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SMART FOR A GIRL: HOW CAN WE OVERCOME SEXISM IN THE AMERICAN EDUCATION SYSTEM?

A basic overview of my personal interest and a general overview of my topic.

OVERVIEW

This page discusses and shows research about the persistent problem of sexism in America’s education system from colonization to current day. This gender inequality in education exists parallel to the patriarchal society of the United States. From a young age, girls are taught that they are not as smart as boys, and the education system here in the U.S. does not adequately prepare young girls for economic success. Today we’ll be taking a deeper look into where this inequality originated from and how we can counter it.

ROOTS OF THE APPLE TREE

Originating in the very roots of the American colonies, sexism in the education started from an early age. Most young girls in the 1600s were only allowed to learn to read so that they could read the Bible, as many colonists came to the new world seeking religious freedom (Foner). As the United States of America is a patriarchal society, women were seen as housewives, only taking care of the children and the house, and, therefore, did not need a higher education. Young girls did not go to school and stayed home learning from their mothers (Foner). As the nation progressed, women began to challenge the patriarchy and fight for their rights and education. They advocated gender equality. In the nineteenth century, women were allowed to receive an education to teach others (Howe). According to many Christian faiths, women acted as natural role models, with their supposed elevated standards of morality as nurturing  servers to domestic life (Howe). Even though women were permitted to act as educators, they were not paid an equal amount as a male in their position (Howe). In nineteenth and twentieth century coeducational schools, young girls and young boys were held to different standards, an idea that will be explored further in research surrounding this problem in the current day. The difference in standards accompanied societal  anxieties about what would happen to gender roles if girls and boys were educated in a similar fashion (Bailey). In the early twentieth century, young women reasoned that their studies should be equal to young men. Young women had curriculum centered around their traditional gender role, such as household economy or sewing, while young men had a plethora of topics to choose from, ranging from mechanics to agriculture (Howe). Many feminists critiqued the patriarchal logic that held women back from obtaining higher education and from education that was/were identical to men’s  (Bailey). Preventing a woman from the same education and curriculum as a man was an example of interest convergence from the patriarchy, as men did not want women to compete for the same jobs and change the economy.

This figure further illustrates the discrepancies in education between young men and women. It shows how significant the difference in literacy rate has been over the span of multiple decades.

CURRENT DAY

It’s the 21st century and the United States of America has made great progress in terms of providing equal education to women. However, there are still many things that shape and obstruct a young girl’s educational experience. Gender expectations and stereotypes are the main impediment of a woman’s education, followed by objectification and lack of representation. While many things may hinder a girl’s education, one thing that should not be a prominent issue is how she dresses. However, in the United States, harsh dress codes prohibit certain articles of  girls’ attire solely “because they “distract” boys” (Zhou). These school systems objectify women as distractions, implying that what helps boys focus is more important than what girls want to wear. In an educational space, why would boys be paying inappropriate attention to their female counterparts? And why should the girls have to pay for that? Schools should teach the boys respect and discipline them to not objectify or harass women instead of penalizing women for such inappropriate behavior. Another impediment to a young woman’s education would be a lack of curriculum about women’s impact in history. Textbooks indirectly teach sexism, through their focus on men’s roles  in history that overshadows the impacts women have made. With this male centered curriculum creating a hole in what students learn, these students might be under the impression that certain groups did not contribute to the making of the current world (Ferroni). Additionally, there is also a difference in academic achievement between males and females due to gendered expectations and attitudes. When young children are around six years old or in second/third grade, they start to align themselves to fit their own gender and conform to how they think they should act and what they should be based on their gender and what they have observed (Rippon). Young boys are encouraged to speak up and think independently and rambunctiousness among boys is seen as normative, while the same behavior often chastised in girls (Chapman). Studies show that girls and young women do not receive equal attention and instruction “in areas of science, mathematics, and technology” (Frantz), as those are deemed subjects for young men. Girls tend to get lower math scores and are not expected to go into jobs requiring higher education (Cimpian). Young women internalize and normalize the difference in academic achievement that is presented as the gender expectations throughout their educational experience. These sorts of sexist norms exist in America’s patriarchal society. They create gender inequalities and a social injustice that has existed throughout American history.

This image demonstrates the lack of information young girls are given surrounding women’s impact in history. It shows a woman cooking, while a man in a suit is holding his hand up to her, reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes.

SOLUTIONS

How can we try to overcome these unjust problems? These steps can be taken by individuals or whole communities.

  1. Acknowledge biases and prejudices about different genders in an educational space
  2. Raise awareness about the unjustness and inequality that many students experience to get a wider range of people working to combat it
  3. Pinpoint sexist policies and actions
  4. Keep an open discussion on how to adapt and allow new perspectives into conversation
  5. Amend policies to be more just and accommodate for all genders
  6. Educate people about sexist practices and gender inequalities
  7. School curriculum could be revised to fill the gaps that textbooks leave out regarding the roles of women in history
  8. Gender expectations should be acknowledged and the pressure from them should be alleviated
  9. Gender stereotypes could also be redefined, so both women and men could be seen as strong and well educated, and both men and women can be relational and artistic

WORKS CITED

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1oCpVIgQG56WRzi81nszdG9Yi3PtyZ3G2ZlwASKuc-rk/edit?usp=sharing

COMMENTS

I’m eager to hear from you whether or not my research resonates. I invite you to comment your thoughts down below. If I have intrigued you and you want to learn more, feel free to check out my full paper or ask me questions down below! Thank you again for looking at my project!

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COMMENTS: 17
  1. April 24, 2020 by Nisha

    Hi, Julia! Your webpage is fantastic and so informational. I loved your discussion of the objectification of women as distractions. Your arguments there are compelling and resonate with me a lot. I also really liked how you tied that to how women are the ones that need to suffer the consequences of the assumptions that specific clothing is “provocative” or “distracting.” Awesome work!

  2. April 24, 2020 by Elizabeth

    Your web page is so good! I really like the way you blended illustrative anecdotes with hard supportive facts! Also, yay- your comment section is working now!

  3. April 26, 2020 by Daniella

    Your project is on such an interesting topic and I found that you provided enough background information and concrete facts for someone to fully understand what you are trying to convey. I also thought that your point about how influential women are not taught about in school was really important because it is very true, even for me as I go to school in a different country. I think that revising school curriculums would be a great way to show young women what they are capable of achieving in the world.

  4. April 26, 2020 by Elizabeth Yun

    Hi Julia, I loved your presentation! I think that this is a topic that is frequently discussed, but I like how you took it further and provided a lot of information about the roots of this bias, along with things that we don’t really talk about such as the representation of gender roles in traditional academic materials. I think that this was incredibly informative and I appreciated the list of solutions and actions we can all take to combat sexism in education.

  5. April 27, 2020 by Sophia

    Hey Julia! I think you did a great job addressing such an important topic! The historical context you gave was really informative and it’s crazy to think of the roles and expectations that were forced on women in the past, and yet women still face discrimination in the education system today. The points you made about dress code and textbook focus are such common factors in school, yet nothing has been done to change them. I think the solutions you provided can do a lot of good, and acknowledging the problem is such a big part and you’ve done a really great job of that!

  6. April 27, 2020 by julia

    Hey Julia! this was such an important topic! I loved your presentation. The images you chose to incorporate really helped enhance your presentation! I liked the way you delved into the history and brought that into the present day! amazing job.

  7. April 27, 2020 by Annabelle

    Hello Julia!!
    While reading your presentation this line really stuck out to me: “These school systems objectify women as distractions, implying that what helps boys focus is more important than what girls want to wear.” I really think that this line was my center of gravity in your presentation and I really connected to it. I go to a school where dress code is heavily enforced and I still can’t believe that these standards are still held in place today. I thought that your presentation was very impressive and relevant to today’s conversations.

  8. April 27, 2020 by Annabelle

    Hello Julia!!
    While reading your presentation this line really stuck out to me: “These school systems objectify women as distractions, implying that what helps boys focus is more important than what girls want to wear.” I really think that this line was my center of gravity in your presentation and I really connected to it. I go to a school where dress code is heavily enforced and I still can’t believe that these standards are still held in place today. I thought that your presentation was very impressive and relevant to today’s conversations!

  9. April 27, 2020 by Lara

    Hello Julia! I really enjoyed your presentation. It is sad to think about the sexism that still exists in our education systems seeing as education is a key factor in shaping opinions. I think that if we can change education, we can change the culture.

  10. April 27, 2020 by Ivy

    This project was really great! You did a really good job explaining the origins of women’s education in the US (i.e. them only being taught to read to understand the Bible, not being able to pursue much education beyond that), the strides women have made in the past centuries, and the issues that girls still face in the education system. I really enjoyed how you pointed out the ways in which schools today routinely monitor things as simple as clothing on girls to make a “better” environment for male students, while ignoring the actual issue by disregarding how girls are treated and objectified by their peers and teachers. I also really liked the cartoon you put in, as it demonstrates how while women have equality in many ways, there are still many people who think that women should solely be taking on domestic roles, rather than pursuing higher education/careers. You also talked about how in particular, girls are often discouraged from pursuing STEM, and are taught to think that these are areas that boys excel at instead. Overall, I really liked your project and think it is really relevant today as we continue striving for equality.

  11. April 27, 2020 by Sophia Hurst

    Hi Julia! You truly did a fantastic job in bringing to light to unfortunate realities of the American education system and brainstorming solutions to overcome this prevalent issue. I know that your project personally resonated with so many students in GOA, and it was eye-opening to learn the history/background of academic sexism and the ways that we can move forward to ensure equal opportunities for women in education and beyond.

  12. April 28, 2020 by Richard

    Awesome page! This project focuses on the problem of sexism, which gives me new perspectives about the American education system. It is really important to draw the public’s attention to this kind of serious problem. Your page did a good job on that!!!

  13. April 28, 2020 by Fay Aljasem

    Hello Julia, your project is truly interesting. I feel like this project brings to light a lot of issues that still unfortunately reside in our society today. As someone who is not from the US things like a girls only dress code actually baffle me. Why would anyone pay attention to these things at all? I also really enjoyed the graphics you’ve incorporated. They really add on to the topic and help make a point stand out more.

  14. April 28, 2020 by Lara

    Hi Julia, I really enjoyed your research and your page. I don’t study in the US (and I don’t know how this is in other places) but in my school (in Brazil) we don’t really have clothing rules and that is great because I can wear whatever I want and it obviously does not make a difference in the learning of others. You research it really informative and it talks about the different ways that girls are suffering sexism in school. One thing that my school had done is that during our Social Studies class we had an entire project about influential women and everybody had to participate, that is another great way to educate students on important women in history. I agree with everything you said during your website and I feel like these solutions are very realistic and achievable. Great job!

  15. April 28, 2020 by Cali Jenkins

    Hi Julia! As all of these comments will tell you, you have clearly struck a cord within the female GoA students, myself included. As someone who considers herself a feminist, I was genuinely shocked at myself that I have never taken a moment to consider the fact that I rarely learn about historical female figures. Despite the fact that I’ve educated myself on a few of them, I never stopped to think why I had to educate myself, why it was not a part of my curriculum. You provided amazing research and insight in your project and I am so glad that I took the time to go through it! Representation and education on this topic is greatly needed and I am so glad you brought it to light.

  16. April 28, 2020 by Ella Peterson

    Hi Julia! I really enjoyed reading your project. I was shocked by the disparity between men and women in literacy rates! Your project gave a great historical overview of the issue and provided some applicable solutions. Good job!

  17. April 28, 2020 by Cam

    Hi Julia! I think you did an amazing job on your catalyst conference. This is such an important and relevant topic that needs to be talked about and I think you did a great job shedding light on a lot of disparities people need to be made aware of. I found it so interesting to see that that the literacy rate for girls in 2005-2010 is still below the literacy rate of boys in 1985-1994. This, along with the many other factors you point out, shows inequality in classrooms is still such a real problem. I really enjoyed your project, good job!

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