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When a girl makes a choice…

By IOE Blog Editor, on 27 July 2023

The opening page of the gamebook. The title reads 'A girl's life journey in one day'. A set of multicoloured stairs rise towards the top of the image. A young girl runs up them. Image permission: Wendy Wen, Yifan Chen, Yiwei Lu and Yiping Tang

The title page of the gamebook. Image permission: Wendy Wen, Yifan Chen, Yiwei Lu and Yiping Tang.

By Wendy Wen, Yifan Chen, Yiwei Lu and Yiping Tang, Education Studies BA

*From the 2024/2025 academic year onwards, the Education Studies BA has been renamed the Education, Society and Culture BA.


As part of our assessment in one second-year Education Studies BA module (EDPS0253: Children in Society: Anthropological, Historical and Sociological Perspectives), we created a gamebook. We were given the opportunity to produce engaging materials to show children an underrepresented aspect of their lives.

In the module, we learnt to challenge assumptions about childhood based on our own historically-situated and culturally-constituted ideologies, and we truly got to see how childhoods are wrongly universalised – not from a bird’s eye view – but from a perspective that constructs childhood ‘from below’. Such spirit inspired us to make this gamebook, which explores underrepresented gendered aspects of children’s lives.

Have you ever noticed that girls are often restrictedly described as ‘quiet’ and ‘obedient’, or have you ever had a strange feeling when someone says, ‘girls are just like that’? Do you recall from childhood that your parents made decisions for you without consultation beforehand? Our gamebook about a girl’s experience may lead you to think about these questions and the essence of a girl’s decision.

What are the issues faced by girls that are insufficiently acknowledged? How does your project reflect these issues?

Yifan: Girls are often offered ‘unreal’ choices, where the choices they make do not influence the result, and they often compromise to decide involuntarily. Sometimes, it looks like they have a choice, and this is what they really want or favour, but such autonomy on the surface might just fall under the effect of hegemony, which applies not only to females but to all minority groups. Inspired by such phenomenon, we made a design so the choices in our book would eventually not significantly impact how the story goes. By doing so, we plan to let the participants discover the powerlessness of girls, and therefore not to take things for granted in their treatment of others.

Wendy: The six plots consider a normal school day for a 12-year-old girl and refer to the pressure from a male-dominated society that oppresses the little girl in her daily life. From this little girl’s view, those pressures constitute her life, and she thinks it is normal to follow. On the other side, if someone resists those things, she might consider it not normal to resist. Following the social identity theory, if people have categorised themselves into a defined group, the chances are that they will adopt the identity of this group and begin to act in the ways they believe this group acts. For instance, in our gamebook, if this little girl defines things that represent pressure as a part of her life, she will then adopt those pressure rather than resist them. As such, those things are concealed and become ‘underrepresented’ in the silence of this little girl under pressure. If no one has mentioned or pointed out that this is unnatural and abnormal, this little girl will further live in the shadow of these gender-stereotyped beliefs.

Why do you want to illustrate this standpoint to children?

Wendy: As we just explained, if the children do not discuss this with their parents or any other relatives, adults are less likely to know the pressure they’re under and their struggle. Therefore, the optimal solution is to ask the children to realise by themselves. This is why we wanted to create a book for children.

Yifan: The book could provide children with a different angle of seeing their daily experiences. It may never have occurred to them that there was anything unfair about the way they’re treated; after reading this book, they may start to see other possibilities and make different choices in real life.

How did you design the plots and what did such procedures bring you? Are there any plots that leave you with a deep impression?

Wendy: Take the first plot as an example to illustrate in detail. It describes this girl, and her male desk mates are asked to answer the maths question on the blackboard. The result is all of them are unable to solve it, while the attitudes of the maths teachers are different for girls and boys. Then we provide three choices for our readers, which are a) asking teachers their reasons for their different attitudes, b) silence and c) apologising. However, the results of each choice are the same. We would like to tell the readers how tough the lives of female children are.

Following male-dominated societal beliefs, the maths ability of males is better than that of females. So, the different attitudes of these maths teachers represent these beliefs. Even if this little girl feels uncomfortable with this attitude, her surroundings, such as her classmates, will suggest she accept it, as all of them are passing life in such a way. Things make sense when everyone is doing the same irrational thing. In time, the little girl will understand that what she is experiencing as a schoolgirl student is not oppression, but an insignificant thing in life. Besides, even if this girl notices these uncomfortable things, she probably would not choose to mention this with parents or any relatives due to the power dynamics between the maths teachers and their students. We would like to remind not only children, but also parents and teachers of their power. Under a power imbalance, children are hardly able to share their own opinions.

Yiping: When we talked about menstruation, we found that our ‘experiences’ of menstruation were highly similar to each other. Firstly, we rarely referred to it directly as menstruation, but used another, less obvious word instead, the more euphemistic term for menstruation.

And how does this map out in reality? In the episode we created, it was actually inspired by my own personal experience when I was buying sanitary napkins at my high school convenience store. I went to the far corner shelf and took them out as usual, and at the checkout the cashier naturally handed me a black bag, which I took naturally without any hesitation or thought. It’s only now, years later, that I’ve started to wonder why I so naturally accepted the idea that sanitary napkins should be put in a black bag. There are too many ‘taking things for granted’ situations that are neglected in women’s daily lives. The purpose of the gamebook is to raise awareness, to think and to overturn old ideas and to break free from the shackles imposed on us by old thinking.

Yiwei: The final plot leaves me with a deep impression. Our female main character becomes a mother, and the audience is meant to write down what she would do when confronted with her daughter, who tells her about the same gendered experience. I wonder how mothers view their daughters with anti-patriarchal viewpoints, and how daughters should view their mothers’ experiences within the patriarchal system, as mothers and daughters are victims of this hegemony with possibly different attitudes.

There will be a physical connection between the mother and the daughter, but after the daughter is born, the daughter is independent of the mother. Mothers can see the physical changes of their daughters such as height and weight, but what they may not know is the growth of their daughters’ mind. Daughters know their mothers from the parent-child relationship, but without this relationship, would daughters see their mothers as female individuals? This causes daughters to overlook some of the experiences and thoughts of mothers as women and vice versa. Therefore, I believe that using the relationship between daughters and mothers to awaken gender consciousness could be a theme worth exploring in the future.

What is your takeaway from this project?

Wendy: After I cooperated with my teammates to finish our game book, I gradually realised the pressure from this patriarchal society happened in our daily lives. I never considered the gender stereotypes that occur in our daily lives.

Yiwei: For me, what most surprised me when doing this project is that we constantly revamped our ideas, instead of asking each other to agree on our own personal point. I could strongly feel my ideas emerging and being refined, and they slowly developed into a web rather than a series of sole ideas. I also realized that we often unconsciously overlooked our differences (e.g., educational experiences, family background) because of our shared identities (e.g., nationality, gender, student status), and that repeated discussions allowed us to reexamine these differences, the reasons for them and the outcomes they may influence – such as how we have different viewpoints towards the same topic. These experiences are all incorporated into our gamebook, designing the theme of the book, the plot, the options, and the reasons for making it.

Yiping: For me, the biggest lesson I learned while creating this project was that I wanted all men to have the right to show weakness and not deny women the ability to solve problems. The adventure book is not only for children, but also for the parents of children who have grown up with the stereotypical influence of discipline, which is passed on from one generation to the next, so we hope to free parents from this discipline and give the children a field of freedom.

Yifan: In our gamebook, we tried to help our heroine build her voice, but I also felt empowered for myself – I got to truly talk about my own experiences and express my thoughts in an aesthetically pleasing and interesting way, which is rare in most academic writing assessments, which I see as producing something meaningful and accessible. Also, the making of the gamebook didn’t feel like completing homework for me. Even with some restrictions due to academic conventions, the format of the gamebook allowed us to be creative, which I believe is important in terms of bringing academic work to life. Finally, I want to express my gratitude to my teammates, who are amazingly supportive, reliable and fun to work with. We have become good friends now and have even created a podcast together where we talk about girlhood and gender. This was an unforgettable experience.


Read the gamebook: A girl’s life journey in one day

The opening page of the gamebook. The title reads 'A girl's life journey in one day'. A set of multicoloured stairs rise towards the top of the image. A young girl runs up them. Image permission: Wendy Wen, Yifan Chen, Yiwei Lu and Yiping Tang

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