takes a battering in a world where they are bombarded with distorted images of what it means to be female,” the newsletter reads.

Activities outlined include analyzing face and body shape “to determine which hairstyle is most flattering.”

Students will also complete “an online shopping activity to identify their own personal style,” and “plan recipes, table settings, dinner music and review dinner party etiquette and polite conversation.”

Cristina Stasia, a gender consultant and director of instruction at the University of Alberta's
Peter Lougheed Leadership College, called the focus on appearance “extremely problematic.”

“It’s reinforcing some very outdated gender roles. There is a need for gender studies in schools, but the way we do that is by teaching critical media literacy,” she said.

“You don’t focus on what their bodies look like, but what their minds can do.”

Still, Stasia applauds the school for starting a women’s studies class.

“I believe the intentions behind this course are good,” she said. “Trying to provide a space where girls can discuss issues that disproportionately impact girls, that’s important.”

David Garbutt, acting superintendent for Pembina Hills, said it’s possible parts of the class “missed the mark.”

“On the face of it, I can understand why people would be concerned, but that's not the purpose or intent of this option.”

He said, based on his conversation with the teachers involved, that the course would also include more media criticism and discussion of gender stereotypes.

“We want them to be critical thinkers, we want them to analyze what’s in the media,” he said.  

“I want to ensure people that we’re not going out of our way to pigeonhole our kids.”

Garbutt said he's currently accepting feedback, and is open to making changes to the course in future.

Editor's note: this article has been corrected to reflect Cristina Stasia's updated title at the University of Alberta.

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