Teachwell | How Words Really Become Gendered and Sexist in Education.
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How Words Really Become Gendered and Sexist in Education.


All my recent blogposts have dealt with my issue with the current feminist discourse on twitter, which conflates sex and gender, and has linked arguments of alleged inequality in the education system with the idea that traditional education is masculine and therefore sexist.

I read Jane Manzone’s post in Schools Week with interest, especially as she believes that the linguistic discourse highlights the sexist nature of traditional education.

She argues that “The masculine narrative of current education reformers won’t lead to freedom.”

I don’t think the current education reforms are some sort of policy version of Braveheart. They are meant to lead to higher standards of education that’s all. The masculine narrative is assumed.

Furthermore: “It is infiltrating teachers’ consciousness; changing perceptions of who they are as teachers, what they stand for and what they do.”

A bit like the progressive education movement did then, except with a heck of a lot less legitimacy. I always find it amusing that unelected teachers think elected MPs have no right to hold them to account. Also that politicians have no mandate to change the education system. Apart from the one they gain from the electorate that is. Personally I think there is fault on both sides, with one-sided accounts and misinformation about the problems faced and their extent.

The “peculiarly masculine narrative within British education” is referred to, even though it’s not all that peculiar or British given the debates in the US and Australia at the moment and the way that ResearchEd is hosting events all over it world. In addition, the idea that the narrative is masculine is once again assumed.

Furthermore “My point was that the current education reformers are using masculine language. For example, the “soft” arts have been thrown out in favour of talk about the “hard-edged” science subjects.” 

I would be interested to read where Gove or Morgan have referred to the arts as ‘soft’ and science subjects as ‘hard-edged’. If they have then fair point.

However, is the word soft feminine and the word hard-edged masculine? Who has decided that? Masculine and feminine language is socially constructed as much as gender is. Therefore there is no universal truth in these words being assigned to men or women. In addition, why do they have to remain so now?  

“Some critics thought I was implying that women cannot possess particular characteristics: a belief in a no-nonsense approach to discipline, or a love of knowledge for example. That was not what I was saying.”

Oh good so so-called masculine and feminine traits are not biologically determined, in agreement with the World Heath Organisation definition I quoted in a recent blog.  

“One does not need to be schooled in linguistics or poststructural discourse to make a distinction between gendered language and biological determinism”

Ok so still distinguishing between the biology of different sexes and social constructs of gender and language.

“Women can clearly be masterful; they can discipline. That doesn’t mean, however, that language can’t create some uncomfortable psychic spaces.”

Ok so masterful is not a masculine word but hold on what “uncomfortable psychic spaces”? What does that mean? For whom? How does language do that? More importantly why? It’s just taken as a given that it does or there is a possibility that it does, which is sufficient reason to assume there is a problem. 

Jane turns her attention to Gove stating that he “…unwittingly (but probably not), endorsed an alternative harder narrative of education. This is sometimes known as the new traditional (or “neo-trad”) school of thought, with Captain “Core Knowledge” and Daddy Discipline as its mascots.”

If making exams more difficult and education more rigorous is a harder narrative then fine but as I have already said assigning this to men is a social construct in the first place.

Also what is with the ‘Captain’ and ‘Daddy’ bit? It’s not Gove but Jane who is ascribing Core Knowledge and Discipline as male and masculine. What happened to “Some critics thought I was implying that women cannot possess particular characteristics: a belief in a no-nonsense approach to discipline, or a love of knowledge for example. That was not what I was saying.”

I’m confused are knowledge and discipline masculine or not? 

I have already written about the false traditional = male and progressive = female dichotomy here. I have seen men and women argue for the traditional approach and other men and women for the progressive one. Are the women arguing for the traditional approach aping men and the men arguing for the progressive approach aping women? 

Why is progressive education female anyway? It seems strange when some of the most famous names in the progressive movement such as Rousseau, Dewey and AS Neill are men.

One of the main contentious issues in this debate has been the casual way that men have been accused of sexism with no evidence, so the following is disappointing although not surprising.

“Perhaps Gove thought the female-dominated profession felt, well, a little too female.”

You can hate Gove all you like but there is something sickeningly wrong about insinuating someone was sexist retrospectively because it fits with the current narrative you are spinning. 

So now if you are in the business of giving men who are sexist ammunition, then this is a great. Personally, I don’t think crying wolf is going to solve the problems of inequality in our society.

What I don’t get about the current discourse is how would the women throwing the word sexist at men in such a casual way feel if this were to happen to their father, brother, son, husband, etc? How is this ok? No I am not asking you to imagine you are related to Gove, I mean the men in your lives. I would be livid!

In this strange ‘psychic space’ it seems words like  “shape up”,  “rapid progress” and  “competition, control and rigour” are all masculine because someone who identifies as a feminist has said so and of course the favourite “Mastery” even though most people I know simply don’t see it as a word associated with men anymore. Again I point out an earlier quote “Women can clearly be masterful” or can they? Does this affect their psychic space negatively or not? 

Then it is open season on free schools with “strict discipline” forming part of a  “new wave of paternalistic education”. “No Excuses Schools” where children “must adhere to the strictest forms of control: walking in complete silence” This is obviously a dig at Michaela which is being run by the ‘paternalistic’ Kathrine Birbalsingh. But I thought “Some critics thought I was implying that women cannot possess particular characteristics: a belief in a no-nonsense approach to discipline, or a love of knowledge for example. That was not what I was saying.” If women can have a no-nonsense attitude to discipline then how is it paternalistic? Those of us who grew up with strict mothers and female teachers would be equally right in calling this approach maternalistic! It was part of how the women in our lives brought us up.

My favourite sentence has to be “The voice of the patriarch within education is loud, and growing louder. Meanwhile the negation of the other — that is, those outside this dominant discourse — is palpable. Voices of opposition are falling prey to stronger censure.”

Wow this is certainly a dramatic statement but again why is this the voice of the patriarch given that the current Secretary of State is a woman? I actually think it is interesting the way that Nicky Morgan (who I have heard speak in person) is simply ignored, Her views are not taken seriously as her views and just dismissed. Indeed the person in charge of Education at national level does not feature at all in these discussions. The voice of traditionalists is growing louder I agree, however, that is also my voice, which is most definitely female.

As for “Voices of opposition are falling prey to stronger censure” – a neat trick painting oneself as a victim in all this but really the inability of the progressive education movement to counter the current ideas, theories and research is a problem it needs to solve, not make false statements about being censured. 

The criticism of “power, money, and success’ and ads aimed at new recruits which used male models (an under-represented group in education except for male secondary headteachers) is all masculine apparently. So capitalism=masculine=male=sexism in education is REAL.

Then to really end on a high note we are informed that “the feminine is about nurturing, uncertainty, chaos (not in the classroom — I know what you are thinking).” Since when have uncertainty and chaos been associated with the feminine? If so, these are to me wholly negative and make it seem like women are unstable. But then we are told not chaos in the classroom to make chaos sound like some sort of etherial quality as opposed to incompetency in class. Because as was, then wasn’t, then was and then is now again claimed women can have a no-nonsense approach to discipline I assume, while being ‘chaotic’… So they can be both?

I’m not sure about anyone reading this but I certainly am none-the-wiser.

All that really seems to glare out is that gender is biologically determined when it’s convenient and not when it isn’t. Same thing with so called ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits, some of which are completely arbitrary like power. Given that women have campaigned for more power how is it that this is suddenly masculine?

It’s not just the author of this piece but the current self proclaimed feminists in education who believe that what they consider to be sexist is sexist and this is an objective truth. Any criticism is therefore sexist. If you disagree with them its sexist because what else could it be? In the absence of any coherent argument, the traditional education advocates are being smeared as sexist because they use words, and the words they use are sexist because they use them.

If there is disparity in the current education system between men and women then it has been going on all this time that progressive educationalists have ruled the roost. How did that happen? How can a ‘female/feminine/nurturing/caring/emotional’ profession have ended up with sexist outcomes? Maybe a more traditional system will actually end the current inequalities in the system. Primarily allowing the genuine voices of opposition to finally have a say in the debate that has been one-sided for decades.

Straight-jacketing oneself into socially constructed gender stereotypes just so you can smear those who disagree with you and calling oneself a feminist in order to escape scrutiny or challenge is all very well. Just don’t be surprised when others see through this.

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