How has education become feminized?
The femininization of education is used to imply that there are significant and widespread effects on education caused by the predominance of female teachers.
Teaching, as a profession, has long been regarded as ‘female work.’ This is thought to have been the case since the introduction of elementary state education in the 19th century (Skelton, 2002).
Elementary and primary schools are considered to be feminized because the teachers are primarily female, so the practice and delivery of the curriculum, teachers’ expectations, and management strategies favor girls.
The predominance of female teachers, particularly in elementary schools, is recognized internationally. In North America and Western Europe, women make up 84% of primary teachers; in East Asia and the Pacific, the figure is 60%; in Latin America and the Caribbean, 77% (Drudy, 2008).
Why do girls have more of an advantage in education?
The feminization of education is thought to give girls more of an advantage over boys. One reason is that the workforce”s general structure, organization, and construction are ‘female-biased’ (Skelton, 2002).
Since there are significantly more women teachers, especially in the formative years of children’s education, there are more female role models that young girls can look to. Girls may be more likely to listen to and seek advice from female teachers than boys.
Teachers’ interaction with their students may also give girls more of an advantage. Women teachers generally hold higher expectations for girls’ abilities and lower expectations of boys (Skelton, 2002). Therefore, these teachers may be less concerned if boys fall behind, while girls may be more encouraged to raise their standards.
How the curriculum is delivered benefits girls’ learning styles (Delamont, 1999). There has been a general move from more individualized educational practices in the classroom to more collaborative and cooperative practices. This change may give girls an advantage over boys because they generally have stronger communication and collaborative skills.
The removal of gender stereotypes from textbooks, reading schemes and has removed a barrier to girls aspirations and achievement. In the 1970’s and 1980’s girls were portrayed as wives and mothers and textbooks would reinforce this image as well as putting girls off science and maths.
Changes in how students are assessed may also give girls an advantage in education. It has been suggested that improvements in girls’ educational achievement coincide with the introduction of coursework. Evidence indicates that coursework favors girls, whereas examinations favor boys.
Girls are thought to have an advantage in coursework since they are more organized, conscientious, and more likely to seek help from teachers in planning and preparing their work (Mitsos & Browne, 1998).
What are the consequences for boys?
It is suggested that one of the main consequences of education being feminized is that boys may often disengage from education completely.
Boys are more likely to drop out of high school, fail to complete their degrees, and behave more violently. The number of boys enrolling in colleges and universities in the United States has also declined (Mulvey, 2010).
It has been recognized that boys can be unenthusiastic about doing their homework and may not study for their lessons, meaning that they often receive negative feedback, poorer grades, and lower performance than girls (Belaid & Sarnou, 2018).
A reason boys disengage from education could be that doing well in school is sometimes viewed as feminine. School lessons may be ‘too feminized,’ imposing feminine qualities that male students cannot relate to.
Boys’ interactions with their teachers, usually women, are more negative. One of the main reasons for this may be that boys are acting out traditional ‘macho’ or ‘laddish’ behaviors. Without male role models in education to develop an alternative way of being masculine, these conventional ways of being male will persist.
A lack of male teachers acting as role models is also believed to create problems for boys regarding motivation, discipline, and social interaction (Skelton, 2002).
It’s important to note that educational achievement for girls may only apply to certain types of girls. White girls from middle-class homes may be more likely to have academic success compared to working-class or girls from an ethnic minority background who face additional educational barriers (Abbott et al., 2006).
Although women primary teachers outnumber men by roughly 5:1, it continues to be the case that men are disproportionately represented at senior levels.
For example, approximately one in every four male primary teachers is likely to become headteachers, while the chance for a female teacher is one in thirteen (Skelton, 2002).
There are gender differences in the subjects taken by girls and boys, with girls being socialized into focusing on specific subjects and not encouraged to engage in others. There are fewer girls taking science, engineering, and technology degrees, with those that do often feeling marginalized in a male-dominated field (Abbott et al., 2006).
Likewise, when they enter the workforce, women often face issues with receiving promotions, sacrificing careers to have a family, and experiencing a gender wage gap.
So, while school may be feminized to favor girls, this does not mean they will be favored when they enter higher education or employment.
Radical feminists recognize that girls are achieving more but they emphasize that this is in spite of the patriarchal nature of the education system rather than due to major changes in education.
For example, women are hugely underrepresented in the curriculum, Wiener (1995) calls history a Women Free Zone.
There are still many more men in positions of authority in education such as Head Teachers, especially in secondary schools.
Abbott, P., Tyler, M., & Wallace, C. (2006). An introduction to sociology: Feminist perspectives. Routledge.
Belaid, L., & Sarnou, H. (2018). Feminisation of Schooling: Understanding the Detraditionalized Gender. Brolly, 1 (1).
Delamont, S. (1999). Gender and the discourse of derision. Research papers in Education, 14 (1), 3-21.
Drudy, S. (2008). Gender balance/gender bias: The teaching profession and the impact of feminisation. Gender and education, 20 (4), 309-323.
Mitsos, E., & Browne, K. (1998). Gender differences in education: the underachievement of boys. Sociology Review, 8, 27-29.
Mulvey, J. (2010). The feminization of schools. The Education Digest, 75 (8), 35.
Skelton, C. (2002). The “feminisation of schooling’ or ‘re-masculinising” primary education?. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 12 (1), 77-96.
Wiener, J. (1995). History lesson. New Republic, 212 (1), 9-11.