Gender Discrimination and Prejudice in Education
Gender discrimination and prejudice is a prevailing problem in our society in general and in our education system in particular. It exists on all levels and in all areas of education and with schools fostering the physical, psychological, and emotional development of children, it can have long-term effects on children.
In this regard, this paper aims to discuss how children and students from both developing and developed countries are being affected by gender discrimination and prejudice and how it affects both the male and the female students. In addition, this paper discusses how the problem affects students even after they finish their studies and what is being done to address these issues.
Although international efforts to provide children with primary education have resulted in a considerable decrease in the number of out-of-school children, including “a decrease in the global gender gap in out-of-school children” (Chisamya, DeJaghere, Kendall & Khan, 2012, p. 1), more than half of these out-of-school children remain to be girls.
In a study conducted by Chisamya et al. (2012) where they analyzed schools and communities in Bangladesh and Malawi, it was found that gender discrimination was associated to sexual and gender-based violence, as well as to the perceptions of adults with regards to the social worth, educational needs, and capacities of boys versus those of girls. The study showed a bias against girls — throughout the society and the school – in terms of the attitudes towards the learning capabilities, the quality of the learning experience, and the support for learning (Chisamya et al., 2012). The study further showed that the political, social, and economic structures in society did not provide equal opportunities for educated women compared to educated men (Chisamya et al., 2012). Moreover, despite the equality in the boys’ and girls’ academic performance in these countries, the girls continued to be discriminated by their communities, families, and schools. With the perception that women’s roles were confined to being a wife and mother, education was deemed useless for them. In Malawi, particularly, male teachers were also found to regularly sexualize their interactions with their students (Chisamya et al., 2012).
Although girls or women in western countries are more empowered where they are more able to invent and re-invent their identity, McRobbie (as cited in Robinson & Davies, 2008, pp. 345-346), asserted that “girls, including their bodies, their labor power and their social behavior are now subject to governmentality to an unprecedented degree.” This is evident in the way that young girls are urged to pay attention to their body image, which includes gender performativity, diets, and beauty regimes. In particular, Robinson & Davies (2008, p. 354) highlights the beauty pageants for girls as demonstrating the “precariousness of childhood innocence and adult-child relationships.” Not only do these pageants imply gender to be artificial and constructed, but they also problematize children’s knowledge of these sexualized and gendered performances.
Similarly, there is some danger among young boys who consider football as a means of legitimating and perpetuating their masculinity (Keddle, 2003). While football does have positive contributions to the boys’ well-being, which include adventurousness, discipline, competition, physical strength, and fitness, there is concern that football can also have negative implications on these young boys, which include the active subordination of other girls and boys, domination and power, and emotional neutrality. In effect, this can result to these boys associating a stigma to anything considered to be different from the hegemony, in turn leading to the exclusion of girls and other boys (who don’t qualify) from the sport and from their clique. It also leads to the “other boys” being femninized. Moreover, the imperative of heterosexuality, where homophobia and sexual harassment are endorsed, becomes a common theme among these young boys.
In this regard, Keddle (2003) proposes that it is important for boys to learn the skills of deconstruction through the exploration of the illegitimacies of discourse as posited in Keddle’s study (2003). In particular, Keddle (2003) asserts that these boys should be able to understand the destructive and potent nature of their dominant storylines. By learning these skills, they will be able to “position themselves within alternative and empowering discourses and storylines” (Keddle, 2003, p. 82). As well, Keddle (2004) recommends that schools hold conscious-raising activities that challenge stereotypes and homophobia. These can include having lesbian or homosexual guest speakers or positively recognizing famous people who are either gays or lesbians. Moreover, she (Keddle, 2003) suggests that the implementation of a social justice framework in the childhood context can be done by adding anti-homophobic or anti-sexist rules in the class constitution, which are along the lines of the prohibition for using put-downs or name calling. This allows children to develop empathy, acceptance, and openness about alternative ways of being. In turn, this allows homophobia and heterosexism to be deconstructed and rewritten within the themes of discrimination, marginality, and social justice.
In another study, Renold (2007) found that one way through which boys defined their heterosexuality was through shaming, policing, anti-gay behaviors, (hetero) sexual harassment, misogyny, sexual fantasy, sex talk, and other non-homogenic masculinities. This study showed that while most 10 to 11-year old boys experienced the boyfriend/girlfriend culture with frustration and fear, there were a few who “invest[ed] in a hyper heterosexual masculinity as the ‘studs’ of their classes and schools” (Renold, 2003, p. 275) where they were accorded the status of professional boyfriend. However, it should be noted that there were no professional girlfriends in the schools that participated in Renold’s (2003) study, showing that girls were still subjected to a sexual double standard, as well as to the pressures of projecting their sexual femininities more widely.
On the same note, keeping children’s innocence is made harder by the increasing presence of sexual content in the media (Renold, 2006). In response, the British government, for example, advised schools to create age-appropriate programs and for teachers to avoid answering questions on topics that may be inappropriate for the child or that may be beyond their capability to understand. However, despite such policies, the guidance provided by the government still promotes heterosexuality, examples of which are familial discourses such as babies and marriage where educating children about marriage and family life are encouraged. Moreover, non-heterosexualities – such as lesbians or gays — are often discussed in negative contexts, which imply homophobic harassment or bullying.
Experts assert that despite schools’ and educators’ efforts to protect primary school children’s innocence from sexuality, the children themselves find ways and reasons by which they can have relationships – whether friendly or romantic – with the opposite sex (Renold, 2006). Contrary to traditional belief that this age group is protected by innocence, Renold (20066, p. 506) actually describes these years as “ripe for gender trouble” where children are exposed to various sexual and gender truths. In fact, research shows that schools and schooling processes have become social sites where the students’ sexual cultures are produced and reproduced (Renold, 2007). Moreover, Renold (2007) asserts that children have their own way of making sense of the imagined, invisible, and visible sexual behavior of the adults and children around them.
According to Keddle (2009, p. 21), gender injustice is “understood [. . .] as arising from
both the economic structures of society – which produce gender specific modes of
exploitation, marginalization and deprivation — and the social patterns of representation,
interpretation and communication — that culturally dominate, devalue and demean the
feminine.’’ She asserts that although gender policy reforms in education have been attempted in Australia during the past 30 years, girls continue to be exposed to sexual harassment in schools and women remain to be at a disadvantage from a socio-economic standpoint after they complete their education, compared to men (Keddle, 2009). As well, Keddle (2009) believes that these policies, including the more progressive ones, are “undermined by the broader socio-political climate of economic rationalism and, more recently, antifeminism” (Keddle, 2009, p. 23).
On the other hand, Burns (2008) asserts that equality can no longer be achieved through policies where the states are held responsible for social injustices. Instead, Burns (2008) suggests that it can be achieved through the implementation of practices and policies where the state is defined as the great equalizer of economic opportunities. In the field of education, this can be achieved through the implementation of more rigid and standardized models of teaching, learning, and assessment, which have the capability of reforming school values where the focus would be to provide young people with the training that will enable them to become self-managing individuals who will be capable of ensuring a progressive economic future for themselves.
With this new model, girls are found to be performing better than the boys based on test scores (Burns, 2008). Likewise, the number of girls who do well in courses that are traditionally male have increased, and it also seems that girls are doing better when it comes to employment opportunities. With these girls becoming self-managing, achieving certain skills, and becoming economically self-sustainable, they become more capable of participating in and contributing to the society.
On quite a different note, another area in education where there is a gender gap is the lack of male teachers. For example, in Ontario, there is only 1 out of 10 primary-junior teachers who are aged under 30 (Jamieson, 2005). There is also only one man to four women in the junior-intermediate level and only 30% of the high school faculty is composed of men (Jamieson, 2005). Moreover, the few men in these faculties are within retiring age, which means that the current number of male teachers can decrease further. Overall, the number of male teachers in Canada saw a decrease from 41% in 1989-1990 to 35% in 1999-2000. This becomes an issue because many – parents, students, and school administrators – believe that male teachers can serve as role models in the development of the students’ character.
As reported by Jamieson (2005), this shortage of male teachers is caused by a perception that the salaries of teachers are low, which implies a reduced public image. There is also a perception that teaching is a woman’s job because of it being considered a nurturing profession, and there is the fear of being accused of inappropriate behavior or sexual misconduct towards students.
It is obvious that a gender gap exists in the education system, whether among developing or developed countries, where such gender gap is outlined by prejudice and discrimination. Among developing countries, girls are discriminated as being of less worth and having lesser capacities than boys; and thus, are either not entitled to an education or are provided with a different quality of education compared to boys.
In developed courtiers, despite the higher level of independence and freedom that the female students are entitled to, they are still subjected to prejudice and discrimination in that they are pressured –from what they see in the media — to maintain a certain physical image and to subject themselves to diets, the latest fashion, and the like.
This paper also discussed how not only female students can become victims of gender discrimination and prejudice, but how even boys can become victims, although in a different way. In particular, boys who participate in football or in heterosexual relationships may develop a sense of superiority where they see girls and other boys who are different from them as inferior. Without being corrected, such beliefs and perceptions can lead to these boys developing negative behaviors, which can include homophobia and sexual harassment. As such, researchers propose that young boys be taught to deconstruct their discourse and be able to find other ways of empowering themselves. As well, schools should initiate activities that promote gender equality and consciousness about the other ways of being. In addition, the paper discussed how the gender gap exists not only among students but among teachers as well where the shortage in male teachers is brought about by the public’s misconceptions about the role of teachers and of teaching as a profession.
Clearly, gender issues affect the educational system in so many areas and in so many ways. While it is good that the governments of various countries are trying to develop policies that would promote gender equality, in the end what will really make the most difference is a total change in the current school values and mindsets.
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