Gender is a social construction. Many sociologists, such as Bob Connell, suggest that the biological differences between males and females are overstated. Assumptions are made about men and women that overlook indiviudal differences and assume that everybody of the same gender is similar. This resulted in women being placed in an inferior position by society, there are still many who believe that masculinity is better. By the 1990s, challenges to this type of thinking were difficult to ignore so Helen Wilkinson (1994) coined the term genderquake, it describes the massive shifts that were taking place in traditional gender patterns.
Boys used to be more successful than girls. Early studies identified sexist practices in schools, depressing girls' attainemnt. Studies are now concerned with boys under-attainment and the idea of 'masculinity' as a barrier to success is an issue.
Subject choices tend to be heavily gendered with boys and girls opting for different types of subjects, which has implications for job opportunities in the future.
Causes of under-attainment and gender
- Functionalists see gender as being linked to male and female social roles. What happens in education is a reflection of society.
- Marxists are concerned with class and so gender inequality tends not to be seen as important.
- Interactionists studies within schools show that teachers and pupils share ideas about gender roles, traditional gender patterns tend to be reproduced in schools through the formal and hidden curriculum.
- Feminists showed how patriarchy extended into schools from wider society. Girls systematically lost out in the education system. Male underachivement in schools is seen as the problem, rather than the continuing inequality the exists after school in the world of work.
- The New Right agree with functionalists, they're concerned about the recent percieved failure of boys, seeking policies to overturn this pattern.
- Postmodernists tend to see gender as a choice. Children being forced into identifying with a gender is unpleasant, it's an aggresive form of social control.
Feminists such as Sharpe (1976) suggest that gender differences at school reflect the creation of gender identity. This begins in the home, it's reinforced by secondary socialiastion in education and the media. The accounts for boys and girls opting for 'masculine' or 'feminine' of subjects when options are chosen. The National Curriculum attempted to break down some of these gendered assumptions about subjects, but some subjects are still associated overwhelmingly with males or females. Interestingly, a number of studies, such as that by Clarricoates, have pointed to social class as a factor in subject choice with middle-class girls more likely to opt formale-dominated subjects, working-class girls have more traditional views of careers.
Recent studies show changes to government policy and examinations favour girls. The teaching profession has become increasingly dominated by women, this means boys have fewer male role models in schools. As success in education becomse associated with feminity, males will reject educational success to assert their masculinity. The emphasis has tended to be on helping girls do better and to take up male subjects, less has been done to encourage boys to challenge sterotypes. Boys behaviour is more challenging than girls. Government data shows boys are three times more likely to be excluded.
There's evidence from writers such as Willis (1977) and others, that some boys are likely to reject the values of education and form anti-school subcultures. This is linked to a form of masculinity linked to male work in traditional industuries. Francis (2000) says males feel threatened and distance themselves from femininity as girls move into traditional male areas of achievement. This leads them to reject the stragies that lead to eductional success. These attitudes can beseen as self-defeating as employment patterns have changed. Poor school achievement has long-term consequences when qualifactions are demanded by most employers.
Feminism and The New Right
One of the strongest arguments to explain the change in male and female success rates in school is linked to feminism and its impact on girls expectations. Increased opportunitise at work and the accompanying economic independence means girls no longer have the expectation of finding a husband who can support them. Girls now have a possiblity of careers, meaning they now are committed to education. Sharpe's study in 1970s found girls were focussed on finding a husband, she repeated her research in the 1990s and found that they changed to finding a career.
The New Right claimed that changes in the family and especially the increase in single mothers means boys don't have good male role models in the home. Boys look to the media, sport and entertainment for role models. Boys make little effort in school, leading to poor achievement and employability. This is a simplfiied view.