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.