The role of schools in gender stereotyping

In 1972 Betty Levy published an article in Feminist Studies on the role of schools in gender sterotyping of girls. This week I want to discuss the observations made in this article and compare them with some more recent observation of gender-stereotyping of girls. Gender stereotypes are culturally-ingrained ideas about appropriate behaviours for females and males but this promotes inequality between the sexes and can set young people up to expect and accept power-imbalances within relationships.

The feminist critique of gender roles requires the study of how and where these roles are learned. Schools are important social institutions that play a key role in elaborating and reinforcing gender roles.

Children learn gender roles at an early age – it is one of the earliest concepts they learn.

As children grow their awareness of ‘appropriate’ gender role behaviour becomes increasingly more stereotyped.

Masculine activities are more highly valued than feminine activities – girls are allowed to do some masculine activities but boys cannot do feminine activities.

Students learn by observing how teachers treat each other, by the prizes they receive at school, or how teachers reward or discipline behaviour that adheres to accepted notions of gender, in particular preparing young women for their roles as daughter, wife and mother.

The gender role training of girls involves less tolerance for aggressive behaviour and greater encouragement of dependency.

Schools are an effective instrument of social control because of the functions they play: custodial care, social role selection, indoctrination and education.

Young people typically buy into these gender stereotypes and are often unaware of when and how stereotypes impact on their behaviours and choices.

Girls are so well trained in their gender roles that they continue to put domestic duties above their professional roles, a key reason why women do so many more hours of housework than men.

Gender differences arise through the interaction of biology and a child’s social environment. Schools affect gender differentiation through both teachers and peers.

The feminist objective is to make sure each individual can realise their potential and isn’t restricted by gender stereotypes, either the ones they have learned themselves or those forced on them by others.

It is sad that nothing seems to have changed and the same tired gender-stereotypes have only become more entrenched.

Girls who sit quietly are ignored, boys who act out receive more attention.

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Imaginary world

A creative approach to life adds happiness
Speaking to the emotions in my imaginary world
Having a voice for further inspiration
To explore outside the stock roles for a woman
Escaping heterosexual marriage and Cinderella plots
Or Sleeping Beauty trapped in a thicket
Uncovering all of their personalities
For new beginnings and fresh endings
No mere passive objects of desire
Actions not determined by gender

Soft as a maiden

Soft as a maiden
fair as Venus
innocence allures
dazzles like a pearl
with quick breath
her lover comes
while she talks
and laughs at him
kissing her hand
an arm snaked
around her neck
like a vision
words swelled
in her breast
his blood was hot
as he pressed
her backward
the kind words
became snarls
and he devoured
her soft flesh
until he was possessed
and her screams
meant nothing to him
just the sweet taste
of blood
to her inevitable end.

Daughter of the moon

Daughter of the moon,
caressed hills and valleys
are fleeting until empty
guilt finds you laying
your head on his chest;
her hand was warm and soft,
he kissed her eyelids,
searching for a connection
now his passion had ebbed;
even the darkness
cannot hide the fact
they are strangers;
she was seeking love,
his unmet need,
as timeless as life itself.

Feminist Friday – defining feminism

I began with a search of my university library for books on feminism. What I was looking for was the definitive text that wrapped all you would ever need to know about feminism into a handful of easy to read chapters. I discovered that much has been written about feminism and feminist theory, yet attempts to provide an all-encompassing definition of feminism seem to fail. This is because there are so many different viewpoints and objectives and it is seemingly impossible to draw all these strands together. I also couldn’t help thinking that too much of it was either homespun words of wisdom (each of which are valid in their own way, I might add) and hopelessly bogged down in academic jargon that only the initiated can decipher it.

It was while reading all this material over the past year—and just to be clear, I am in the second year of my degree in creative writing but I’m doing a submajor in women’s studies—that I came to the conclusion that trying to define feminism is the wrong question.

I think such attempts at defining feminism are a distraction created by a patriarchal need for a definition so that it can be refuted. How can a movement be taken seriously if it can’t be defined? If feminists can’t even agree with each other then how can society expect to change? How many times have you heard these questions thrown out there?

But that lack of definition is exactly what makes feminism so important—because it does encompass a broad range of views, all of which are aimed at identifying and removing sexist attitudes in society.

The lack of definition is what makes feminism so feared and hated by many. They just can’t get their heads around a concept that doesn’t sit neatly within a patriarchal way of viewing the world. It breaks their rules and they don’t like it.

Whatever the definition, there is a common thread of inequalities and injustices in women’s social position and campaigning to raise awareness and change that social position is what my feminism is all about.

Have a happy feminist Friday

Molly

xx

Feminist Friday – discovering feminism

I clearly remember the day I first heard the word ‘feminism’. I was in junior high school and my social science teacher was explaining to us about civil rights and equality. Somewhere in the discussion she mentioned feminism. She said it was the next major battle to be fought after the civil rights movement. She talked about equality and rights for women and how words were used to keep women in their place. She talked about the pressures on girls and boys to conform in a society that was driven by competition.

I remember my 13 year old self sitting up and paying more attention than I had ever done in class before. The things my teacher was saying resonated at a time that I was just discovering how boys were beginning to be interested in girls again after years of telling us we were hopeless – we couldn’t run, throw or catch a ball. We weren’t smart enough, or fast enough, or strong enough. The boys that couldn’t run, throw or catch ball were somewhere in between, not quite boys but not bad enough to be girls. But then as our bodies began to develop boys began to look at them. Some of the girls had cottoned onto this much earlier than me and they realised that if they were the right clothes and showed off enough body parts and giggled at the right time then they could be popular with the boys. I was painfully aware of all this (without being able to put it into words) because no boys ever looked at me. I was too skinny and still looked like a little kid at 13. I had red hair and freckles and the boys made sure I knew that I wasn’t what they were after.

So when I heard my social science teacher talking about equality and how girls and women needed to fight back I sat up and listened. I wanted to learn more, and learn more I did – slowly – as I made my way through high school.I never became a ‘popular’ girl with the boys. I was too quiet to argue but I wrote things. I wrote stories and essays and poems and some of the boys called me ‘lesbian’ because I preferred to spend my lunchtimes in the library with a book and a writing journal.

So now I am twenty years old and have just finished the second year of my creative writing degree at university and I am proud to think of myself as feminist. I still see the negative effects of our competition driven, patriarchal society every day and this is a reminder of why we need an alternative view of the world.

I wish I could remember her name but I am ever grateful to her for introducing me to the world of feminism.

Have a fab feminist Friday.

Molly

xx

She blushed, not knowing why

She blushed, not knowing why
she had sunk so low,
or looked so pretty;
woman, turning quickly
her hand being urged,
eyes filled with tears
for there is only one thing
a young man wants
around his waist —
a kiss from her lips,
undone.

Friday Feminism – the US election and anti-feminism

For this week’s Friday Feminism post I want to talk about the rise of anti-feminist sentiment, particularly following the results of the US election. As an outside observer (I’m not from the US) this seemed to be an election campaign in which feminism had it’s strongest voice ever. However as the first election results came in it was the republicans that were in front right from the start.

Following the outpouring of protest and emotion about the final result I think it’s important to reflect on what the election result says about the state of feminism in the United States.

Election campaigns cover a whole range of issues (the economy, education, jobs, immigration) and people’s decision on who to vote for, or whether to vote at all, can be pretty subjective. A look at the voting statistics only gives a superficial view but is a starting point.

Looking at the results by gender, women comprised 52 per cent of the total vote, with 54 per cent voting for the democrats, 42 per cent for the republicans and 4 per cent for other candidates. The reverse was the case for men with 53 per cent of men voting republican, 41 per cent voting democrat and 6 per cent for other candidates.

But race had an even stronger impact on voting results, with 58 per cent of ‘white’ voters going for the republicans compared with 88 per cent of ‘non-white’ voters going for the democrats.

Age was also important, with a majority of people under 40 voting for democrats and a majority of people over 40 voting republican. Education was also a factor, with a majority republican vote for those with high school and some college education versus a majority democrat vote for those with college or post-graduate education.

So what does all this mean for feminism? I know many of my friends that identify as feminists were devastated by the election result because they believed Hillary Clinton represented the rise of women in US politics. But the election wasn’t about a single issue and feminism isn’t an organised political party.

Feminist issues continue to be both political and personal and nothing changes because of the US election. More importantly, some of the more vocal anti-feminist sentiment that has been aired during this campaign shows that the work of feminists is far from over. Yes, we need to keep pushing for women’s rights and we need to keep convincing both men and women that feminism is important.

Feminist Friday – gender stereotyping in schools

In 1972 Betty Levy published an article in Feminist Studies on the role of schools in gender sterotyping of girls. This week I want to highlight the observations made in this article and compare them with some more recent observation of gender-stereotyping of girls.

Gender stereotypes are culturally-ingrained ideas about appropriate behaviours for females and males, but this promotes inequality between the sexes and can set young people up to expect and accept power-imbalances with relationships. Gender differences arise through the interaction of biology and a child’s social environment. Schools affect gender differentiation through both teachers and peers.

The feminist critique of gender roles requires the study of how and where these roles are learned. Schools are an important social institution that play a key role in elaborating and reinforcing gender roles. Schools are an effective instrument of social control because of the functions they play: custodial care, social role selection, indoctrination and education.

Children learn gender roles at an early age – it is one of the earliest concepts they learn.As they grow, children become increasingly aware of stereotyped ‘appropriate’ gender role behaviour. Part of this awareness is that masculine activities are more highly valued than feminine activities – girls are allowed to do some masculine activities but boys cannot do feminine activities.

Students learn by observing how teachers treat each other, by the prizes they receive at school or how teachers reward or discipline behaviour that adheres to accepted notions of gender, in particular preparing young women for their roles as daughter, wife and mother. The gender role training of girls also involves less tolerance for aggressive behaviour and greater encouragement of dependency. Girls who sit quietly are ignored, boys who act out receive more attention.

Young people typically buy into these gender stereotypes and are often unaware of when and how stereotypes impact on their behaviours and choices. Girls are so well trained in their gender roles that they continue to put domestic duties above their professional roles in adulthood.

The feminist objective is to make sure each individual can realise their potential and isn’t restricted by gender stereotypes, either the ones they have learned themselves or those forced on them by others.

It is sad that nothing seems to have changed and the same tired gender-stereotypes have only become more entrenched in our society. As recently as 2013 an article in The Guardian discussed a report into the way children learn gender stereotypes at school. ‘Primary school children who feel they have to diet in order to conform to airbrushed images in the media, secondary school children who are “touched up” in ways that make them feel uncomfortable…’

A typical response is to deny that gender stereotyping exists and that behaviour is just ‘natural’ – eg girls don’t like physics or maths subjects, girls don’t want to be engineers, or work in construction, and so on. But why would a girl want to work in any of these fields when she has been bombarded with negative stereotypes from the day she was born?

Society won’t change until people want to change it, but the challenge becomes even harder while-ever it is in the vested interest of so many to retain the status quo. I want all girls and boys to be able to grow to reach their full potential, follow whatever interests them and create a more equitable society.

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