Gender Bias in Education

Gutek (2011) explains that Mary Wollstonecraft lived in a time where women had no political rights (read: citizenship rights – owning property, controlling her income, serving as a legal guardian to her own children).  Wollstonecraft ‘struggled against the pervasive conventions that ascribed women’s social role as subordinate in a patriarchal, male-dominated society.’  I believe we can agree that we have made significant steps on the legality front for women – we can vote, own property, have a personal bank account, are protected by marital/divorce laws, and are overwhelmingly allowed custody of children in court.
From an educational standpoint, Wollstonecraft was disgruntled with an educational system that was divided by ‘appropriateness: a particular kind of education was designed to prepare a person to discharge one’s specific station in life.’ (Gutek, 2011, p 204)  Higher education and professions were closed to women, whose ‘glass ceiling’ alternative to being a homemaker was to serve as a teacher….of small children.  Women were not even teaching in the upper grade levels.  Thankfully, women are now given equal opportunities to attend college, even becoming doctors, professors, lawyers, engineers – thanks to the initial seeds of feminism planted by Wollstonecraft in her writings and through her advocacy.
However, despite this increase in the quality of equality (and foregoing the popular debates of true pay equality, frequency of women holding the highest offices in both business and politics, etc) we can still see a disparity in how the world views the duties of the domestic sphere.  Many women still choose to stay at home, which is a fine and noble pursuit.  (After all, Wollstonecraft was focused on the opening of human possibilities, and the right of choice, an alternative to ‘blind-obedience’ and not a diatribe against the feminine perspective.)  What is striking is that women who choose careers often complete domestic duties at home in addition to their professional endeavors.  What is frightening is that society might place even less value today on these ‘traditional’ roles and obligations, which in some sense devalues the worth of women and creates even more gender bias.  Instead of perceiving the woman who can ‘have it all’ as a somewhat unattainable ideal, we are producing women who ‘must’ do-it-all, often thanklessly.  Perhaps instead of equal standing, this is putting an added burden on females.  I liken this somewhat to the disparity between vocationally tracked students and college-bound students; often the first is seen as inferior, despite the important role skilled work plays as a necessary part of our everyday survival.
I like what Maisie Williams (Arya Stark, Game of Thrones) said in an interview last spring (I apologize for lack of formal reference).  To paraphrase, she believes that to truly reach gender equality, we must stop identifying as ‘feminists’ and instead recognize that anyone who does not believe in equal rights is simply a ‘sexist’.  Through labeling the negative, we better identify what must be fixed.

Gutek, G.L. (2011). Historical and philosophical foundations of education: A biographical introduction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

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