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December 20, 2008 / C H Thompson

What’s the point of education? A feminist perspective

by Sam Cook a former student

From the 1960s onwards, feminist sociologists highlighted the following gender inequalities in society. Feminists argue that the education system is just a primary preparation for leading into the future work force. They argue the gender differences in subject choice in schools come is evidence of a patriarchal society. Colley (1998) reviewed this idea and found that despite all the social changes in recent decades, traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity were still widespread as evident below.


Gender and education – Feminist perspectives focus on gender inequalities in society. Feminist research has revealed the extent of male domination and the ways in which male supremacy has been maintained. From a feminist viewpoint, one of the main roles of education has been to maintain gender inequality.

Gendered language – reflecting wider society, school textbooks (and teachers) tend to use gendered language – ‘he’, ‘him’, ‘his’, ‘man’ and ‘men’ when referring to a person or people. This tends to downgrade women and make them invisible.

Gendered roles – school textbooks have tended to present males and females in traditional gender roles – for example, women as mothers and housewives. This is particularly evident in reading schemes from the 1960s and 1970s.

Gender stereotypes – reading schemes have also tended to present traditional gender stereotypes. For example an analysis of six reading schemes from the 1960s and 1970s found that:

  1. boys are presented as more adventurous than girls
  2. as physically stronger
  3. as having more choices
  4. girls are presented as more caring than boys
  5. as more interested in domestic matters
  6. as followers rather than leaders

Women in the curriculum – in terms of what’s taught in schools – the curriculum – women tend to be missing, in the background, or in second place. Feminists often argue that women have been ‘hidden from history’ – history has been the subject of men.

Subject choice – traditionally, female students have tended to avoid maths, science and technology. Certain subjects were often seen as ‘boys’ subjects’ and ‘girls’ subjects. Often girls subjects had lower status and lower market value

Discrimination – there is evidence of discrimination against girls in education simply because of their gender. For example, when the 11-plus exam was introduced in the 1940s, the pass mark was set lower for boys than for girls to make certain there roughly equal numbers of boys and girl sin grammar schools. In other words girls were artificially ‘failed’ so boys could ‘succeed’.

Further and higher education – traditionally the number of female students going on to further and higher education has been lower than for boys. There is evidence that teachers often gave boys more encouragement than girls to go to university (Stanworth, 1983).

Feminist perspectives – an evaluation – Feminist perspectives have been valuable for exposing gender inequality in education. Partly as a result of sociological research, a lot has changed – for example, much of the sexism in reading schemes has now disappeared. Today, women have overtaken men on most measures of educational attainment. Their grades at GCSE and A level are significantly higher than those of male students. And more women than men are going on to higher education. The concern now is the underachievement of boys rather than discrimination against girls. Please read through the PowerPoint below further details.

Understanding the differences between these perspectives is key to grasping this module. So before you move onto the next lesson take some time to complete the test in the slideshow below. The answers follow every question. So work through each question individually and then compare your answers.

Return to education overview



Leave a Comment
  1. Mabla blessing / Jan 2 2013 2:45 pm

    Interesting views,but what strides did they make for the girl child in education?

  2. bill / Apr 30 2017 4:05 pm

    by all measures our children are living shorter than the pre feminist era. our schools are full of female pedophiles, who get slaps on the wrists compared to men. other 1rst world countries are doing at education. FAIL and these are FACTS!

  3. sexyparisienne / Nov 5 2017 5:44 pm

    Reblogged this on

    • C H Thompson / Nov 10 2017 5:09 pm

      Thanks for reblog 🙂


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