Gender and Society in the Classroom: Education
Organized by: Lakshmi Jayaram, Virginia Tech
Gender and education is a broad category where several thematic strands of inquiry emerge: socialization in schools, the social experience of schooling, textbooks/books/curriculum, educational attainment, educators/education workers, higher education, and cross-cultural educational practices. Many of the articles in each of these sub-categories may also be cross-referenced across these thematic areas as well. An interesting trend in the scholarship is the movement from primarily gender studies in the early days of Gender & Society, to a greater intersectional contemporary focus as well as increased scholarship about sexuality and heterosexism in educational contexts. Within each of the categories below, the articles are listed in chronological order with the most recent article appearing first. The author-supplied abstract (with minor editing in some cases) is included with the reference.
Women’s education has been central to discourses that have sought to modernize developing and Muslim societies. Based on ethnographic data collected from women teachers from rural and low-income communities of Pakistan, the article shows how being a parhi likhi (educated) woman implies acquiring a privileged subject position making claims to middle-class and Islamic morality, and engaging in specific struggles within, rather than against, the institutions of family, community, and Islam. This focus on the lived experiences of educated Muslim women complicates the prevalent narrative of modernity that presents women’s education and gender empowerment as an expression of individual women’s choice and free will against the oppressive frameworks of family, community, and Islam.
For many young Americans, access to credit has become critical to completing a college education and embarking on a successful career path. Young people increasingly face the trade-off of taking on debt to complete college or foregoing college and taking their chances in the labor market without a college degree. These trade-offs are gendered by differences in college preparation and support and by the different labor market opportunities women and men face that affect the value of a college degree and future difficulties they may face in repaying college debt. We examine these new realities by studying gender differences in the role of debt in the pivotal event of graduating from college using the 1997 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. In this article, we find that women and men both experience slowing and even diminishing probabilities of graduating when carrying high levels of debt, but that men drop out at lower levels of debt than do women. We conclude by theorizing that high levels of debt are one of the mechanisms that sort women and men into different positions in the social stratification system.
This study explores whether gender stereotypes about math ability shape high school teachers’ assessments of the students with whom they interact daily, resulting in the presence of conditional bias. It builds on theories of intersectionality by exploring teachers’ perceptions of students in different gender and racial/ethnic subgroups and advances the literature on the salience of gender across contexts by considering variation across levels of math course-taking in the academic hierarchy. Analyses of nationally representative data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS) reveal that disparities in teachers’ perceptions of ability that favored white males over minority students of both genders are explained away by student achievement in the form of test scores and grades. However, we find evidence of a consistent bias against white females, which although relatively small in magnitude, suggests that teachers hold the belief that math is just easier for white males than it is for white females. In addition, we find some evidence of variation across course level contexts with regard to bias. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for research on the construction of gender inequality.
In the past 20 years, Latinas have begun to outperform Latinos in high school completion and college enrollment, tracking the overall “gender reversal” in college attainment that favors women. Few studies have examined what factors contribute to Latinas’ increasing educational success. This article focuses on gender differences in college-going behavior among a cohort of 50 Latino/a college aspirants in the San Francisco East Bay Area. Through 136 longitudinal interviews, I examine trends in Latinos/as’ postsecondary pathways and life course decisions over a two-year period. Findings suggest evidence for gendered familism, in which gender and racial/ethnic beliefs intersect to differentially shape Latinos/as’ attitudes, behaviors, and college choices. Gendered familism encouraged Latinas to seek a four-year degree as a means of earning independence, while Latinos expressed a sense of automatic autonomy that was not as strongly tied to educational outcomes.
Enduring disparities in choice of college major constitute one of the most significant forms of gender inequality among undergraduate students. The existing literature generally equates major choice with career choice and overlooks possible variation across student populations. This is a significant limitation because gender differences in major choice among liberal arts students, who attend college less for specific career training and more for broader learning objectives, are just as great as among those choosing pre-professional majors. This study addresses this gap by examining how privileged men and women at an elite, liberal arts university select their fields of study. Drawing on in-depth interviews, findings contradict the prevailing assumption of a unitary model of major choice as career choice by revealing a plurality of gendered meanings around choosing a field of study. Majors may play an important part in the construction of an intellectual identity as much as a means of career preparation. How students approach the choice relates to both gender and social background. For privileged students, traditional gendered associations with bodies of knowledge hold salience in their decision making as well as expectations of reproducing future elite family roles. This research also illuminates how gendered processes of choosing fields of study take place in relationship to particular institutional contexts.
In this article, the authors operationalize the intersection of gender and race in survey research. Using quantitative data from the Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality, they investigate how gender/racial stereotypes about African Americans affect Whites’ attitudes about two types of affirmative action programs: (1) job training and education and (2) hiring and promotion. The authors find that gender/racial prejudice towards Black women and Black men influences Whites’ opposition to affirmative action at different levels than negative attitudes towards Blacks as a group. Prejudice toward Black women has a larger effect on Whites’ policy preferences than does prejudice toward Black men or Blacks in general. In future research, survey methodologists should develop better intersectional measures to further document these gender/racial attitudes.
Myers and Raymond remind us to include children’s own voices when researching children’s sexuality and how “most studies of heteronormativity among children focus on adolescent girls and boys (ages 12 to 18) or on those transitioning into adolescence (9- to 11-year-olds). It stands to reason that younger girls struggle with these pressures too”. Through small focus groups in the Midwest of the United States, that is exactly what the research revealed. Girls identified their sexuality as a part of their everyday lives — some rejecting while others co-producing the gendered expectations.
Examining the meanings of femininities and masculinities for girl and boy scouts in the United States, Denny describes how messages of gender become created for one of the oldest single-sex youth organizations. By focusing on the “context of activities—with whom the Scouts participate in activities, content of activities—the types of activities and badges offered, and the approach to the activities—the attitude with which Scouts are expected to approach these activities” more variability within femininity than masculinity becomes available to troop members. For Girl Scouts, there is a consistent blending of traditional and progressive femininity whereas the Boy Scouts use traditional masculinity based on social class.
Through the use of surveys, Fox, Sonnert and Nikiforova examine contemporary undergraduate science and engineering programs for women in the United States, programs that became part of the university structure in the 1990s. Focusing specifically on how programs define the barriers facing women in science and engineering, solutions to address the barriers, goals and perceived success with goals, and “organizational characteristics and relationship to the larger institutional environment of the universities”, their work represents the impact of gender inequality in an organizational structure. Taking a comprehensive approach, the relationship between the individual student and the structure of the program are analyzed to represent the discrepancies between creating change and maintaining the status quo.
Through the use of participant observation and semi-structured interviews at Girls Rock Midwest!, Gifford asks us to consider the ways in which feminist organizations connect feminist politics for girls in the United States. More specifically, how “implicit feminism is a strategy practiced by feminist activists within organizations that are operating in an anti- and postfeminist environment that involves concealing feminist identities, not labeling feminist ideas as such, and emphasizing more socially acceptable angles of their efforts to those outside of the organization”. Even if not continuously self-identified as feminist, the organization provides opportunities for girl self-growth and musical empowerment in a traditionally masculine space.
Analyzing the rulings of fourteen U.S. Court cases, Love and Kelly invite us to consider how integrated sports teams in high school can reduce gender inequality. The contemporary use of sex-segregated teams is upheld through two specific social institutions — sports and law. Together the social institutions support the traditional norms of femininity of “fragility and weakness”. Thus, the experiences and opportunities for girl athletes become restricted and in-turn girls’ sports are not viewed as equally important as boys sports.
Asking for a more complex understanding of the social construction of masculinity, Weber provides an analysis of teen fatherhood through gendered assumptions regarding pregnancy and contraception, a “belief that male sexuality is uncontrollable” and the “utilization of love and intimacy talk”. Through the three main ideals of masculinity, the stories of becoming and being a teen father are explored for young men in a Midwest city of the United States.
Through interviews with girls in the Niagara Region of Canada, Pomerantz, Raby and Stefanik challenge us to consider the larger implications when girls become placed in the middle of social inequalities. More specifically, when sexism becomes viewed as an individual problem, in a time of postfeminism that categorizes girls in the narratives of “Girl Power” and “Successful Girls”. Girls are left to manage their identities in a space where “boys and girls are equal” and where maintaining a “nice” persona as an empowered girl becomes important “so they would not have to blame anyone for the social injustices”.
Rauscher, Lauren, Kerrie Kauer, and Bianca D.M. Wilson. 2013. The Healthy Body Paradox: Organizational and Interactional Influences on Preadolescent Girls’ Body Image in Los Angeles. Gender & Society 27(2): pp. 208-230.
The culture of thinness and anti-fat bias for 8-14 year old girls was assessed through a girl-serving positive U.S. national youth development program, Girls on the Run, in Los Angeles, California. Using mixed methods, Rauscher, Kauer and Wilson ask us to consider how community based organizations improve and impede the relationship between girls’ body and health. More specifically, the “tension between telling girls that their bodies do not define who they are, while simultaneously encouraging them to maintain a nonfat body, the dominant form of body seen as healthy”. The contradictions reflect the ways in which the body is socially constructed to represent the cultural ideals surrounding physical activity, weight and health.
In this article, the author asserts that a group of poor white middle school young women in the postindustrial urban Northeast are living among high concentrations of domestic violence. Many of these females are constructing futures characterized by jobs and self-sufficiency. As their narrations indicate, such plans are fueled by the hope that by living independent lives as single career women, they will bypass the domestic violence that currently rips through their own and their mothers’ lives. By not critically exploring the issue of violence against women in classrooms, the author argues that schools become implicated in the silencing and “normalizing” of abuse. This analysis is one piece of a large-scale ethnographic study in which the production of identities among poor white urban girls and boys is explored.
Beliefs have the potential to obscure and legitimate, or to challenge, inequalities of gender and race. Through an analysis of the association between education and beliefs about racial and gender inequality, this article explores for whom education is most likely to foster beliefs that challenge social inequality. Data from the 1996 General Social Survey suggest that education tends to have a greater positive impact on rejection of group segregation and rejection of victim-blaming explanations for inequality than it does on recognition of discrimination or endorsement of group-based remedies for inequality. This pattern is consistent with the view that education reproduces rather than challenges inequality, and it is evident for white men, white women, and African American men. African American women present an exception, which is considered in terms of the unique structural location and historical legacy surrounding African American women’s relationship to education.
This article uses two national survey data sets to analyze the effects of skin color on life outcomes for African American and Mexican American women. Using a historical framework of European colonialism and slavery, this article explains how skin color hierarchies were established and are maintained. The concept of social capital is used to explain how beauty, defined through light skin, works as capital and as a stratifying agent for women on the dimensions of education, income, and spousal status. The analysis shows that light skin predicts higher educational attainment for both groups of women. Light skin directly predicts higher personal earnings for African American women and indirectly affects personal earnings for Mexican American women. Light skin predicts higher spousal status for African American women but not for Mexican American women.
This study assesses how variations in heteronormative culture in high schools affect the well-being of same-sex-attracted youth. The authors focus on the stigmatization of same-sex attraction (rather than identity or behavior) to better understand how heteronormativity may marginalize a wide range of youth. Specifically, the authors use data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine how variation across schools in football participation, religious attendance, and urban locale affects same-sex-attracted adolescents’ depressive symptoms, self-esteem, fighting, and academic failure. The results suggest that though same-sex-attracted youth are at greater risk for decreased well-being, these youth are at higher risk in non urban schools and in schools where football and religion have a larger presence. Results vary for boys and girls: The urban locale of a school has a larger impact for boys, while school religiosity has a greater impact for girls.
Research has revealed that sex education policies are informed by national and local struggles over the meanings and consequences of gender, race, sexuality, and class categories. However, few studies have considered how policies are enacted in the classroom production of sex education to support or challenge gender, racial, sexual, and class hierarchies. This article draws on data obtained through semistructured in-depth interviews with 40 Latina youth (20 Mexican origin, 20 Puerto Rican) to explore how heteronormativity, sexism, and racism operate together to structure the content and delivery of school-based sex education. Findings suggest that some Latina youth encounter racialized heterogendered constructions and experiences that limit their access to sex-education-related information and reinforce existing inequalities.
This article focuses on faculty members’ allocation of time to teaching and research, conceptualizing these—and the mismatch between preferred and actual time allocations—as examples of gender inequality in academic employment. Utilizing data from the 1999 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, the author finds that (1) women faculty members prefer to spend a greater percentage of their time on teaching, while men prefer to spend more time on research, although these preferences are themselves constrained; (2) women faculty members spend a greater percentage of their workweek on teaching and a smaller percentage on research than men, gaps that cannot be explained by preferences or educational and institutional attributes; and (3) women faculty members have larger time allocation mismatches than men—that is, their actual time allocations to both teaching and research diverge more from their preferred time allocations than those of men. These findings shed light on how gender inequality is both produced and maintained in this aspect of academic employment and have implications for job satisfaction, productivity, and the recruitment and retention of current and future faculty members, especially women.
This article examines preadolescent girls in a group setting as they co-constructed heteronormativity. The authors contend that heteronormativity is not the product of a coming-of-age transformation but instead an everyday part of life, even for very young social actors. It emerges from the gender divide between boys and girls but is also reproduced by and for girls themselves. In the Girl Project, the authors sought to understand younger girls’ interests, skills, and concerns. They conducted nine focus groups with 43 elementary school girls, most of whom were age nine or younger. They observed these girls as they defined “girls’ interests” as boy centered and as they performed heteronormativity for other girls. This article contributes to filling the gap in research on gender and sexuality from children’s own points of view.
We analyze programs for undergraduate women in science and engineering as strategic research sites in the study of disparities between women and men in scientific fields within higher education. Based on responses to a survey of the directors of the universe of these programs in the United States, the findings reveal key patterns in the programs’ (1) definitions of the issues of women in science and engineering, (2) their solutions to address the issues, (3) their goals and perceived success with goals, and (4) their organizational characteristics and relationship to the larger institutional environments. The findings—which are conceptually grounded in the distinction between structural/institutional and individual issues facing women in science—have implications for understanding gender, science, and higher education, and for initiatives undertaken to improve the condition of women in scientific fields. The findings may also inform strategic efforts to reduce gender disparity in other organizational contexts.