Recently, my children have been very interested in gender diversity, equality and LGBTIQ issues. Now that school camp is on the horizon, the issue of gender equality is being explored even further in relation to the strong friendships that exist between children of different genders.
Last year, while on Grade 5 camp, my daughter and her friends had such an emotional argument that teachers decided that it would be beneficial for them to change rooms, mid-week. Whilst it was distressing for my daughter to be excluded from her original room, I didn't complain. I understand that sometimes teachers need to make a call, and do what's best for everyone involved.
So this year, understandably, my daughter wants to share a camp room with different friends. However, the friends she likes the most at the moment are male. The school refused the request because it doesn't allow mixed gender rooms on camp.
Obviously, teachers have a great responsibility to care for our kids when they are away from home. There are possible concerns about sexual activity or even abuse between unsupervised kids, but, as my daughter quite astutely pointed out, this argument is weak because boys can be sexual with boys, and girls with girls. And, girls can be coercive, threatening and nasty amongst themselves when teachers are not present.
When asked my opinion on the matter, it didn't take me long to say that I would support my daughter's choice. To me, the answer seemed obvious but further analysis proved that it was quite a tricky question.
Of course I am okay with this scenario, but that is because I know my daughter's friends. I trust them, and I don't believe anything untoward (read: sexual or abusive) will occur between them. These kids have had sleepovers at each other's houses and have been friends since kindergarten.
The fact that school camp rules have been ever thus was not enough of a justification for these children they proclaimed it to be very unfair.
As a secondary school teacher myself, I understand the complexity of the problem. When I'm responsible for a group of teenagers, issues of fairness contrast sharply with issues of safety and my duty of care to these young people. I worry about sneaky (and illegal) alcohol consumption, illicit drug taking, and, of course, sexual interaction and, if it does occur, whether it is safe and consensual.
When I look at the many Grade Six children that I know, I don't see sexually active or aggressive kids. In fact, neither of my eleven-year-old children is interested in kissing, dating or anything close to sex.
When I asked a class of Year Nine female students their opinions about this issue, they agreed that Grade Six kids should be able to share, regardless of gender.
But then they turned the question back on me. "Would you let us share rooms with boys?" My answer was an emphatic "NO". My reasons, well, they were the same objections as people have to young kids sharing rooms. And my own rationale was used to defeat me.
Year Nine girls and boys, 14 and 15 year olds, can be friends. Year Nine girls can have sex with girls, Year Nine boys can have sex with boys, and abuse can happen between anyone, anytime. So what was the difference?
Is it that I believe that teenage boys are spectacularly immature and self focused when it comes to relating to the objects of their affection? Is it my own fear that something, anything, bad might happen to my daughter?
We live in a world now in which the highest holder of office in the Catholic Church has been convicted of paedophilia. School teachers, parents, friends of the family, Scout leaders, sports managers, swimming teachers and many, many more have been convicted of the abuse of children. The very people we entrust to protect our children have done horrendous things to them. Yet, we balk at letting a few eleven year old kids share a room because they are of different genders. It seems absurd.
I believe my daughter will have a better time on camp if she is able to be with her friends. The comfort and security they offer her when she is away from home should not be underestimated.
Is the decision to prevent children of different genders sharing rooms on camp an extension of inequality or an expression of our deep fears? What do you think? Would you let your daughter share a room with a boy, unsupervised?