Acker - Acker S(1994 Gendered education Sociological...

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Unformatted text preview: Acker, S. (1994). Gendered education: Sociological reflections on women, teaching, and feminism. ' ' : . ' 'tv ' . " Plnladelplna Open UniverSI , P1 655 NURSE:¥_ THJSMATERMLW BEPIiOTEcIEDBYBDPfRIGHILhW j (tantrum:an " ' 3 Feminist Theory and the Study of Gender and Educafion ‘What is feminism?’ (Mitchell and Oakley 1986) is a question of deceptive simplicity. Feminist theory, like feminism itself, is multifaceted and complex. My aim in this chapterI is to draw out the implications of certain feminist frameworks for the analysis ofeducation. l begin by outlining rhe three major forms taken by contemporary Western feminist theory.2 The main part ofrhe chapter makes connections between each of the three forms and educational perspectives and research. In each case i consider the typical educational objec— tives, the conceptual base, strategies for change and criticisms ofthe approach. The conclusion looks at prospects for synthesis among approaches and at some underlying tensions in all the feminist fi'ameWorks. I focus on British approaches, plus work from other countries that is reason— ably well known in Britain, especially studies from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Most of the discussion thus refers to Western fonns offeminism, which may differ from those found elsewhere (see Acker er al. 1984:]ayawardena 1986). Feminist theory By ‘theoty' I mean the construction of sets of interrelated statements about how some aspect of the world operates. Traditional textbook definitions insist that theories lead to testable hypotheses. 1 should like to use the term ‘theory’ more broadly here, to refer to perspectives that guide the search for answers to a central series of questions and dilemmas about sex and gender. Feminist theoretical frameworks address, above all, the question ofwomen’s subordina— tion to men: how it arose, how and why it is perpetuated, how it might be changed and (sometimes) what life would be like without it. ‘Middle range' theories may be less dramatic and consider particular aspects of gender relations and specific sectors of social life such as education, the family or politics. Feminist theories serve a dual purpose, as guides to understanding gender 44 Gendered Education inequality and as guides to action. There are disagreements among theorists about who is to be counted as a feminist and how to accomplish social change. Most accounts of feminist theory identin at least two or three divisions within contemporary Western feminism. Eisenstein (1984: xii-taut) provides a capsule portrait ofthe three major approaches: . . . recent analysts seem to agree on the distinction between radical feminism, which holds that gender oppression is the oldest and most profound form of exploitation, which predates and 'underlies all other forms including those of race and class; and socialist feminism, which argues that class, race and gender oppression interact in a complex way, that class oppression stems from capitalism, and that capitalism must be eliminated for women to be liberated. Both ofthese, in turn, would be distinguished from a liberal or bourgeois feminist view, Which would argue that women’s liberation can be fully achieved without any major alterations to the economic and political structures of contemporary cap— italist democracies. There is considerable mutual criticism among theoretical perspectives. Lib— eral feminism is accused of elitism: while liberal strategies may enable a few token women to ‘have careers’ and join the ranks ofthe powerful, the struc— tures of oppression survive untouched. Liberal feminists are also criticized for converting the concept of equality of outcome to equality of opportunity (O’Brien 1983). Liberal feminists tend to believe sex differences (biological) are really gender differences (cultural). But some radical feminists stress the validity of sex dif— ferences A accepting and celebrating women’s capacity for nurture, coopera— tion, passionate attachment to peace in the face of men’s persistent attempts at war. Eisenstein (1984) is sharply critical of the tendencies within radical femi— nism that imply female superiority is physiological, that reject rationality and logic as devices of men, that portray women as the inevitable victims of evil men. In turn, socialist feminists have been criticized by radicals for their eagerness to make alliances with men (in which the women’s interests are bound to be subordinate) and for the linguistic and logical contortions required to reconcile Marxism with feminism. Radical feminists charge that the socialist focus on capitalism fails to do justice to the myriad ways in which men hold power over women through control of sexuality and the threat of violence (MacKiunOn 1982). All three ‘traditional’ types offeminism have been challenged by those who argue that feminism has been unduly preoccupied with privileged Western, white women’s concerns. One strand of this critique argues for the need to understand imperialism and to inject an international perspective into Western feminism (Amos and Parmar 1984). Therc are also heated debates within individual countries. For example, Britain‘s Feminist Review, a journal of socialist—feminist thought, has published a series of articles about feminism and racism. On similar lines, radical feminism has been attacked by Murphy and Penn'nisl'llrcory 45 Livingstone (1985), who object to what they see as its mistakeu prioritizing of Sexual oppression over that baSed on race and class. Bryan rt rd. (1985) suggest that rather than reject feminism simply as white ideology, black women should redefine and reclaim the term. ‘Hyphenated feminism’ (O’Brien 1983) has its limitations. Delmar (1986) suggests that this urge to subdivide feminism may mean feminism degenerating into a ‘naming ofthe parts’. Nevertheless, the tripartite classification provides a useful heuristic device, which I use to construct ‘ideal type’ descriptions ofhow each feminist framework approaches the task ofconceptualizing and reforming education. Liberal feminism and education Securing equal opportunities for the sexes is the main aim of liberal feminism. The intent of liberal feminists in education is to remove barriers that prevent girls reaching their full potential, whether such barriers are located in the school, the individual psyche or discriminatory labour practices. What is the conceptual foundation for liberal—feminist education scholarship? There are three major themes: (1) equal opportunities; (2) socialization and sex stereo— typing; (3) sex discrimination. Equal opportunities rhetoric is almost the sine qua mm by which liberal— feminist perspectives are recognized as such. ‘Equal means the same” claims Eileen Byrne (1978: 19). arguing that separate educational provision for girls has usually meant inferior facilities and restricted features. Yet the some treat— ment may produce unequal outcomes if, for example, prior socialization en— sures the sexes typically have differential initial competence or interest in a given subject: or labour market practices mean employers will welcome equally qualified boys and girls with differential enthusiasm. The failure ofschools to accomplish ‘equality of educational opportunity‘ in social—class terms is widely acknowledged, and consequently the phrase has nearly disappeared from socio— logical studies of class inequality, yet its meaning has been revised to be some— thing of a code phrase for inequalities based on rate and/or sex (and occasionally disability). Some local education authorities (LEAs) in Britain have appointed ‘equal opportunities advisers‘, and universities, companies and local governments proclaim themselves ‘equal opportunity employers'. In Australia. Yates (1986) suggests that the rhetoric. in this transformed way, may persist because class differences apart, the provision of educational resources on a gender—neutral basis still seems attainable. In Britain, the discourse of equal opportunity, however flawed, is virtually the only one acceptable to the general public. It is the language of central government and its quasi—governmental agencies and research reams: it is also to a large extent the choice of local government. trade unions and political parties. Terms like ‘scxism‘, 'opprcssiou' and ‘patriarchy‘ are staples offeminisr writing. but official documents and projects still employ them gingerly if at all. Prudent efforts to introduce feminist perspectives into the teacher training 46 Gendered Education curriculum tend to use phrases like ‘equal opportunities for the sexes in educa— tion' or, increasingly, :gender and education'. A second major concern of liberal feminists in education f0cuses on socializ- ation, sex roles and sex stereotyping. Girls (and boys) are thought to be so— cialized (by the family, the school, the media) into traditional attitudes and orientations that limit their futures unnecessarily to sex—stereotyped occupa— tional and family roles. At the same time, socialization encourages patterns of interpersonal relationships between the sexes that disadvantage females, who are placed in a position of dependency and deference, and also males, who are forced to suppress their emotional and caring potential. DuBois er al. (1985) argue that ‘sex ditl'erenees’ have always been a concern within American edu- cational research; the problem is ‘to analyze sex differences where research indicates they exist and not to invoke them artificially as explanations where they do not’ (p. 28). In contrast, British educational work on ‘sex differences’ has been unevenly spread through the subdisciplines of education; in sociology of education, for example, virtually no attention was paid to the topic before the late 19705, as I showed in Chapter 2. ‘Gender’ has taken over from ‘sex' in lTlLlCl'l British educational scholarship, but more as a token ofgood faith than as a result of a clearly understood distinction between the terms. ' The sex—role socialization framework is thought of as particularly charac— teristic of the United States and has been criticized by Arnot (1981) in Britain, Connell (1985) in Australia and Middleton (1984) in New Zealand. There is a third theme within liberal feminism, centriug on notions of discrimination, rights, justice and fairness. Those who use these terms come much closer to admitting an impact of‘structures’ than those confined to a ‘sexerole‘ or “sex— differences’ approach. As Amor (1981) points out, Byrne (1978) recognized the impact ofpolicies as well as attitudes in creating a structure ofdisadvantage for girls, especially for those from rural or workiiig~class origins. Rendel’s (1981}, 1984) work on British academics (and similar work in other countries) also demonstrates the point. She argues that the fact women university teachers, a select group, fail to be promoted to pi‘ofessorships is unlikely to be due solely to the women’s limitations (Rendel [984). Whyte and her co-editors’ (1985) Collection illustrates the merging ofthe three liberal—feminist themes. Attitudes figure prominently, but they are gener- ally attitudes of teachers, seen as contributing to sex—stereotyped subject choices within schools and eventually to sex-stereotyped occupations for school leavers. The concert] with access to science and technology is strong. Reports from government-sponsored projects and equal opportunities person— nel are featured, and feminist rhetoric is conspicuously absent. The tone of the book is polite rather than outraged. But neither is there recourse to argumen that assert that girls’ own attitudes (however derived) prevent them recogniz—T’l ing their own best interests. Instead, there is attention paid to LEA re— calcitrance, limits of equal opportunity legislation, and vagaries of industrial ) tribunal proceedings in cases ofwomen teachers charging discriminationf Strategies for educational change emanating from liberal feminism follow from the conceptual base. In general, there is an attempt to alter socialization lieiiii'iiii'r Theory 47 praetices, change attitudes, use legal processes. The gathering and disseminating of information and evidenCe is important (Middleton 1984). Whyte (1986) notes that science teachers involved in the ‘Girls into Science and Technology: project were noticeably more impressed with ‘facts and figures' thau with social science terminology. The promotion of‘good practice’ in schools is an aim of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in Britain, and a number of booklets have been prepared and distributed with that objective. The EOC puts informal pressure on schools and LEAs acting illegally or against the spirit of the Sex DiScrimination Act. Legal remedies are used where possible, al- though the limits of Britain's sex discrimination legislation in the education field are oft-noted. Weiner' (1986) provides a list of liberal—feminist strategies aimed at changing the attitudes ofteachers and children. The strategies include reviewing aspects ofschool organization such as the timetable, analysing curri— culum materials for stereotyping, persuading girls not to drop science and technology subjects, and establishing teacher working parties on the issues. There has also been increasing interest in assertiveness training for women teachers wishing promotion. Another strategy is providing teachers in training and those on iii-service courses with ideas for combating sexism. The liberal—feminist stance on education has attracted fierce criticism from other feminists, so much so that it is hard to find an extended defeq/nee/o-f the position in Britain. The critics generally point to the limitations oft 1e concep- tual framework, especially ideas about equality ofopportunity and the reliance on socialization and sex—role models. The emphasis on individual attitudes in these approaches is seen as a kind of psychological reductionism, blaming tl victim for her (socialized) lack of perception or confidence. Why socializar' n proceeds as it does, with such apparently deleterious consequences, is unexa plained (Connell 1985). It is charged that sex equality is mistakenly approached as if solutions might be wholly educational (Arnot 1981); that the labour market process and capitalism are regarded uncritically; that change is concep— tualized as if it were merely a matter of appealing to good will (Acker 1984b); that male frameworks such as ‘career‘ remain unchallenged by attempts to make a few women assertive enough to succeed in them (Weiner 1986). Liberal feminism is accused, above all. of ignoring the impact of patriarchy, power and the systematic subordination of women by men (O'Brien 1983; Weiner 1986), as well as the effects ofracism and class hegemony (Arnot 1981. 1982). [t is striking that in the ‘official’ British equal opportunity literature (e.g. from the ECG) girls are simply girls: the differential potential impacts ofclass. ethnicity or other attributes upon their life chances appear a taboo topic. This avoidance would not seem, however. to be a necessary characteristic ol'liberal» feminist educational thought, as Byrne's (l978) approach shows. Socialist feminism and education The socialist—feminist work 1 am considering analyses Western capitalist states. in the long run, the aim is to remove oppression (in part by abolishing capitalism). 48 Gendered Education but the immediate task is to elucidate the processes involved. Most socialist— feminist theoreticians have focused on women’s position within the economy and the family. For those concerned with education. the key question is “how is edUcation related to the reproduction of gender divisions within capitalism?’ (Armor and Weiner 1987a). I The development of socialist—feminist perspectives within education has been strongly influenced by neo—Marxist trends within the sociology ofeduca— tion (see Chapter 1). A major concept used in this body ofliterature is ‘repro— duction’. Theorists have analysed how schooling, by a variety of mechanisms, perpetuates (reproduces) class divisions within the work force. Socialists feminist sociologists of education have used these theories as a starting point for a ‘political economy perspective’ (Arr-rot 1981), calling attention to the schools’ role in reproducing a sexual as well as a social division oflabour in the family and the workplace. _ For example. in Canada, jane Gaskell (1986), looks critically at the notion of ‘skill’, often seen as a consequence of formal education and as a determi- nant of occupational placement and its rewards. Yet ‘skill’ is a socially con— structed category. Apprenticeships for ‘skilled’ trades have been mostly held by males who have been sufficiently organized to limit others’ access to training and practice. In contrast, the skills of office work, arguably no less difficult to learn, are defined as part of every woman’s ‘natural’ equipment, easy and taken for granted. According to Gaskell, training for office work, but not for ‘male crafrs’, is extensive in the Canadian high school, supplee mented by easy access through evening classes at schools and colleges. Entry is uncontrolled and the result is a large pool oflabour trained at no cost to the employers. Curriculum differentiation processes within the school are im— portant not only because girls are trained in office skills such as word process— ing, but because they are not trained in allied areas such as computer science or management that might allow entry into alternative careers. 1n this analysis, the partnership between education and the economy operates to confirm large numbers of girls and women in restricted, low—paid sectors of employment. Other socialist—feminist analyses have explored the links between school and motherhood. Miriam David (1984-), for example, notes multiple ways in which British primary schools operate with the expectation of mothers" participation in school activities. Even before children start school, mothers, especially those of the middle classes, are expected to educate their children — give them cultural capital — if they are to henefit fully from schooling itself. Schools, especially in situations ofdeclining resources and in socially advantaged areas, rely on unpaid help fi'om mothers (some of whom are themselves trained teachers), ranging from repairing books to assisting with classroom routines. School hours and holidays in Britain (including the convention ofa week off in the middle of each term, known as ‘half—term holiday') place dramatic restrictions on the kinds of paid employment mothers of young children can pursue. So schools make use of, and simultaneously perpetuate, a sexual division oflabour in the home. Feminist Theory 4‘) Much of the socialistefenn'nist work in education consists of theoretical arguments, historical research or policy analysis. There have been compara— tively few empirical studies of school processes. in part, this neglect is due to the difficulty of subjecting ‘reproduction theory” to the kind of hypothesis testing that makes up the classic scientific method. Thus socialist~leminist research, along with neo—Marxist research in soeiology of education generally-re—x can be accused of substituting the ‘apt illustration’ for rigorous testing (Hare greaves 1982). The most promising concept to guide empirical work is proba— bly the ‘gender code” (MacDonald 1980b). A few ethnographic studies are beginning to show the operation of class and gender codes (e.g. Council er al. 1982; Russell 1986), especially in career guidance or subject choice exercises, wherehy schools and the labour market can be most obviously linked, But there is still difficulty with the niacrosociological nature of the theory and the microsociologica] level of most school—based research. The extent to which any such school practices actually are required for the reproduction of the sexual and social division oflabour is probably undemonstrable, A category of empirical research sometimes called ‘cultural studies' comes partially and rather uneasily under the socialist~feminist wing. In recent years, sociologists ofeducation have sought to give greater weight to ways in which individuals and groups resist or contest dominant ideologies and processes of social control. 1n this vein, several studies have begun to chart girls' cultures. Some are explicitly concerned with class and ethnic variations (cg. Fuller 1983; Griffin I985). Yet not all ofrhese studies can be placed clearly within the socialist—feminist framewark, despite the resistance theme. Arnot (1981) has pointed out that although the studies of girls” mlmrc moved the focus beyond the liberal—feminist one on individual girls” attitudes. the roots of gender dif— ferentiation remain hurled. It is in strategies for educational action that socialist—feminist writing appears most underdeveloped. This situation is demonstrated indirectly by Weiner’s (1986) comparison of equal opportunities (liberal) and anti—sexist (radical) edu- cational strategies. She has no separate category of socialistei‘cminist strategies. Wcincr remarks in passing that Marxist analyses have been theoretical and academic rather than classroom—oriented. Although reproduction theories can sometimes appear to forestall any social change, socialist—feminist writers at least gesrure towards ‘an education praxis, a radical pedagogy’ (Middleton 1984: 49). This may mean (eventually) the potential development, with teachers and pupils, ofsrrategies ofresistance or moves towards a curriculum that challenges the dominant hegemony. Tlleorizing itself, ol‘course, can be regarded as a strategy that calls attention to the role of schooling in mediating and reproducing gender, class and other divisions. Yet if this strategy is to be effective, theorists will have to develop ways of talking to the teachers rather than to each other (Yates 1986: 128). l have found that although teachers in training (and to a lesser extent those on in-service courses) will repeat socialistefeminist statements in essays. they are far more excited by radical feminists’ appeal to personal experience or liberal feminists’ to equity. 5E} Gendered Education After a series of critiques from black British women (e.g. Amos and Parrnar 1981; Cathy 1982). socialist—feminist writings on education show increasing awareness that gender, race and class interact in complex ways to shape girls’ lives in and out of school (Brah and Minhas 1985; Brah and Deem, 1986). Some of the generalizations in the feminist literature about marriages and the family, or the descriptions of girls’ conformity and resistance in schools, or the arguments about single—sex schools, may need reworking in so fat as they have in the past taken middle-class white British experience as an unquestioned departure point. Another line of criticism points to the social determinism implied in “repro- duction' accounts. Capitalism becomes reified; soeiety is seen as a ‘field ofplay of pre—given and essential interests or needs’ (Culley and Demaine 1983: 170). Culley and Dernaine argue that if any attempt by the state to improve matters can be dismissed as ‘really' for control purposes and ultimately reproductive, constructive political action becomes impossible. Connell (l985) recommends moving towards a theory of practice that would avoid voluntarism and plural— ism (as in liberal feminism) on the one hand, and ovendeterminism by ‘catego— ries’ on the other. Culley and Demaine suggest concentrating on specific struggles and practices in schools and local education authorities where out— comes depend on an array of influences, some under teacher control, rather than on external forces alone. Radical feminism and education Like socialist feminists, radical feminists want to see a fundamental change in the social structure. one that will eliminate male dominance and patriarchal structures. ‘The goal ofa feminist education’, writes Mary O'Brien (1983: 13), ‘is not equality in knowledge, power and wealth, but the abolition ofgender as an oppressive cultural reality”. Unlike socialist feminists and liberal feminists writing about education, radical feminists have made few attempts to relate school life to the economy or to the family. Their analyses do sometimes use a concept of‘reptoduction' (Mahony 1985: 66), but what is being reproduced is the domination of men over women, denying girls and women full access to knowledge, resources, self—esteem and freedom from fear and harassment. Two major concerns characterize this body ofliterature: (l) the male mono- polization ofculture and knowledge; and (2) the sexual politics ofevetyday life in schools. The major exponent of the first ofthese concerns is Dale Spender (1980, 1981. 1982; see also Spender and Sarah 1980). Spender argues that what we ‘know‘ is dangerously deficient, for it is the record of decisions and ac— tivities of men, presented in the guise of human knowledge. For centuries, women’s contributions and understandings have been ignored or disparaged, notwithstanding female resistance. Spender wishes to uncover the logic ofmale dominance and the contribution schools make towards it; ways in which gatekeeping processes silence women and allow men to dominate decision— making in educational (and other) contexts; and the role of language in Feminist Theory 51 controlling the ways in which women conceptualize themselves and their—'fl world. There are obvious implications here for the school curriculum and also for women teachers‘ and girls’ aCCess to power and policy—making within education. Women‘s 'studies courses in higher education' also build on (although not exclusively) the radical~feminist analysis of knowledge. Radical- feminist perspectives have been extended into the adult education freld byjane Thompson (1 983). . The second main theme concerns the sexual politics of daily life in educav tional institutions. Here, too, Spender has made a significant contribution by delineating two aspects of the problem: teacher attention unequally divided between the sexes to the advantage ofboys (Spender 1982); and the potential. although not unmixed, benefits ofsingle—sex schooling for girls (Spender and Sarah 1980; Spender 1982). Both of these issues have been approached from other perspectives as well, but they are most closely associated with radical— feminist ones, as the basic reason for concern is the dominance ofmales over females in mixed—sex settings; moreover, they are examples of the radical- feminist dictum that ‘the personal is political‘. In the 1980s. British radical—feminist writing became more insistent about the extent to which boys (sometimes aided by male teachers) oppress, demean and harass girls (and sometimes women teachers). These accounts are painfiil to read. Schools, especially mixed secondary schools, appear as amplifiers of male tendeni cies towards violence. According to Mahony (1985). it is not simply that girls receive less teacher time, but that their classroom contributions are met with systematic ridicule from boys and their existence outside classrooms is filled with verbal and non—verbal abuse and physical molestation. Carol jones (1985) de— scribes one London secondary school that was covered with woman—hating graffiti and pornographic drawings. populated by boys boasting of watching videos of violence towards women. and characterized by a stream ofalruse from boys to girls. ‘Male violence 7 visual. verbal and physical harassment —svas part of daily school life‘ (p. 3(1). jones adds that girls and teachers had developed some strategies for resistance. Sexual harassment and abuse can take different forms when combined with racism (Suleiman and Suleiman 1985) or directed agam those (ofboth sexes) who breach norms ofbeterosexuality. " Exposing these practices through publications is clearly one radical—feminist strategy. Weiner (1986) points out that radical feminists have successfullv legiti— mated discussions of sexuality and sexual harassment in schools. topics killill' were formerly ignored. Anti—sexist strategies for teachers or girls are recom- mended or summarized in jones (1985). Mahony (1985) and Weiner (198(3). What runs through these works is a commitment to place girls and women at the centre of concern. This accomplishment means believing their complaints and according validity to their perspectives. Revisions of ctmicula. texts and the extension ofscholarship on gender have a similar rationale. There are also attempts at pedagogical change, especially in higher and adult education. iri- tended to develop non—hierarchical, less competitive, participatory teaching methods. A number of propOSCd strategies involve (sometimes temporary) separation of the sexes: single—sex schools, colleges, classes. discussion groups .1 I, 52 Gendered Education and youth clubs. A central unresolved problem with these ideas is how to educate and re—educate the boys and who should do it (Mahony 1985: 91). Radical feminism attracts considerable criticism. Middleton (1984) argues that radical. feminism is the least articulated of the three perspectives with regard to education, and that it is descriptive rather than explanatory. Radical feminists wonld reply that there is a clear explanation w the universality of patriarchy or male dominance —- and that male power and control over women is not simply ideological but material (Mahony 1985: 68). The critics‘ response is to accuse radical feminism of biological reductionism or essentialism. The problem here lies in answering in non—biological terms the question of why men wish to dominate women. A number of critics (e.g. Connell 1985; Mur— phy and Livingstone 1985) charge that radical—feminist analyses with their generalizations about (all) women and (all) men direct attention away from divisions that cut across or complicate women/ men categories, such as class, race, nationality and age. There is an issue here to which I shall return in the conclusion to this chapter: the similarity yet diversity of women. However, radical—fieniinist educational accounts are increasingly trying to consider racism along with sexism (eg. Bunch and Pollack 1983; Weiner 1985). Certainly some radical feminists in education, including Spender. make sweeping statements about ‘men‘ and ‘women’, and studies like Mahony’s (1985) or jones’ (1985) stress particularly unpleasant aspects of masculinity. Mahony (1985: 71) attempts to counter charges ofessential-ism by developing a concept ofthe social (rather than biological) construction ofmasculinity (‘social maleness'). In one Sense, this effort returns us to a socialization approach (with its defects): boys behave badly because they have learned to do so. Why has socialization encouraged this pattern? Mahony (1985) suggests it persists be- cause men benefit fiom being powerful. But why should ‘being powerful’ automatically be a rewarding experience unless one has been socialized to believe this? British radical—feminist writing on education is acressible and popular. It avoids the dullness of some liberal—feminist research-and the opacity of some socialist»feminist analysis. Perhaps its impact stems from a belief that ‘change is possible and teachers and pupils can make it happen’ (Mahony 1985: 93), even when such a hope appears to contradict the conception of patriarchy as pan— demic and powerful. Radical—feminist scholarship is also open to criticism on methodological grounds. Feminist methodology tries to break free from the male biases in research paradigms criticized by Spender and others (Stanley and Wise 1983), and it opens up important new possibilities and unearths data ignored by conventional approaches, such as the evidence ofsexual harassment in schools. But I believe that some standards have to be Set beyond personal validation of data (see Chapter 4). It is unlikely that all teachers favour boys all ofthe time, or that all schools are as riddled by sexism as the one in jones’ (1985) study or the worst of Mahony’s (1985) examples. The dilemma of the ‘apt example‘ sur— faces,just as it did for reproduction and resistance research. Mahony (1985: 36) deliberately uses this technique to ring an ‘alarm bell‘ — and we hear it— but it is Feminist 'i hear)! 53 still necessary to know under what conditions such findings will and will not obtain, if oppression is to be fought most effeCtively. Feminist theoretical frameworks: Problems and prospects Are we moving towards a synthesis of feminist educational approaches? Deep conceptual divides remain. But it seems to me that. with a few exceptions. feminist theoretical writing about education manages to be constructively crit— ical without the vitriol sometimes found in other spheres of fcminist cook/#1 inentary. Possibly this can be traced to the tradition of pragmatism in much educational thought: the immediate goal ofmaking conditions better overrides ’[ some ofthe theoretical disputes. Many writers work in educational institutions / themselves and thus sustain some commitment to educational change through / educational means (directly through their teaching, indirectly through the teaching of teachers and prospective teachers and the produrtion of scholar- ship). The tension between education—as—reproductive and education—as— liberating is encountered daily. Additionally, in Britain, education has been rather peripheral to feminist theory. Mitchell and Oakleyis (1986) book, for example. has no separate chapter on education and barely a mention of it elsewhere; Segal’s (1987) lengthy critique ofDale Spender’s work totallv ig— nores all Spender's books and articles on education. Possibly pragmatism and marginality encourage educational scholars and activists inro alliances across theoretical divides. As Sally Miller Gearhart (1983) points out, alliances may be built on the coincidence of the goals ofliberal feminists with the strategies of radical (or socialist) feminists. The preference for equal opportunities disbourse in British public policy means that under an equal opportunities cloak. a socialist or radical feminist heart may beatl For educational theorists as well as for other feminists, certain dilemmas remain. One of these dilemmas is the relationship between structure and agency. Should women be seen as immobilized by reproductive social and economic structures. by tradition—bound institutions, by discrimination. by men? Or are they active agents, struggling to control and change their lives? Even more problematic is the issue of universality and diversify, one of the ‘paradoxes of feminism’: . . rooted in women’s actual situation, being the same (in a species sense) as men; being different, with respect to reproductive biology and gender construction, from men. In another complication, all women may be said to be ‘the same', as distinct from all men with respect to reproductive biology, and yet ‘not the same”. with respect to the variance ofgeuder construction. Both theory and practice in feminism historically have had to deal with the fact that women are the same as and different from men, and the fact that women’s gender identity is not separable from the other factors that make 11p our selves: race, religion, culture. class. age. (Cott 1986: 49) 54 Gendered Education The history ofstruggles for women’s education shows the tensions between strategies emphasizing sameness or difference, structures or agency. The con- temporary argunients I have reviewed again show these tensions. But tensions can be productive as well as destructive. It is through these very dilemmas, through attempts to solve the unsolvable, through exchanges among feminist frameworks that feminist theory moves ahead. Notes 1. The original article version ofthis chapter was published in 1987 (see Acknowledge- ments for details). 2. A discussion of post—structural or post-modern feminism and its educational im— plications can be found in Chapter I. ...
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