Gender Inequality: Problems and Solutions

Gender Inequality: Problems and Solutions

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     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

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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
textbooks.

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
the same problems. A perfect example of society's male-dominance interfering in
education unintentionally is when teachers assign projects to their students.
The teachers may hand out lists of acceptable topics ranging, in a history class
for example, from fashion to transportation. The teachers then give the students
a choice as to which topic they would like to do the project on. The underlying
problem with this is that girls tend to choose what could be considered more
"feminine" topics while the boys will choose the more "masculine" ones. "Offered
to the pupils as free choice, such selections are self-perpetuating, leading to
the expected choices and amplifying any differences there may have been in
attitudes." (Marland 1983, p. 152) The reason for this could be that society,
through the media and other modes of communication, has pre-conceived notions as
to what issues are "male", "female", or unisex.

     Another example of how females are prone to gender inequality in the
classroom is during class discussion and also what the teacher decides to talk
about in the class. Classroom behaviour is a major focal point for those who
identify examples of inequality. There are many differences in the way that
females and males present themselves at school. It is apparent that in classroom
situations males talk more, interrupt more, they define the topic, and women
tend to support them. It is generally believed in our society that this is the
proper way to act in classroom situations, that males have it "right" and
females don't, they are just "pushovers" and don't have enough confidence. This,
however is a big assumption to make. Some research has been done in this field
that could, however, begin to refute this stereotype. It is frequently assumed
that males use language which is forceful confident and masterful (all values
which are regarded as positive). Females on the other hand, it is assumed, use
language that is more hesitant, qualified, and tentative. One can look at the
example of the use of tag questions, which are statements with questions tagged
onto the end such as "I'm going to the store, all right?" It is obvious that if
the above assumptions about the use of language were true, this hesitant, asking
for approval type of question would be more frequently used by women. ". . .
studies were carried out to determine whether women used more tag questions than
men. It was found that they did not. Betty Lou Dubois and Isabel Crouch (1975)
found that men used more tag questions than women." (ibid p. 100) The end of
high school brings about more obstacles for women on the way to achieving
equality in the workplace. One of the most important steps in achieving a high
paying, high status job is post-secondary education.

It is apparent that even
today women are being encouraged to follow certain educational paths. This is
shown very simply by the fact that even here at the University, men vastly
outnumber women as both students and faculty members in such programs as Applied
Science, while women greatly outnumber men in the programs of nursing and
concurrent education. Women have historically been encouraged to enter into what
could be considered "caring professions" such as nursing, teaching, and social
work. This is shown very crudely in the book Careers for Women in Canada which
was published in 1946 and written by a woman. The book devotes almost 200 pages
to pursuing careers in such fields as catering, sewing, being a secretary,
interior decorating, the arts, teaching, and nursing while it only allocates 30
pages to medicine, law, dentistry, engineering, optometry, and more combined.
The following quote clearly illustrates the beliefs of the more liberal people
of that time. "Some women have specialized in surgery. There can be no doubt but
that a capable woman may operate very successfully on women and children, though
it is doubtful whether a man would call in the services of a female surgeon
except in an emergency. (Carriere 1946, p. 234) Although much has improved since
the 1940s, the enrollment numbers in university programs clearly indicate that
women still have a long way to go before gender is not an issue.

After choosing
a career path, women enter the workplace with a disadvantage. They have the same
financial responsibilities as men with regards to supporting families and
themselves and much of the time they have an even heavier burden because there
are many women in today's society who are single mothers. Given that there is no
question that the need for money is identical it can, therefore, be concluded
that there is a major problem with the wage structure in today's jobs. The wage
gap clearly shows that society as a whole puts more value on the work of males
than on the same work done by females.

The facts that have been displayed above showing that education is itself a sexist institution perhaps explain why there is this inequality once schooling is finished. The fact that textbooks show males as being more successful than females, that teachers set assignments which reinforce gender stereotypes and sex roles, the fact that "masculine" behaviour is reinforced while "feminine" behaviour is condemned, and the fact that women
are encouraged to choose certain career paths all validate the claim that the
gender inequality in employment situations can be directly related to the way
that children are educated.
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