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#TheBigPaintingChallenge – a lesson in how to demotivate women

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On the whole, I’m enjoying the BBC1 series The Big Painting Challenge. There are some excellent tips in these programmes for beginners wanting to attempt the different styles and disciplines of painting. However, viewing this competition has become something of a pantomime in our house in recent weeks. My children find the unnecessary harshness of the two expert judges to be hilarious. Especially as they seem to thoroughly detest the pictures that we all like the best. Obviously, we don’t really understand ‘serious’ art as they do.
But yesterday’s programme, falling as it did on International Women’s Day, was a little jarring. The female contestants, all bar one particularly feisty, more mature lady, have positively wilted under the strict tutelage of the judges. The men, on the other hand, are thriving on the tough feedback, ignoring what they think is unhelpful and soaking up the useful stuff.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of making generalisations about the way in which men and women operate. I happen to believe that our similarities far outweigh our differences. However, having worked as a teacher for over a decade, I can confidently assert that girls thrive under more gentle, constructive guidance. If your criticism is too sharp or not focussed enough then a female student will lose confidence in what they can do well and you can easily find them dropping behind even further.
‘Man up’, I imagine some viewers might say. It’s a competition and if you can’t take the heat, it’s the right thing for you to be eliminated. Well, there is some validity in that. But the contestants are learning from one week to the next and undoubtedly it will be the one who learns the most who comes out victorious. So perhaps the judges should vary their teaching style a little in order to create a level playing field – it’s only some paintings, not open heart surgery!
Perhaps the approach is deliberate, to encourage more male winners of these competitions. Although somehow, I don’t think the tone of the criticism is that conscious. But I do believe it teaches us some interesting lessons about how women operate in the workplace and the classroom. If you want to get the best of us, then make your criticism constructive and be sure to praise those elements we are getting right. After all, if you do get the best out of women, believe it or not, they can be a really tremendous asset.

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