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.
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.
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.
How can we try to overcome these unjust problems? These steps can be taken by individuals or whole communities.
- Acknowledge biases and prejudices about different genders in an educational space
- Raise awareness about the unjustness and inequality that many students experience to get a wider range of people working to combat it
- Pinpoint sexist policies and actions
- Keep an open discussion on how to adapt and allow new perspectives into conversation
- Amend policies to be more just and accommodate for all genders
- Educate people about sexist practices and gender inequalities
- School curriculum could be revised to fill the gaps that textbooks leave out regarding the roles of women in history
- Gender expectations should be acknowledged and the pressure from them should be alleviated
- 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
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