Topic 12: Feminism and gender

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  • Created by: zoolouise
  • Created on: 20-05-16 20:56

Lack of education - social control

Feminism is a conflict theory. Education is one of the most significant areas where women can gain social justice. Feminists argue that women are disproportionately likely to be involved in childrearing and in taking on female work such as the four Cs: cooking, cleaning, caring and check-outs, they remain vulnerable to poverty and deprivation. Education that prepared women for the challenge of taking on traditional male work offers them opportunities. Lack of education leaves women vulnerable to exploitation by men and by patriarchy.

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Liberal feminism and education

Liberal feminism can be recognised by its concern with concepts such as equality of opportunity, socialisation into sex roles and gender discrimination within schools. An area of focus for liberal feminists is the way the curriculum discriminated against women, until the 1980s the introduction of the National Curriciulum, it was common and completely unremarkable for girls to be taught entierly different subjects from boys. Girls would study domestic sciences and boys would be tauht carpentry and sciences such as physics. Many subjects still remain heavily gendered even though children have more freedom. 

Feminists argue that attitudes are changing, many girls are dissuaded from 'masculine' study whereas boys, if they find themselves in traditional feminine roles, often progress quickly and are viewed in a more positive light. A 1998 report on careers in nursing found men are twice as likely to be promoted.

Criticisms of the liberal feminist explanations of educational attainment suggest it's not critical enough of the entrenched masculinity of education systems, particulary in higher education where women opt for courses leading to less well paid work.

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Socialist and Marxist feminist views

There's a more obvious link in Marxist feminist thinking between economics and education, Marxist feminists are more likely to look at cultural reproduction, power and ideology. They'd argue that gender socialisation in the home is reproduced in schools and education. They tend to look at why women accept lower social statuses than men, also the idea that some women are willing to challange masculinity and look for signs of ersistance. Areas of concern include:

  • Gendered language used in schools (Oakley)
  • Gendered roles in books and in the hierarchy of the school (Kelley)
  • Gendered stereotyping in reading schemes
  • The invisibility of women in the curriculum, symbolic annihilation
  • Girls being made to feel uncomfortable in male subject areas
  • Lack of positive role models

This perspective can be criticised, many fo these issues have been addressed as a result of equality legislation in schools, gendered attitudes and behaviours still persist amongst boys and girls. Key issue for educationalists tends to be the under-performance of boys, working class specifically.

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Radical feminism and education

Radical feminists have tended to point out that males monopolise knowledge and teacher time. They dominate social spaces in which both genders occur, they're aggressive towards transgressive women who challenge male dominance. 

In the USA there's huge public debates about the frequent sexual violence by male college students, and the failure of universitise to deal with the problem, choosing to tell girls how to avoid **** and thus implying that the victims 'brought it on themselves'. Radical feminism tend to favour single-sex classrooms, arguing that women's needs should be put first.

Critics of radical feminism tend to suggest that it's too general, not all men are rapists, all women aren't victims. It's deterministic, implying that women don't exercise choices but are suppressed in male society. It overlooks the speed of social change.

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Feminists and the hidden curriculum

Feminists claimed that the hidden curriculum acted as a powerful reinforcement for gender stereotyping in schools. The argument was that textbooks provide messages about gender, they offer information about the world to children.

In the 1970s and 1980s, study after study showed story books portrayed boys as active, girls as domestic/invisible. Fewer female characters, they often existed to be rescued by males. Maths and science books showed boys in images or used male-appropriate examples.

A recent study by Janice McCabe of books published between 1900 and 2000 found 31% had female central characters and even books about animals focussed on male animals.

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