The late 1960s brought on the first real indication that feminist groups were concerned with the education system in North America. The focus of these feminist groups captured the attention of teachers, parents, and students. At first the evidence for inequality in schooling was based on no more than specific case studies and anecdotal references to support their claims but as more people began to show concern for the situation, more conclusive research was done to show that the claims of inequality were in fact valid and definitely indicated a problem with the way that schools were educating the future adults of society. One of the problems which became apparent was the fact that the policy-makers set a curriculum which, as shown specifically through textbooks, was sexist and for the most part still is.
Textbooks are one of the most important tools used in educating students whether they are elementary school storybooks or university medical textbooks. It is therefore no surprise that these books are some of the most crucial information sources that a student has throughout their schooling. Many studies have been done examining the contents of these books to reveal the amount of sexism displayed in these educational tools. The results clearly show that gender inequality definitely runs rampant in textbooks some of the sexism subtle and some overt. To begin with, it is apparent that historical texts show a distorted view of women by portraying them unfairly and inaccurately and neglecting to mention important female figures, instead opting to describe their sometimes less influential male counterparts. Elementary and secondary school textbooks are also guilty of gender bias.
In elementary and secondary school textbooks, sexism takes many forms. Boys predominate in stories for children; they outnumber girls 5 to 2. When girls are present in texts, they are almost always younger than the boys they are interacting with, which thus makes them foils for the boys’ greater experience and knowledge– a situation commonly referred to as the ‘ninny sister syndrome.’ Girls are shown to be far more passive than are boys and to engage in fewer activities. In fact, sometimes grown women are portrayed who rely on small boys (often their young sons) to help them out of difficulty. (Fishel and Pottker 1977. p. 8)
Surprisingly it is not only these hidden forms of sexism that appear in textbooks.
One study found sixty-five stories that openly belittled girls (two were found that belittled boys). Another study pointed out an instance where Mark, of the Harper & Row ‘Mark and Janet’ series, states: ‘Just look at her. She is just like a girl. She gives up.’ Male characters said, in another story, ‘We much prefer to work with men.’ This type of material on the treatment of girls would seem to have little social or educational value, and its widespread use is difficult to understand. (ibid, p.8)
In the long run, the ideas put in students heads through textbooks, perhaps through the lack of female role models, can affect the choices they make in the future with regards to employment.
Actual teaching situations are also prone to sexism. For the most part teachers do not try to be sexist but, for sociological reasons, can not help it. For the sake of this paper, it will be assumed that these situations occur mostly in co-educational schools, but single sex schools are in no way immune to the same problems. A perfect example of society’s male-dominance interfering in education unintentionally is when teachers assign projects to their students. The teachers may hand out lists of acceptable topics ranging, in a history class for example, from fashion to transportation. The teachers then give the students a choice as to which topic they would like to do the project on. The underlying problem with this is that girls tend to choose what could be considered more “feminine” topics while the boys will choose the more “masculine” ones. “Offered to the pupils as free choice, such selections are self-perpetuating, leading to the expected choices and amplifying any differences there may have been in attitudes.” (Marland 1983, p. 152) The reason for this could be that society, through the media and other modes of communication, has pre-conceived notions as to what issues are “male”, “female”, or unisex.
Another example of how females are prone to gender inequality in the classroom is during class discussion and also what the teacher decides to talk about in the class. Classroom behaviour is a major focal point for those who identify examples of inequality. There are many differences in the way that females and males present themselves at school. It is apparent that in classroom situations males talk more, interrupt more, they define the topic, and women tend to support them. It is generally believed in our society that this is the proper way to act in classroom situations, that males have it “right” and females don’t, they are just “pushovers” and don’t have enough confidence. This, however is a big assumption to make. Some research has been done in this field that could, however, begin to refute this stereotype. It is frequently assumed that males use language which is forceful confident and masterful (all values which are regarded as positive). Females on the other hand, it is assumed, use language that is more hesitant, qualified, and tentative. One can look at the example of the use of tag questions, which are statements with questions tagged onto the end such as “I’m going to the store, all right?” It is obvious that if the above assumptions about the use of language were true, this hesitant, asking for approval type of question would be more frequently used by women. “. . . studies were carried out to determine whether women used more tag questions than men. It was found that they did not. Betty Lou Dubois and Isabel Crouch (1975) found that men used more tag questions than women.” (ibid p. 100)
The end of high school brings about more obstacles for women on the way to achieving equality in the workplace. One of the most important steps in achieving a high paying, high status job is post-secondary education. It is apparent that even today women are being encouraged to follow certain educational paths. This is shown very simply by the fact that even here at Queen’s University, men vastly outnumber women as both students and faculty members in such programs as Applied Science, while women greatly outnumber men in the programs of nursing and concurrent education. Women have historically been encouraged to enter into what could be considered “caring professions” such as nursing, teaching, and social work. This is shown very crudely in the book Careers for Women in Canada which was published in 1946 and written by a woman. The book devotes almost 200 pages to pursuing careers in such fields as catering, sewing, being a secretary, interior decorating, the arts, teaching, and nursing while it only allocates 30 pages to medicine, law, dentistry, engineering, optometry, and more combined. The following quote clearly illustrates the beliefs of the more liberal people of that time. “Some women have specialized in surgery. There can be no doubt but that a capable woman may operate very successfully on women and children, though it is doubtful whether a man would call in the services of a female surgeon except in an emergency. (Carriere 1946, p. 234) Although much has improved since the 1940s, the enrollment numbers in university programs clearly indicate that women still have a long way to go before gender is not an issue.
After choosing a career path, women enter the workplace with a disadvantage. They have the same financial responsibilities as men with regards to supporting families and themselves and much of the time they have an even heavier burden because there are many women in today’s society who are single mothers. Given that there is no question that the need for money is identical it can, therefore, be concluded that there is a major problem with the wage structure in today’s jobs. The wage gap clearly shows that society as a whole puts more value on the work of males than on the same work done by females. The facts that have been displayed above showing that education is itself a sexist institution perhaps explain why there is this inequality once schooling is finished. The fact that textbooks show males as being more successful than females, that teachers set assignments which reinforce gender stereotypes and sex roles, the fact that “masculine” behaviour is reinforced while “feminine” behaviour is condemned, and the fact that women are encouraged to choose certain career paths all validate the claim that the gender inequality in employment situations can be directly related to the way that children are educated.
Why do girls do better than boys in schools in Britain? This post aims to explain the gender gap in education by focusing on internal factors such as teacher labeling, laddish subcultures and the feminisation of teaching.
Swann and Graddol (1994) found that teachers tend to see boys as unruly and disruptive and are more likely to spend time telling them off than helping them with schoolwork. Teachers have lower expectations of boys and so are less inclined to push them hard to achieve high standards. Because of their disruptive behaviour they are more likely to be excluded. Four out of five permanent exclusions are boys. With Ladette culture this may be changing (Jackson, 2006)
John Abraham (1986) asked teachers to describe a typical boy and a typical girl – The typical boy was described as not particularly bright, likes a laugh and always attention seeking, often by messing around. The typical girl is bright, well –behaved and hard working, being quiet and timid. As a result he found that boys were told off much more easily than girls.
Subcultures and ‘Laddishness’
Working class boys especially tend to form anti-school subcultures. Paul Willis (1977) found this with his research with the lads, Tony Sewell (1997) argues that there is a black –anti school masculinity and Diane Reay et al (2003) found that boys felt they had little control over their educational learning and so seek power through other negative strategies.
Unlike the anti-social subculture discovered by Paul Willis, some researchers such as Abrahams (1988) and Mirza (1992) have found evidence of pro-school female subcultures who actively encourage each other to study.
Carolyn Jackson (2006) – Found that laddish behaviour had important benefits – it made students seam cool and thus popular. She also argued that it was a response to the fear of failure – it made students seam unbothered about failing, so if they did FAIL they would not look bad. Furthermore, if lads and ladettes did well, they would be labelled as a genius – doing well with apparently no effort
Frosh and Phoenix – Mainly focus group interviews but some individual interviews Sample of 245 boys and 27girls in 12 schools Young Masculinities (2000) Found that few boys were able to be both popular and academically successful Conscientious boys who tried hard at school were often labelled as feminine or gay.
The Feminisation of teaching
There are more female than male teachers, especially in primary school. In line with women increasingly going into more professional careers, secondary schooling has also seen a rise in female teachers. This means that girls increasingly have positive role models while boys may fail to identify with female teachers. Some sociologists have suggested that one possible explanation for these gender differences in attainment is the ‘feminisation of education’. This is the idea that there are not enough male teachers working in primary schools and that, as a result, the curriculum, teaching styles and means of assessment, are more appropriate to the learning styles of girls. Consequently government strategies of teacher recruitment now suggest that pupils will benefit from ‘gender-matching’ with teachers.
The introduction of coursework
Coursework was introduced with the 1988 Education Act and this is precisely when girls started to outperform boys in education. Coursework may benefit girls in education because they are better organised and more likely to do work outside of lessons.
Michael Barber (1996) showed that boys overestimate their ability, and girls underestimate theirs. Francis research in 3 London schools (1998-9) found that some boys thought it would be easy to do well in exams without having to put much effort in. When they fail they tend to blame the teacher or their own lack of effort, not ability and feel undervalued.
Limitations of in school factors in explaining differences in educational achievement
The introduction of coursework in 1988 seams to have had a major impact on girl’s surging ahead of boys because girls suddenly surged ahead at this time
Research by Skelton et al found that the Feminisation of teaching does not have a negative impact on educational performance of boys. They found that most pupils and teachers reported that matching pupils and teachers by gender did not significantly affect pupils’ educational experiences. Sixty-five per cent of children rejected the idea that the gender of the teacher mattered, with no major differences between girls and boys. The majority of pupils also believed that the behaviour of male and female teachers in the classroom was generally very similar in terms of fairness, encouragement and discipline.
Out of school factors must also play a role – boys learn to be ‘typical boys’ at home first of all and then their peers just reinforce this.
Don’t exaggerate the extent of male underachievement – boys are still improving in education and are now catching up with girls once more.
This entry was posted in education, Sex and gender and tagged gender gap, gender inequality, women in education. Bookmark the permalink.