A Canadian school course that teaches girls about dinner party etiquette, polite conversation and nail care has come under fire from critics for being a throwback to the 1950s stereotype of women as ornamental objects.
Launched last month by a school in rural Alberta, the optional “Women Studies” course is aimed at helping 11-to-15-year-old girls to “navigate adolescence with their self-image and self-esteem intact”, school authorities said.
The lesson plan includes a field trip for students to learn how to plan recipes, table settings and music for a dinner party. Students will also learn nail care and application and how to choose the most flattering hairstyles and clothing.
“In this age of social media, girls are being frequently compared to others and exposed to messages about how they aren’t good enough unless they dress and behave a certain way,” said Michelle Savoie, a teacher at Eleanor Hall School who designed the course.
“The goal is to improve the way they see themselves and other women around them,” she said in a statement, adding that she wanted to teach girls to be “confident, strong and independent”.
However, the course has sparked a backlash that has prompted school officials to say they would review the course.
One critic, University of Alberta Professor Christina Stasia, said the course promoted sexist, outdated stereotypes.
“It doesn’t really equip girls with anything to navigate the barriers they will be encountering as they grow up,” she was quoted as saying by local media.
A 2015 U.N. report raised concerns about persisting inequalities between women and men in Canada.
The country fell to 35th place in the World Economic Forum’s 2016 global gender gap index – which measures disparities between men and women in economics, education, health and political empowerment – from 19th place two years earlier.
Commenting on the school’s Facebook page, one woman wrote: “I’m just wondering, are you teaching boys about how to dress for their body shape and what hairstyle suits them best?”
Alberta’s education minister David Eggen said he wanted school officials to immediately revamp the course.
“We informed them that all problematic or offensive components must be changed. They have assured me they will make appropriate changes,” Eggen was quoted as saying by local media.