US & Canada

'Polite conversation' course for young women sparks backlash

Pride and prejudice
Image caption Girls behaving badly?

A Canadian school course that teaches girls about hairstyles, dinner party etiquette and "polite conversation" has sparked a backlash.

The optional course at Eleanor Hall School in Clyde, Alberta, is to help young girls "navigate adolescence" with "self-esteem intact".

It has met broad criticism, with one critic calling it a "sort of neo-1950s etiquette class".

School officials say they will review the course.

The school is offering the "women studies" course to girls for the first time this year, based on a similar "Girl Power" course offered at nearby school.

Twenty-five students from grades six to nine are enrolled in the course, which includes lessons in the basics of web design, the role of women in history, and cultural aspects of beauty around the world.

It also has "hands on" activities that include how to figure out your face and body shape in order to "determine how your style can be enhanced using tips and tricks".

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There is a field trip to visit the food and cosmetology classrooms at a local high school, where 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".

Acting superintendent David Garbutt at the Pembina Hills School Division said on Tuesday he realises that the school failed in how it promoted the course in the wake of the criticism.

"I know the way it come across it looks like we're supporting stereotyping girls, but what I'm trying to get out after the fact is that's not what we're about. We do not have that intent," he said.

Mr Garbutt said the course will teach the students to bring a critical eye to those activities, which were selected in part to engage students.

"We want to do the best by our kids. We want them to have a positive image and build self-esteem we want them to analyse things critically," he said.

Some advocates say that approach has merit.

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"What's important about all of it is that there are conversations happening and that girls are learning how to think critically," said Beth Malcolm of the Canadian Women's Foundation.

"Content is important but the conversation is just as important, if not more important," she said.

Still, Mr Garbutt concedes that "maybe (the teachers) didn't hit the mark" when planning the field trip.

Future trips might include stops in the welding, mechanics and construction labs as well.

"How do I feel about the programme itself? I think it needs some attention and some tweaking. The people who are offering constructive criticism - we're certainly listening," Mr Garbutt said.