The issue of gender inequality is one which has been publicly
reverberating through society for decades. The problem of inequality in
employment being one of the most pressing issues today. In order to examine
this situation one must try to get to the root of the problem and must
understand the sociological factors that cause women to have a much more
difficult time getting the same benefits, wages, and job opportunities as their
male counterparts. The society in which we live has been shaped historically by
males. The policy-makers have consistently been male and therefore it is not
surprising that our society reflects those biases which exist as a result of
this male-domination. It is important to examine all facets of this problem, but
in order to fully tackle the issue one must recognize that this inequality in
the workforce is rooted in what shapes future employees and employers–
education. This paper will examine the inequalities in policy, actual teaching
situations, admission to post-secondary institutions, hiring, and job benefits
and wages. It will also tackle what is being done to solve this problem and what
can be done to remedy the situation.
The late 1960s brought on the first real indication that feminist groups
were concerned with the education system in North America. The focus of these
feminist groups captured the attention of teachers, parents, and students. At
first the evidence for inequality in schooling was based on no more than
specific case studies and anecdotal references to support their claims but as
more people began to show concern for the situation, more conclusive research
was done to show that the claims of inequality were in fact valid and definitely
indicated a problem with the way that schools were educating the future adults
of society. One of the problems which became apparent was the fact that the
policy-makers set a curriculum which, as shown specifically through textbooks,
was sexist and for the most part still is.
Textbooks are one of the most important tools used in educating students
whether they are elementary school storybooks or university medical textbooks.
It is therefore no surprise that these books are some of the most crucial
information sources that a student has throughout their schooling. Many studies
have been done examining the contents of these books to reveal the amount of
sexism displayed in these educational tools. The results clearly show that
gender inequality definitely runs rampant in textbooks some of the sexism subtle
and some overt. To begin with, it is apparent that historical texts show a
distorted view of women by portraying them unfairly and inaccurately and
neglecting to mention important female figures, instead opting to describe their
sometimes less influential male counterparts. Elementary and secondary school
textbooks are also guilty of gender bias.
In elementary and secondary school textbooks, sexism takes many forms.
Boys predominate in stories for children; they outnumber girls 5 to 2. When
girls are present in texts, they are almost always younger than the boys they
are interacting with, which thus makes them foils for the boys’ greater
experience and knowledge– a situation commonly referred to as the ninny
sister syndrome.’ Girls are shown to be far more passive than are boys and to
engage in fewer activities. In fact, sometimes grown women are portrayed who
rely on small boys (often their young sons) to help them out of difficulty.
(Fishel and Pottker 1977. p. 8)
Surprisingly it is not only these hidden forms of sexism that appear in
One study found sixty-five stories that openly belittled girls (two were
found that belittled boys). Another study pointed out an instance where Mark, of
the Harper & Row Mark and Janet’ series, states: Just look at her. She is just
like a girl. She gives up.’ Male characters said, in another story, We much
prefer to work with men.’ This type of material on the treatment of girls would
seem to have little social or educational value, and its widespread use is
difficult to understand. (ibid, p.8)
In the long run, the ideas put in students heads through textbooks,
perhaps through the lack of female role models, can affect the choices they make
in the future with regards to employment.
Actual teaching situations are also prone to sexism. For the most part
teachers do not try to be sexist but, for sociological reasons, can not help it.
For the sake of this paper, it will be assumed that these situations occur
mostly in co-educational schools, but single sex schools are in no way immune to