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Texas school's 'rules of chivalry' assignment called for girls to 'walk daintily' and obey men

For one day, senior girls were required to "dress in a feminine manner to please the men," walk "daintly" or behind men, and refrain from showing "intellectual superiority if it would offend the men around them."

Texas school's 'rules of chivalry' assignment called for girls to 'walk daintily' and obey men
Cover Image Source: Georgian era people dancing beside the village May Pole on May Day to the music of a fiddler. Drawn by Randolph Caldecott; Engraved and printed by E. Evans. Published by George Routledge & Sons, London & New York, c1885.

A Texas school district recently came under fire after an assignment calling for girls to follow sexist "Rules of Chivalry" went viral online. According to The New York Times, the assignment was set by an English teacher at Shallowater High School in northwest Texas who — for years — used it to demonstrate to her students how women were treated as inferiors under the chivalric code of medieval times. For one day, senior girls were required to "dress in a feminine manner to please the men," walk "daintly" or behind men, and refrain from showing "intellectual superiority if it would offend the men around them."



 

Meanwhile, the boys were given a different set of rules which asked that they "dress appropriately in jackets and ties or suits," "assist ladies to rise from their seats," refrain from using profanity, and "sing or recite a few lines of poetry to the ladies in their class." As per the assignment sheets that described 11 "rules for chivalry," students — who had been reading Beowulf and the works of Chaucer — would be awarded 10 points for every rule they followed. "I really don't think it was the teacher's intention to have it be such a sexist lesson," said Hannah Carreon, a senior at the high school. "There were girls that were excited to get to do this finally and get to dress up."



 

"But there were also a lot who were obviously upset about it," she added. Colin Tynes Lain, also a senior, revealed that the teacher had anticipated backlash and had allowed students who were uncomfortable with the assignment to write a one-page essay instead. He added that, in the past, the teacher had given parents and teachers a written disclaimer explaining that the project was designed to demonstrate how the chivalric code was used to obscure chauvinistic principles that harmed women. "That's what she was trying to pull our attention to," he said. "That this was not chivalry in any way."



 

Lain clarified that he personally felt uncomfortable with the idea of treating students he is used to debating and bantering with in a demeaning way. "It definitely made me uncomfortable and I would say that was her goal," he said. "At the same time, I understand why certain people would be mad." Meanwhile, Carreon — who has an English class with the same teacher but not the course that included the chivalry assignment — said that she would have opted to write the essay instead of following the "rules for chivalry."



 

"It's important to show how far women have come, but why do we have to act that out for us to understand it?" she asked. Jaiden Landers, another senior in the class, revealed that although the assignment had always been controversial to an extent, the debate had become more charged among students in recent weeks. The school ended up removing the assignment — which was to be completed last week — following parental complaints that asking girls to act subserviently to boys was the wrong way to teach them about sexism and history.



 

Although by Wednesday, most students knew the project had been canceled, the school faced severe criticism online after images of the rules were posted in a private Facebook group and later shared on Twitter by Brandi D. Addison, a journalist for the Dallas Morning News. The school district superintendent, Anita Hebert, addressed the backlash in a statement that said: "This assignment has been reviewed, and despite its historical context, it does not reflect our district and community values."



 

April Peters-Hawkins, a former sixth-grade teacher who is now a professor of school leadership at the University of Houston College of Education, explained that while role-playing can be an effective pedagogical tool, teachers have to be very careful to ensure that they are not reinforcing negative gender and racial attitudes. "What we typically see is marginalized groups continuing to be marginalized," she said. "Black kids being asked to play the roles of slaves, Jewish kids being asked to play the role of victims of the Holocaust and girls being asked to be subservient."

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