If mixing has been introduced in schools since 1975, it does not guarantee equality, the High Council for Equality between Men and Women noted in 2017. Teachers, like society as a whole, express sexist stereotypes. “In CP textbooks, women represent 40% of characters and 70% of those who cook and clean, but only 3% of characters occupy a scientific occupation”, HCE illustrated.
It also depicts “a highly gendered playground geography”, where boys “take over most of the yard with running and noisy play”.
A doctor of geography, Edith Maruzouls founded the Equality Observatory Research Workshop (Arobe) in 2014. For twelve years, she has been looking at playgrounds, which, she says, are “real miniature public spaces”, “the first places of inequality, especially between girls and boys”. Analyzing these spaces with children and educational groups, he leads them to rethink the use of land, so that everyone finds their place there.
Later succeed in making the school a place where girls and boys can play together to prevent violence. That’s the goal pursued by Edith Maruzuls, who this month publishes “Make I(u)Equal: Designing School Spaces to Include All Children,” published by Double Punctuation. He proposes solutions aimed at making schools more inclusive for girls For boys – many – “who are not good at balls”. For those students who are excluded due to disability.
You have worked on the distribution between girls and boys in public space, which is very unequal. Why are you particularly interested, with local authorities, in the playground?
This is the place where children learn how public space works. A 1975 law, which mandated coeducation in schools, may have changed things. But we didn’t plan there. Schools struggle to achieve real diversity and equality outside of class time, on the playground, in the canteen.
Mixing is not 50-50, or girls against boys. The purpose is for children to play, eat, laugh together… The absence of relationships between girls and boys is what causes violence later on. Since co-education is not the norm, strategies must be developed to promote it, creating spaces where girls and boys can “play together”.
There are many techniques to make the courtyard space harmonious, balanced, peaceful and joyful together. Because this is also the question: Many children are bored at school because they do not have space for the games they want to play or even because of the injustices they see.
In the method we developed, we talk a lot with children to understand how they occupy space. From there, we offer a week of experimentation by setting up a quiet space here, an intermediate space there – with board games –, a collective playground elsewhere. This allows everyone to find their space without being jostled by others.
Is it enough to create new relationships between girls and boys?
No. Deconstructing sexism and hierarchies (between the weak and the strong), truly sharing space among all is a long journey that requires an action plan. I work a lot with extracurricular facilitators because lunch break is the ideal time for that, it’s a long time when you can build a relationship.
We work out, for example, how to choose a game to play together, through discussion or by spinning the “random game wheel”. This upsets the balance of power somewhat. And often, children join in, because even those who like football like to play something else.
“Creating equality” is not just about ensuring that so-called “boys’ games” are open to girls. It also ensures that boys have access to girls’ worlds, seeing that what they offer is valid. Otherwise, this process later finds itself insidiously in the political space and civic space, where women are invisible.
Does this require a large investment from local authorities?
You don’t always have to destroy a court to level it. And, before starting work on the need, it’s important to test how children use the new facilities. For example, in one of the municipalities where I intervened, technical services helped us create a quiet zone by shaving, installing logs. On the first day of vacation, it becomes a playground for children—girls and boys!
That said, this is an observation I make systematically, children need greenery, flowers, shade… Plants beautify living spaces, they appeal to the senses, they bring this quality to life, which is essential mental and moral well-being green spaces are such. Acts to promote mixing between girls and boys are immediately occupied by children. But gardening and “equalizing” are two distinct occupations. They do not call the same skill.
You devote your entire last chapter to the toilet, which you make almost a subject in its own right. What is the problem here?
The way toilets are managed today reveals the resistance to solving the question of girl-boy relationship. By separating girls and boys, we are going to solve all the problems of society, avoid violence and harassment. By doing this, a 6-year-old girl is told that she must be afraid of a boy. And to the boy that he is a potential aggressor for this little girl. Today, even though toilets are single-sex, eight out of ten children refuse to go to the toilet.
Toilet management has obscured real problems arising from classic sociological processes: toilets are places of harassment and insecurity because they are places of impunity. The boys, who are modest at that age, tell me: There is a ban on using the urinal. To me, it’s the same parallel when boys say they’re afraid to play jump rope. They don’t go to the cabin because “that doesn’t happen when you’re a boy”. And when they go to the cabin, others knock on the door.
Opening blocks may seem like a matter of common sense. But it is not that easy. I’m all for experimenting with a variety of toilet blocks wherever possible. And, if separation must be considered, it would be much more relevant to separate the young and the old. Because, from the evidence I have gathered, the little ones are afraid of the big ones.