The Feminist Perspective on Education (UK Focus)

The Feminist perspective on Education

Liberal Feminists celebrate the progress made so far in improving girls’ achievement. They essentially believe that the ‘Future is now Female’ and now that girls are outperforming boys in education, it is only a matter of time until more women move into politics and higher paid, managerial roles at work.

Radical Feminists, however, argue that Patriarchy still works through school to reinforce traditional gender norms and to disadvantage girls – Add in details to the notes below.

  1. Some Radical Feminist Sociologists see concern over boys’ relative underachievement as a ‘moral panic’. Boys have still been improving their achievement in the last thirty years, just not as fast as girls. The Feminist argument is that the focus on education at the moment on ‘raising boys achievement’ reflects a male dominated system panicking at the fact that old patriarchal power relations are starting to break down.

  1. Despite improvements in girl’s education – subject choices still remain heavily gendered, and girls do not seem to be ‘breaking the glass ceiling’.

  1. Feminists would also draw on the above research which suggests that traditional gender norms are reinforced in schools, to the disadvantage of girls.

  1. Recent research suggests that despite girls doing well at school – girls are increasingly subject to sexist bullying, something which is becoming worse with the ‘normalisation of pornography’. Read the extract from Kat Banyard over page for more details and consider how common such incidents are today. Read the extract provided for details

Extract from Kat Banyard’s “The Equality Illusion”

Chapter 2 – Hands up for A gendered Education

While girls are discouraged from using their bodies on the sports field, they often find their bodies at the centre of another unwelcome kind of activity. Chloe was one of the many women and girls I heard from during the course of my research into violence at school. ‘I had boys groping my en masse. It wasn’t just at break times – in class as well. Sometimes they used to hold me down and take it turns, it was universally accepted. Teachers pretended they didn’t notice. I would regularly hang out in the toilets at break time. I felt pretty violated; it made me hate my body.’ Having now left school, Chloe can pinpoint exactly when the sexual harassment began. ‘When my breasts grew. I went from an A to an E cup when I was fourteen.’ It became a regular feature of her school day, mostly happening when the boys were in groups. ‘People would randomly scream ‘’slut’’. One boy told me that he has a fantasy that he wanted to tie me up and viciously rape me. He was a bit of an outcast. But when he said that all the boys were high-fiving him. He got serious street-cred for saying it.’’ Classrooms are training grounds for boys aspiring to be ‘real men’ and girls like Jena and Chloe are paying the price. Humiliating and degrading girls serves to highlight just how masculine boys really are. And so, sexist bullying and sexual harassment are an integral part of daily school life for many girls.

Hayley described to me how some of the boys at her secondary school were using new technologies to harass girls. ‘They try and take pictures with their camera phones up you skirt while you’re sitting at your desk. Nobody knows what to say. They wouldn’t want to provoke an argument.’ Boys also access internet pornography on school computers. Hayley said, ‘in year seven and eight it’s quite common. Even the boys you wouldn’t expect you see getting told off by teachers for it.’ Similarly Sarah remembers pornography being commonplace at her school; ‘Every student was asked to bring in newspaper articles. Many boys saw this as a great opportunity to bring in newspapers such as the Sun, Star, Sport etc and make a point of looking at, sharing and showing the countless page-three-style images. Sarah was ‘extremely upset on a number of occasions when boys who sat near me in class would push these pages in front of me and make comments. Most of the time all the forms of harassment went completely unchallenged; I don’t think (the teachers) ever paid any attention to sexual harassment.’

The consequences for girls who are sexually harassed or assaulted at school can be devastating. Depression and loss of self-esteem are common. If girls experience repeated sexual harassment they are significantly more likely to attempt suicide. In fact the trauma symptoms reported by adolescent girls subject to sexual harassment have been found to be similar to those descried by rape victims. Yet despite the fact that sexual harassment is shown to have a more damaging impact on victims than other forms of school bullying, teachers are less likely to intervene in incidences of the former. Why? The sexual harassment of girls is viewed as ‘normal’ behaviour for the boys. And it is precisely this naturalising of the act, this insidious complacency it elicits, which has enabled sexist bullying and harassment to flourish in classrooms across the world.

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