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Dinner party chat and nail care? Course for Canadian girls comes under fire

Critics say the course promotes outdated sexist stereotypes. Pic by William Vanderson (via Maudelynn's Menagerie.

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One critic, University of Alberta Professor Christina Stasia, said the course promoted sexist, outdated stereotypes.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.

Preparation to be desperate housewives? Image via Shutterstock.

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.

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.

By Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, resilience and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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