By Kamil Trzebiatowski (2011)
for the University of the West of Scotland
The Equality Act 2010 obliges schools to tackle issues of discrimination, including gender stereotyping (EHRC, 2010). However, are most teachers’ views and actions in agreement with the Act? This statement will examine how the perpetuation of gender stereotypes by teachers can undermine the successful implementation of gender equality in schools.
Lorber (1994) states that gender does not rely on biological differences but is a status constructed by society. Prentice and Carranza (2002) claim that gender stereotypes can be seen as prescriptive: the characteristics attached to genders are usually those required of them. In their study of over 200 adults, they found that genders continue to be viewed in the traditional prescriptive way.
The classroom can be a place for teachers’ gendered performances (Renold, 2006) much like a number of other semi-public places. Renold mentions how male secondary school teachers have been known to use sexual jokes to find a common language with their pupils, thus reproducing stereotypes of male domination. This is supported by Jackson’s (2010) research on how teachers perceive and tackle the issue of boys’ ‘laddishness’ in British schools. Certain male teachers in her studies claim that they are able to discipline and communicate better with disruptive boys in their classrooms simply because they are men – thus suggesting that women, due to being women, are ineffective disciplinarians. Another way in which some male teachers have been known to ensure discipline is by questioning their (male) pupils’ masculinity, “accusing” them of feminine qualities. Such actions serve to construct the teacher’s own masculinity and power; avoiding being perceived by other teachers and pupils as ‘other’ (Francis and Skelton, 2001).
Conversely, Carrington and McPhee (2008) speak of the feminization of teaching and low number of male teachers, particularly at primary level. Whilst female primary teachers see male role models as crucial, they expect a male teacher to be both patient and “not a wimp” (Jones, p.188). Such weak men would not be considered “real men” (Jones, p.189). In Mills, Haase and Charlton’s (2008) research, John, a male teacher at a primary school discovers that the reason he was assigned a particularly disruptive class was because he was male and was expected to perform the traditional version of masculinity. Such female attitudes can be seen as examples of perpetuating and conforming to prescriptive male gender stereotypes.
I have witnessed numerous instances of gendered discourse in the classrooms in my professional career. “Be a man” or “don’t be a sissy” have been frequently used in my presence to refer to boys who do not fit the typically male descriptions. I have found both sexes to be guilty of such discourse; present both in the classrooms and staffrooms in jokes about pupils. Female teachers tend to rely on male members of staff to resolve any arising pupil fights, thus perpetuating the strong male stereotype.
Such attitudes stand in direct opposition to the stipulations of the Equality Act 2010 as it is the teachers who ultimately deliver the education. To that end, I believe that it is the individual schools’ responsibility to deliver internal gender equality training to their teachers to alert them to their own gendered performances in the classroom. Only when teachers consciously counter their gendered behaviour will they be able to convincingly promote gender equality to their pupils.
Carrington, B. and McPhee A. (2008) Boys’ ‘underachievement and the feminization of teaching. Journal of Education for Teaching. Vol.34(2), pp.109-120
Equality and Human Rights Commission (2010) What equality law means for you as an education provider: schools. [online] Available at: <http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/EqualityAct/schools_nsg_3.doc> [accessed 27 November 2011]
Francis, B. and Skelton, Ch. (2001) Men Teachers and the Construction of Heterosexual Masculinity in the Classroom. Sex Education. Vol.1(1), pp.9-21
Jackson, C. (2010) ‘I’ve been sort of laddish with them… one of the gang’: teachers’ perceptions of ‘laddish’ boys and how to deal with them. Gender and Education. Vol.22(5), pp.505-519
Jones, D. (2007) Millennium man: constructing identities of male teachers in early years contexts. Educational Review. Vol.59(2), pp.179-194
Lorber, J. (1994) Paradoxes of Gender. New Have and London: Yale University Press
Mills, M., Haase, M. and Charlton, E. (2008) Being the ‘right’ kind of male teacher: the disciplining of John. Pedagogy, Culture & Society. Vol.16(1), pp.71-84
Prentice, D. and Carranza, E. (2002) What women and men should be, shouldn’t be, are allowed to be, and don’t have to be: the contents of prescriptive gender stereotypes. Psychology of Women Quarterly, Vol.26, pp.269-281
Renold, E. (n.d.) Gendered Classroom Experiences. In: Skelton, C., Francis, B. and Smulyan, L. (eds.) (2006) The SAGE Handbook of Gender and Education. London: SAGE, pp. 439-452