For many years, researchers have been documenting the multiple ways in which girls and women are “shortchanged” in their schooling experiences. Today, there continue to be differences in schooling access, experiences, opportunities, and outcomes for girls and women in this country, and gender inequities can be found from grade school to graduate school. In spite of many years and many attempts to eradicate these inequities, girls and women still receive less recognition and encouragement in the classroom, fewer questions from and interactions with their teachers, and less representation—on classroom bulletin boards as well as in the curriculum.
Over the course of their schooling experiences, these inequities take their toll on female students, combining to insure that they receive less support for their academic confidence and success than male students receive. While there have been many advances for girls and women—socially, politically, economically, and educationally—these advances sometimes mask the continuing discrepancies they face.
Today, girls are getting better grades, and women are entering college in increasing numbers; however, gender equity still has not been achieved. For example, although girls are performing better on math and science achievement tests, they continue to score lower on both verbal and mathematics sections of high-stakes tests such as the SAT, Advanced Placement exams, and the GRE. And while women are entering medical schools in increasing numbers, they continue to be concentrated in particular specializations that are female friendly and lower paying. Before these gender inequities can be addressed, an understanding is needed of the subtle, and not so subtle, ways in which girls and women continue to experience discrimination in their access, experiences, opportunities, and outcomes in schools and classrooms. This entry provides some background on gender discrimination, looks at Title IX legislation and its impact, and discusses other potential ways to address continuing discrimination.
Gender discrimination and inequalities have been present in U.S. schools for centuries, largely reflective of similar patterns of discrimination and inequality present in the society at large. This can result in different experiences, expectations, and outcomes for many students. The very idea that girls and women should have access to education, especially to higher education, is in itself a relatively recent development in U.S. history. Until late in the 1800s, most women had few opportunities for education beyond elementary schooling, and when they were allowed to pursue advanced schooling, their access to schools and experiences there depended upon a system that was separate and unequal, much like that experienced by Blacks in this country. Today, girls are for the most part allowed to attend the same schools, take the same classes, and do the same activities as boys. However, the “equal” access girls currently enjoy often masks the continued discrimination and inequity that girls experience in schools.
There is much evidence about how traditional curricula, school and classroom interactions, and pedagogies work to disadvantage girls. The result is often a gender-biased classroom and/or school that (1) does not represent the experiences of girls and women in teaching and evaluation material; (2) instills the development of negative attitudes toward and thus an avoidance of particular content areas such as math and science in girls; (3) reinforces lower career aspirations for girls; (4) promotes and/or maintains an acceptance of sexual harassment; (5) relies heavily on gender stereotypes in classroom and school materials, practices, and/or interactions; (6) reinforces cultural stereotypes about girls and women; and (7) contributes to lower self-esteem for girls. These gender-based disparities and forms of discrimination do not apply to all classrooms and all schools, nor do they disadvantage all girls in the same ways, in part because identity is comprised of the intersection of many different characteristics. Social class can change the dynamics and impact of some of these factors, as can race and ethnicity or sexuality. In addition, many of these same disadvantages also apply to some male students, especially those who do not conform to traditional male gender norms.
One of the more recent attempts to address gender discrimination was the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Its principle objective is to prohibit the use of federal funding to support educational programs that engage in discriminatory practices on the basis of sex, and to provide individual students and teachers effective protection against those practices. The law requires educational institutions to create and maintain policies, practices, and programs that do not discriminate on the basis of sex. Under the scope of Title IX, it is expected that males and females will receive fair and equal treatment in all arenas of public schooling, including recruitment, admissions, course offerings and access, financial aid and scholarships, sexual harassment, extracurricular activities, counseling, and facilities and housing.
Impact Of The Law
Today, many people believe that Title IX is at the heart of efforts to create gender equitable schools for girls and women by creating equality of opportunity and access, thus leading to equal outcomes. While the link between Title IX and increased opportunities for women and girls in athletics is well known, Title IX has also played a role in improving schooling for girls and women in areas such as access to higher education, career education, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, standardized testing, and treatment of pregnant and parenting teens. The focus on athletics is much easier to document since it is easily understood and examined in relationship to numbers: numbers of teams for boys and girls, numbers of players, numbers of dollars spent, and numbers of scholarships awarded, for example. Other areas of improvement are not so easily defined and much less easily measured. Sexual harassment in the classroom and the representation of girls and women in teaching materials are more difficult to define, to measure, and to prove—leading to less of a focus on them.
In many ways, schools have made much progress in eliminating gender discrimination from their policies, programs, and practices. However, vestiges of bias, discrimination, stereotyping, and inequities remain intact, and they continue to have a powerful and often negative influence on many students. For example, it is rare today to see a specific policy prohibiting female students from enrolling in nontraditional vocational courses like auto mechanics or carpentry, and yet few girls and young women do enroll in them. In addition, while schools may offer equal numbers of sports for girls and boys, other inequities often remain—who has access to fields, practice spaces, or equipment; who is able to play on teams traditionally associated as “male” sports; and who has access to coaching opportunities, among other things.
Sexual harassment is yet another example of continuing gender discrimination. Large numbers of girls and women continue to experience various forms of sexual harassment in their schooling experiences. Often, teachers and administrators do little to address these infractions. This is another issue that does not affect all girls and women in the same way. Young women who adhere to more traditional forms of femininity and whose bodies represent the desired cultural norm are less likely to experience such harassment. In addition, the sexual harassment and bullying of boys, especially of those boys who are perceived to be gay, represents another way in which gender discrimination extends beyond the experiences of girls and women. While many schools meet the letter of the law in relationship to Title IX, it is clear that in many ways many students still have not achieved educational equity based on gender.
Examples of continuing gender inequities often reflect the links between educational inequities and broader social and cultural assumptions and inequities. For example, while girls often receive higher grades than their male peers, especially early in their schooling, this may represent their reward for being quiet and passive in the classroom. Female students at all levels tend to be invisible members of classrooms, spectators for their male peers who dominate classroom talk and activities. Teachers often do not recognize that they are calling on and encouraging boys more often, providing more critical questioning and probing for boys, or utilizing materials that fail to represent girls and women or represent them inaccurately or inappropriately. Sexual harassment of girls, women, and gay students also represents broader social norms where such harassment is seen as inevitable and acceptable. When something becomes accepted practice, it becomes difficult to even recognize when it is happening. And when we do not recognize something, we cannot address it.
Today, gender equity is often defined as parity in quality and quantity for girls and boys within schools and classrooms. Thus, in order to achieve gender equity, girls should be represented in equal numbers to boys in all facets of schooling—from science classes to sports to scholarships. However, focusing on equal numbers allows us to ignore broader issues related to gender equity, and is one reason that Title IX is sometimes said to have failed. Even though girls and women may sit in classrooms in equal numbers to boys and men does not mean they are benefiting equally from those experiences. In addition, focusing specifically on girls and women allows us to obscure how gender discrimination may be affecting other students in our schools. Typically, discussion of gender inequality focuses on the experiences of girls and women in relationship to the experiences of boys and men. However, it is not as simple as looking at the experiences of girls and women. In relationship to schooling, this means that not all girls experience schooling in the same way. In addition, some boys are also affected by gender discrimination and inequality. For example, boys who are perceived to be gay certainly do not experience schooling in the same ways that their heterosexual peers do.
Another way to define gender equity might be as the ability for all students to attain full and fair participation in and benefit from their schooling experiences. Thus, gender equity in schooling may reflect a broader responsibility, embodied in a social justice model, where schools have an obligation to prepare all students to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from a democratic society through their schooling. This broader goal demands more than just equal numbers and more than just a focus on girls and women— it requires a shift in how schooling experiences are created.
In this model, equity may be achieved by focusing not on equal numbers, but on equitable representation, treatment, and outcomes. In part this may require not treating people equally (in the same ways), but treating people differently, and in ways that are sensitive to their differences. Another positive step would be contextually equitable classrooms that are representative of the fluid and multiple meanings, experiences, and identities that students bring with them to school. This demands a shift in the cultural norms associated with schools and classrooms in order to truly move toward a more inclusive and responsive practice.
Such a shift might entail a reexamination of the competitive construction of schooling, and a move toward more collaboratively focused classrooms. Collaboration, rather than competition, forms the basis for the more equitable forms of participation that could benefit all students, not just girls and women. Such an approach has the potential to recognize the value of each person’s voice and knowledge. It also helps insure that knowledge becomes the construction and possession of all participants. Schools and classrooms may also need to address the individualistic and meritocratic nature of schooling that values and rewards some students at the expense of others, as well as how power and privilege are imbued in such a system. Rather than depicting gender equity as a battle between girls and boys, or men and women, it could be reframed as negotiating the interactions between them. Such a shift could provide more students with possibilities for enhanced learning and success.
A more inclusive and responsive practice would also demand attentiveness to the actions of teachers as well as students. Self-awareness is vital to this process; it is difficult to recognize bias without it. In addition to self-awareness, teachers and administrators must be aware of their actions—instructional practices, curricular and assessment tools and materials, classroom and school management, for example. Simple instructional practices, like the use of wait time, can make for more equitable practice. Using wait time before calling on a student for a response can allow the possibility of more voices participating in and benefiting from classroom interactions. In addition, using wait time after a student responds allows teachers to consider the strengths and weaknesses of a student’s answer and provide all students with feedback that will push their critical thinking and analysis.
Schools must also address the invisibility, fragmentation, and selectivity of representations of girls and women in the curriculum and in classrooms. For example, discussion about how women were “given” the vote denies the work and suffering of women who “won” the vote; the use of Women’s History Month allows schools to ignore their contributions the rest of the year and integrate this information more broadly into the curriculum; and glossy multicultural covers on textbooks often mask the actual integration of multicultural perspectives and information contained within them.
To address gender equity successfully requires examining how the dominant values, assumptions, and practices of schooling contribute to the success of some at the expense of others. Recognizing how these are constructed, mediated, and perpetuated by broader social and cultural norms and expectations is also important.
- Abu El-Haj, T. R. (2003). Challenging the inevitability of difference: Young women and discourses about gender equity in the classroom. Curriculum Inquiry, 33, 401–425.
- American Association of University Women. (1992). Shortchanging girls, shortchanging America. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women.
- American Association of University Women. (1998). Gender gaps: Where schools still fail our children. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women.
- Clewell, B., & Campbell, P. (2002). Taking stock: Where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re going. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 8, 255–284.
- Kimmel, M. (2004). The gendered society. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Rofes, E. (2005). A radical rethinking of sexuality and schooling: Status quo or status queer? Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
- Sadker, D., & Sadker, M. (1995). Failing at fairness: How America’s schools cheat girls. New York: Touchstone Press.
- Stone, M., & Couch, S. (2004). Peer sexual harassment among high school students: Teachers’ attitudes, perceptions, and responses. High School Journal, 88, 1–13.
- United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2000). Digest of Education Statistics, 1999. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
This example Educational Equity: Gender Essay is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need a custom essay or research paper on this topic please use our writing services. EssayEmpire.com offers reliable custom essay writing services that can help you to receive high grades and impress your professors with the quality of each essay or research paper you hand in.