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Gender Roles and Schools

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

There are strong similarities between sexism and racism. Both teach role relationships that leave one group in a subordinate position. Both are primarily expressed through institutional arrangements of privilege for some and oppression for others. Both are forms of violence: individual and collective, psychological and physical. Previous chapters described how African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, among others, are harmed by low expectations; being female also leads to subtle forms of tracking—even by female teachers (Ginorio & Huston, 2001).

Amott and Matthaei (1991) argue that gender, like race, is as much a social as a biological category:

Gender differences in the social lives of men and women are based on, but not the same thing as, biological differences between the sexes. Gender is rooted in societies’ beliefs that the sexes are naturally distinct and opposed social beings. These beliefs are turned into self-fulfilling prophecies through sex-role socialization; the biological sexes are assigned distinct and often unequal work and political positions, and turned into distinct genders. (p. 13)

The school site is a stage on which gender roles are developed in our society, and thus schools contribute to the assignment of unequal status and work opportunity in our rapidly changing economy. Schools serve as “gatekeepers,” providing opportunity to some but not to all.

In 1992, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) issued an important report, How Schools Shortchange Girls. In part, it said:

The absence of attention to girls in the current educational debate suggests that girls and boys have identical educational experiences in schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether one looks at achievement scores, curriculum design, self-esteem levels, or staffing patterns, it is clear that sex and gender make a difference in the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools. There is clear evidence that the educational system is not meeting girls’ needs. Girls and boys enter school roughly equal in measured ability. In some measures of school readiness, such as fine motor control, girls are ahead of boys. Twelve years later, girls have fallen behind their male classmates in key areas such as higher-level mathematics and measures of self-esteem. (p. 2)

The AAUW issued important follow-up reports in 1998 and 2008, keeping track of progress and limits in school reform. There has been a near revolution for majority group (European American) girls since the 1992 publication of How Schools Shortchange Girls.

Although problems continue in areas such as Advanced Placement course enrollments, in general girls are achieving better than boys in almost all grades (Corbett, Hill, & St. Rose, 2008). The crisis in public schools, particularly the crisis in low-income and predominantly minority schools, impacts the girls in these schools as well as the boys. The AAUW’s 1998 follow-up report Gender Gaps: Where Schools Still Fail Our Children and @iexcl;Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can: Latinas in Schools (Ginorio & Huston, 2001 make it clear that many Latinas are not achieving primarily because they are in low-achieving (poverty) schools, not because they are girls.

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