by Tara Bryan
I’ve got no shame in saying it: I love Calamity Jane.
Doris Day was my first heroine before I even knew what a heroine was, and even then I instinctively recognised in Ol’ Calam’ herself something that would often be a hallmark of the characters that Doris Day played in all of her films. She would always seem to play a woman often confined by the expectations of her time, her place, her job, her society, but through sheer charm, force of personality and feminine wiles she would always manage to outfox and outwit the men around her, who would continually underestimate her.
Sure, she would always end up married, or with the guy in the end, but not before the audience knew that she would spend the rest of their lives together running rings around him and getting exactly what she wanted. A woman after my own heart!
Even that song… ‘A Woman’s Touch’. On the surface a silly ditty about two women who decorate a log cabin with trinkets, knick-knacks and chintzy sprinkles, a song that seems so patronising and twee about what a woman can be… but I saw it differently. It was song about self-sufficiency and how to live a life without needing a man to make all her decisions. Yes, she ended up with the man who didn’t deserve her, but we knew after hearing that song that she was only doing it because she wanted to.
Not every woman is Doris Day, and most women don’t have her scriptwriters writing their life story.
We know the horrific statistics about the inequality in girls’ education around the world, and it is in this spirit of ensuring female self-sufficiency that we at the Amethyst Trust do everything that we can to support girls writing their own life stories by having a fantastic education.
When we decided two years ago to move to a Knowledge-Rich curriculum, we did it with the intention that it would be a tide that lifted all boats, for both boys and for girls.
But, though girls achieve better than boys on average in most subjects in national statistics, there is often the sense in schools that boys can end up knowing more than girls about the world around them, and that girls are just better at putting their ideas into practice in examinations, with their superior maturity breeding study habits that ensure success at 16 and 18 years old.
The world into which young women eventually enter is often set up to disadvantage them in ways too many and various to list here, but by the time they reach adulthood these advantages have been erased and do not translate into parity of success in employment, in economic self-sufficiency, in political representation or in company ownership. Too often women are at the mercy of legislation and social change, the first victims when circumstances take a turn for the worse.
At the Amethyst Trust we wanted to use our curriculum to future-proof our girls for anything that the world outside might throw at them. With so many strong women working at all levels of our Trust – including the Heads of both of our schools – it is no surprise that a passion for learning about strong women can be seen throughout our curriculum, and it is something that we have prided ourselves on during our journey towards a Knowledge-Rich curriculum over the last two years.
In History, we teach young girls about the Suffragettes, but we ask our students whether they were terrorists or freedom fighters, breaking the simplistic paradigm of women as either victims or angels. Our Design and Technology, Maths and Computing departments have come together to do a project on promoting gender equity in STEM subjects, culminating in assemblies and events to promote STEM careers to girls. In English, we ensure a strong representation of the greatest female writers are represented across our curriculum, and introduce students to concepts such as misogyny and systemic patriarchal biases throughout history and in the modern world. At all turns we seek to challenge stereotypes, present girls with powerful female role models, and ask them to step out of their traditional comfort zones and try something new and different.
But it’s more than just cherry-picking specific curricular examples which demonstrates what we believe is so important in educating our young women. Our curriculum teaches a deep and wide swathe of important and powerful knowledge, and we pride ourselves on making every effort to bridge the cultural capital gaps that working class girls so often bring into the classroom from home. We know that to be a confident citizen and capable of taking control of your own destiny that you need to be an informed citizen who has a knowledge of the world which means that they can sit comfortably at any table – including any boardroom table.
By teaching an ambitious curriculum with knowledge at the centre, we seek to empower girls to be at their very best, ready to face the challenges of the world around them. And we are seeing great dividends; our best ever results in the recent summer examinations included some astounding outcomes for girls, but we are just as please to see the outstanding young women with excellent personal qualities and resilient personalities that we are readying for success in the world.
In the Amethyst Trust, we don’t believe that our girls need to go out and live in a log cabin to toughen them up for the rest of their lives. We simply believe in making them Knowledge-Rich, and therefore confidence-rich, and that they will be able to make the success that we know that they can achieve.
Sending them out into the world as anything less than the best… that would be the real Calamity.