Single women are zeros, according to textbook

  • 2007-02-07
  • By Arturas Racas

Prejudice against single women has cropped up in math books.

VILNIUS - Lithuania's Office of Equal Opportunities ombudsman urged the country's Education Ministry to remove from schools a textbook that discriminates against single women. "We believe that describing a single woman as zero in a textbook is incorrect, and [we] are convinced that textbooks with such descriptions should not be used in the education process," Valdas Dambrava, spokesman for the ombudsman's office told The Baltic Times.

The Lithuanian language textbook, in use since the beginning of 2006, contains an extract from a story by Serbian playwright and satirist Branislav Nucic, which is designed to help children to remember numbers.

As the extract reads: "So, kids, zero means nothing, but if we put the one before it, we will have ten, and if we add two, it will be twenty. It is not easy to explain. But let us take my wife, for example. Before she was married to me, she was nothing'szero. When she married me, she became a lady, a teacher and a wife. Since then we saw all women in the city as zeros."
The text was brought to the ombudsman's attention by Ausra Aleknaviciene, 42, a financier. "I was shocked by the wording when I saw the text while helping my son do homework one evening," she said.

"I believe the school textbook should not include texts that in fact humiliate women and may shape [a negative] attitude toward them. So, I think it was my duty to report the fact to the ombudsman's office," Aleknaviciene said.
"Women, both single and married, are equal, and children in the schools should not be told vice versa. The problem is that not every 13-year-old is able to understand the irony of the text," she added.

Roma Zakaitiene, Lithuania's education minister, also agreed that text was "inappropriate."
"But this is an example for learning figures and not the equality of sex. The text is humoristic; it comes from the beginning of the 20th century," the minister said.
But she also stressed that the extract is not enough to remove the textbook from the schools.
"It is a good textbook, and I think it would be too expensive to refuse it just because of this example," Zakaitiene said.
"But it will be a good lesson for experts that they have to look more carefully at texts which may provoke controversial reactions," she added.

The minister also said teachers would be recommended to avoid using this example in the classroom and to provide the necessary explanations for pupils if they ask about it.
Aleknaviciene said she was surprised by the minister's position.
"It is strange that the minister is defending the textbook, which is not only harmful for children, but also humiliates the minister herself," Aleknaviciene said.