punk phd / feminism / motherhood

Thursday, August 27, 2009

And the winner is...

As reported here boys this year overtook girls in maths GCSE. Why? Because of the eradication of the coursework and it being purely assessed now by exams; which, we are told, boys do better at. We are told "Coursework will be scrapped from nearly all GCSEs next year". I'm sorry but should we be rejoicing at this removal of coursework in future GCSEs because it means boys can statistically get ahead?

In The Guardian write-up, Mary Bousted (general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers) is quoted as saying:

The problem has been that in the 1960s and 1970s boys were getting 12-13% more O-level passes than girls and no one really talked about it. When girls started to do better there were Panorama programmes and inquiries and a national debate. There's a national panic if girls and women start to be successful. Girls have been more successful at GCSE and A-levels but that hasn't closed the gender pay gap. Even if they do better they don't get paid as much.

This is exactly the points I have stressed again and again in any writing on the gender gap in education - firstly this completely unjustified panic over girls 'doing better' than the boys and secondly the fact that despite what the qualification statistics show, better attainment at GCSE/A-Level does not equate with the better pay. Why can't female students be seen as 'doing better'? And why this stress on the "gender gap"? What about differences according to ethnicity or socio-economic background? Because I'm sure as hell that it's not every girl 'doing better' - what about those who aren't?

Teacher training courses emphasis the importance of differentiation and using a variety of techniques for learning and assessment in our lessons because no-one learns the same. We are told that coursework is becoming a problem because of plagiarism but then is that really a reason to remove what is potentially an effective assessment method for a large number of female students (if indeed we take the slightly deterministic argument that coursework benefits girls, exams boys)? Isn't reliance of assessment through exams not differentiating?

A side thought (not properly investigated or backed): I think it's telling that coursework is being removed at the educational stages where firstly girls are 'doing better' and secondly where girls and boys are present in proportional figures to the population when, for instance, no-one would dare suggest the removal of essays (or even dissertations!) at undergraduate level. It would be interesting to see whether such gendered patterns are present at this educational stage and the ratio of female to male undergraduates.

x-posted over at Subtext

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Monday, August 24, 2009

The personal vs the political

...feminism should be focused on real change and helping women. I've seen so much written this year about the dilemma of being a feminist who wants to get married that I don't think I can take it any more From We Mixed Our Drinks

Reading this blog post over at We Mixed Our Drinks really hit a nerve with me. Primarily because I have written about such a dilemma in recent times in Subtext magazine and online. Secondly, because it does seem that some feminist thought is moving away from the personal being political. Of course I agree that feminism should be focused on real change and on helping women but it's not always conceivable to be involved in such grand gestures which may promote this. Yes, as feminists we should be involved in addressing what some may be stressing are the more 'serious' issues to hand but I believe that such 'smaller' issues are also of importance.

The fact I have discussed the implications of being a feminist wanting to get married was because of it traditionally being at odds with equality. I think entering discourse as to why and how we can label a marriage as feminist is an example of tackling a small piece of the bigger picture. Deciding to be part of an equal marriage, or keeping 'Ms' rather than 'Mrs' may not be deemed radical or indeed important steps in the big scheme of things, but I believe that it's not always about these grand gestures. What would be the point of my attending rallies, signing petitions or squashing gender stereotypes in my lessons, for instance, if I then didn't examine the things closer to heart and address the potentially gendered mechanisms at work there? I do perhaps agree with those that groan at feminists who are arguing the point that wearing make-up because it isn't deemed feminist. I applaud those like Jessica Valenti who delves deeper in saying that 'yes I wear make-up' but acknowledges the connotations and issues around doing so (see Full Frontal Feminism) because there is the element of critical engagement in her thought.

My basic point here is that I don't see why the stress needs to be consistently on such visible, bigger feminist actions. Why can't we do both? I write about being a feminist and getting married but at the same time I am completing research on gender in mentoring relationships. I believe that the personal can still be political. If there are those who say it cannot then I will merely continue to address both.

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100 years of Girl Guides


This year is the centenary of the Girl Guides. I was a Brownie but never made it as far as the Girl Guides (the association seemed at odds with my increasing desire to become a rock star). I did love being a Brownie though and I think part of this was because it challenged preconceptions of what it meant to be a 'little girl'. At times yes, we indulged in activities and chores deemed female but there was a balance as we also were encouraged to take part in things that perhaps in our homes, or at school, would be seen as boyish (such as orienteering, camping, climbing trees). Brownies went well with my Enid Blyton world I guess, my nostalgic side sighs at the moves to modernise the association.

Where you a Brownie or Girl Guide? What are your thoughts?


For more on the Girls Guides Centenary see here.

Recent newspaper coverage at:
The Daily Express
The Guardian
The Independent
The Telegraph

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Less Airbrushing, more reality

A short one...

Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrat's proposals for improving the media's portrayl of women at Comment is Free.

x-posted over at Subext blog

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Lessons on Forming Nonviolent Relationships Really As Easy As ABC?

Today’s The Daily Mail reported on Harriet Harman’s initiative to tackle domestic violence through compulsory lessons on forming healthy relationships for children five and upwards. Before I explain my views on Harman’s proposals, I just want to comment briefly on the presentation of this news by The Daily Mail. The author of this piece seems to me intent on criticizing, and rallying criticism for, the initiative from the word go – the headline line alone begins Lessons about wife-beating at five which to me would suggest the article is going to be about something advocating wife-beating to children, immediately conjuring your distaste, instead of action to combat domestic violence. Secondly, again featured in the headline before even getting to the report, is the use of the expression yet another feminist initiative. ‘Yet another’ suggests disdain at the proposals from Harman and indeed any action in initiated by feminist beliefs. To actually label an initiative as ‘feminist’ suggests to me that people straight away are going to look disapprovingly on the idea because of the negative connotations of feminist/feminism. And the majority of the comments on the web-site with regards to this piece follow suit. So congratulations TDM firstly on the sensitive presentation of such a piece…

Onto Harman’s initiative and the body of the article itself…I can immediately see benefits and problems to this. When TDM reports that

Pupils as young as five will be taught about the evils of 'wife beating' and the need to form healthy relationships. The lessons are part of a controversial drive, unveiled today, to reduce violence against women and young girls. They will include teaching boys that they must not beat their partners or any other female.

I think hey! This doesn’t sound so bad! What is there not to like about a) teaching children about forming healthy relationships and b) reducing violence against women and young girls. Slightly off-putting the way it is deemed a controversial drive (because the notion of combating violence against women/young girls is way out there with, I don’t know, outlawing McDonald’s…) but so far looking good.

Last night, critics warned that ministers are cramming the already over-stuffed National Curriculum with lessons that should be taught in the home or in the community.

This has been an ongoing battle with PSHE. A colleague of mine, when speaking of the subject, would call it “PSHE…or things your parents should be teaching you”. In all honesty, yes it is things you should be taught at home/in the community as an important part of your growing-up but the argument is that this isn’t always being done. PSHE evolved from the early notions that education should be producing ‘good’ citizens socialized into the shared norms and values of our society (so New Right) and so of course when it was deemed that the family was not doing their part (government would cite rising statistics of single mothers/offenders as their proof for this) then the education system should pick up where the parents left off (or even out). I acknowledge that, yes, PSHE is largely what you should be taught at home/in the community (and which a number of us still are taught there) but that until we can ensure this is being done, the education system does appear the only means of attempting to ensure such teaching.

Putting it into practice further, the idea becomes less appealing:

The lessons will be part of the National Curriculum and are likely to be taught in Personal, Social and Health Education classes, which are attended by children from the age of five. Teachers will also be given new guidance on tackling 'gender bullying'.

Now I am not particularly convinced that firstly this would work in practice and secondly that it would have the desired effect. My first concern comes from my experience of teaching PSHE in Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14 approximately) which has demonstrated that the learners, on the whole, dislike the subject. It is not deemed academic; it is not an option which they pick for GCSE; it is not formally assessed as such – all these things contribute to learners not seeing any potential value to the subject (again, on the whole, as there are always a handful who put in the effort/work regardless). So my concern is that this may work in practice for a small minority, but not for the larger majority. Factor into this the impact the introduction of such lessons/curriculum has on teachers, and the education establishment as a whole. An added concern here is how such a sensitive issue would be approached. A year or so ago OCR removed the topic of Child Abuse from their AS-level Sociology course because of the implications of teaching such a sensitive topic and possible impact on learners. Wouldn't this warrant similar concerns?

The most eye-catching proposal in the document is the one to force schools to introduce statutory lessons in 'educating children and young people about healthy, nonviolent relationships'.

I love the idea of children and young people learning about healthy, nonviolent relationships but here we come to how I don’t think such lessons would have the desired effect. Making children and young people aware of violence against women may have positive aspects but as these lessons will not cover violence against men then I believe such lessons will run the risk of further instilling gender differences in young girls and boys. By acknowledging only violence against women and valuing this above violence against men, I believe we would only be purporting that violence against women is justified. If as young children we are brought into a discourse of violence against women I think this could potentially be internalized and acknowledged as we grow older that such violence happens against women, and not men, because of something fundamentally different in them. And though I am not saying this will mean the next generation committing violence against women as a result, I think this will result in further justification of women’s inferior position and treatment.

They pointed out the new classes will not cover violence against men, who are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime. This is despite evidence showing that boys and young men are more than twice as likely to fall victim to violence, and that young women are becoming increasingly aggressive.

I do agree with the criticism of the initiative not covering violence against men. Not because they are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime but firstly because of the argument I have expressed above and secondly because I think the commonly held assumption of, say, domestic violence as violence against women by men needs to be addressed. This is not going to be addressed by navigating away from discussion of violence against men in lessons focusing on healthy, nonviolent relationships. This then suggests that such violence is not important. Not only is domestic violence underreported by women, it is underreported by men who have been victims. Surely keeping the discussion of violence against men behind closed doors is not helping to correct such misrepresentation?

End Note: I am aware that I have focused my line of thought predominantly on domestic violence and it is slightly presumptuous (and hypocritical) of myself to have done so when talking about an initiative combating ‘violence against women’ (which was not expressed as merely domestic violence) and criticizing others for their assumptions on the same issue.

x-posted to Subtext

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