Concerns are being raised around the messaging being portrayed in a women’s studies course at a central Alberta school.
Eleanor Hall School in Clyde, Alta. has offered a new course called “Women Studies.” It’s aimed at helping student with their self-image and self-esteem.
“The goal is to improve the way they see themselves and other women around them,” Eleanor Hall teacher Michelle Savoie said in a blog post about the program.
On the Pembina Hills Public Schools website it says “that students will discover how self-improvement techniques can enhance their natural beauty and express confidence without over-shadowing who they are.”
It states students would do that by:
- Analyzing the shape of their faces to determine which hairstyle is most flattering
- Assessing their body shape to choose clothing styles that are the most complimentary
- Completing an online shopping activity to identify their own personal style
Sue Huff, executive director for the Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta, said she was surprised that a women’s studies program is still so fixated on external appearances.
“I thought we’d grown a bit more,” she told Global News in an email and added body shape analysis is a little troubling. “Girls that age are often very preoccupied with their body shape and often rather harshly self-critical.”
Huff said she understands the teacher’s desire to try and boost self-esteem and while it may be well-intentioned, the potential for backfire is high.
“Like most things, it depends a lot on the skill of the teacher,” said Huff, citing things like their rapport with the class and messaging around body acceptance, health at any size and the follow up discussions that are provoked.
“Hopefully the way a girl looks doesn’t become a measure of her worth,” Huff said.
Acting superintendent David Garbutt said he has not received any complaints from parents within the school district but admits he’s seen some complaints on social media.
On Monday, Garbutt said the new course has “attracted a wide range of perspectives” on the course content. He said changes will be made as they learn from the experience of offering the course.
The class will also investigate what it means to be a mentor and will have students do a report on a woman they admire. They will also look into future careers through personality testing.
A field trip is also planned to a local high school. The website said in preparation, students will “plan recipes, table settings, dinner music and review dinner party etiquette and polite conversation. The girls will spend the afternoon learning about nail care and application.”
“The girls will develop a sense of camaraderie as they go through this course but more importantly they will develop self-awareness and skills to cope with the challenges of being a female in today’s world,” Savoie said in the blog post.
Late Monday, Minister of Education David Eggen said he would be looking into the program.
“As a proud member of a government that has made gender equality a top priority, I understand the concerns being raised about the content of this course,” he said in a statement. “While Alberta Education provides school authorities with the flexibility and support to make local policy decisions, including CTF programming, I will be following up with the school division for more information.”
On Wednesday, Eggen released an updated statement saying his office has been in touch with representatives from Pembina Hills School Division regarding the content of the course.
“We informed them that all problematic or offensive components must be changed,” Eggen said. “They have assured me they will make appropriate changes and that they are open to feedback from the public on this course. They will also be working with members from the University of Alberta’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, which is a positive step. My office will be actively monitoring this situation, and I trust that Pembina Hills will make the appropriate changes necessary to this course.”