School Gates Divisions Are An Outdated Stereotype – Here’s Why

It’s time for a new school term and Alison Perry thinks it’s time for us to stop with the old school gates trope.

School gates Motherland

by Alison Perry |
Updated on

For more parenting stories, advice, tips and memes, check out Grazia's parenting community on Instagram, @TheJuggleUK

As the new school year starts and the kids go back after the summer holidays, it’s time for us parents to brace ourselves to once again face (dramatic pause) the school gates. You know what I’m talking about: that gaggle of mums giving off strongAmanda from Motherlandvibes, talking in hushed tones, cackling loudly at some hilarious, catty quip. Then as you walk by offering a friendly smile, they totally blank you.

Before my daughter (now 10) started primary school, I was apprehensive about what morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up would be like. I’d heard so many stories of school PTAs ruling the roost, looking down their noses at anyone who was too busy (‘too lazy, more like’) to volunteer for the bake sale. The stay-at-home mums volunteering to read with the Reception classes, giving them an air of superiority over those parents who were hurriedly dropping their children at 7.30am breakfast club before legging it to work. The competitive mums crafting elaborate papier-mache World Book Day costumes that put the supermarket-bought costumes to shame.

What would they make of me, I worried. Will it feel like being back at school myself, where only the popular kids were allowed to sit on the steps outside the library and I didn’t dare set foot inside the sixth form common room once because that’s where the cool people hung out?

I psyched myself up for day one of my new role of ‘being a school mum’, prepared to kill any cliques with kindness. Smiling broadly to everyone I passed, saying hello to other parents dropping off their small child at school for the very first time.

But do you know what I discovered in those first few days? Weirdly, everyone seemed pretty friendly. A couple of weeks in, an evening in the pub was organised for new Reception parents, where small talk was made, bottles of wine were consumed and foundations of friendships were formed.

I’m calling BS on the whole school gate cliché.

Back at the school gates, we’d hover near our child’s classroom exit, often under umbrellas, many with toddlers dancing a jig next to them or with babies in prams, waiting to collect our child. We’d have a quick chat with whoever was standing nearby – How’s your little one settling in? Have you been given the class mascot to bring home yet? Why does it always seem to rain just before the school run?

But still, no sign of anyone with Queen Bee tendencies. So here’s the thing: I’m calling BS on the whole school gate cliché.

It’s one of those tired female tropes (because it is still women in the majority who are present at the school gates – there’s a reason Kevin is the only dad at the gates in Motherland) that confirms the unhelpful narrative that women are bitches.

Of course, I’m not saying it doesn’t exist anywhere. After all, the school gate is a place where people of all types meet – and that includes people who might enjoy reminding you that they are (in their minds at least) superior to you. But those people are everywhere – they might work in the local shop or alongside you in the office – and we interact with them in lots of different places. The school gate isn’t some eco-system whose inhabitants fail to exist elsewhere.

But it’s also worth us examining why some people behave in that way – forming a tight group around themselves – and it’s usually about having insecurities. We know that bullies have often experienced stress and trauma, and been the victim of bullying themselves. It can make someone feel worthwhile and in control when they’re used to feeling worthless and in chaos.

It’s important, too, to look at our own interpretation of someone’s behaviour. It can feel like someone is giving you the cold shoulder when actually, they’re possibly just pre-occupied with the mountain of life admin in their head. Personally speaking, there have been more than a handful of times that I’ve felt emotional and wobbly about life so keeping my head down on the school run is the best way to cope. Would other parents see me as being unfriendly? Very possibly.

This isn’t about excusing bad behaviour. In any community, there are people with different needs, priorities and personalities. So talking about the school gates like it’s swarming with gossiping, sneering women is perpetuating a damaging stereotype. And we could do with fewer of those, couldn’t we?

For more parenting stories, advice, tips and memes, check out Grazia's parenting community on Instagram, @TheJuggleUK

READ MORE: Which Motherland Character Are You?

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