The Search for Gender Equity Regarding Literacy in the Classroom


Amanda Keddie and Martin Mills wrote an article in 2007 that discussed concerns about teaching gender equity to students, titled “Teaching for Gender Justice.” I chose this article because I thought it had an interesting feature in that it did a study and interview on two opposite teaching methods about gender issues. The article then made comparisons based on the two styles of the teachers. The study takes place in Queensland, Australia. The article points out that there is a discrepancy between the literacy ability of boys and girls. It lists several foundations that contribute millions of dollars to programs that would enhance the education of boys. Keddie and Mills state that placing boys as a special group does not address the problems; rather, it only makes the gender disparity more obvious and harder to fix because of the promotion that exists (para. 5).

The study shows that a male teacher, Brad, and a female teacher, Jennifer, both find ways to address the issue of engaging boys in schoolwork. Brad uses a friendly approach that shows he is involved with his students outside of the classroom. However, this approach also forces him to establish who is the “alpha male” in the classroom, and exploits negative behaviour to the girls in the class. While he manages to engage the boys in the classroom, he becomes unsuccessful at engaging the girls, as well. Jennifer’s approach shows her students that there are stereotypical ideas of what it means to be an Australian male, and that it is okay not to conform to that image. She shows that male dominance is harmful to both the males and females in the class. She uses her readings and curriculum materials to teach about gender equity through critical analysis of the text. She also “challenge[s] the relations of entitlement or privilege associated with traditional masculinity […] such as the tendency for boys to dominate” (Jennifer’s philosophies and practice, para. 1). The article concludes by implying that while Brad had good intentions, his way undermined students and Jennifer’s was preferred because she taught her messages with critical texts, discussed male dominance and addressed stereotypes.

The main idea that arises from this reading is that gender equity can be addressed both professionally and unprofessionally, and that it is important to recognize that it marginalizes groups of people. Keddie and Mills claim, “Affirmative gender politics […] in working to valorise gender specificity, tend also to [re-inscribe] essentialised constructions of masculinity and femininity and homogenise multiplicious identities associated with, for example, sexuality, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity” (para. 5). This means that promoting gender differences can marginalize people because it forces males to identify with certain masculine ideologies, such as being a heterosexual man with a dominant attitude. Gender differences also allows them to overlook any privileges received based on gender, which can lead to more privileges based on race and social status. Keddie and Mills also point out that one image that is associated with masculinity is underachieving in academic areas, because “working hard and being diligent [are seen] as ‘feminine’ and ‘other’” (para. 8). The idea that a man can strive to succeed in school is not accepted as masculine in some places, and is stereotyped that only girls and people of other races can get good grades. The two methods in this study achieve a common goal of engaging the male students: “Brad does so by reinforcing dominant constructions of gender, whilst Jen seeks to problematize such constructions” (para. 11). Brad manages to gain popularity with the boys, and therefore interest, but it is Jen who discusses the subject with her students and engages them in critical analysis.

The idea that gender differences can marginalize people resonated with me because of the evidence shown, and personal expedience. The article says that Brad had a hard time connecting with the female students and engaging them, and that it became such a problem that it was required to have a female coordinator in order for the girls to relate. I remember my own high school experiences with popular younger male teachers. While it was easy for him to connect with the boys on his sports teams, the boys who were not in those extra-curricular activities and the girls sometimes found him hard to approach because of his attitudes. I feel that Jennifer’s stance on gender equity is more appropriate than Brad’s, and it sends a clear message on an important, yet often unmentioned, subject. That is not to say that I disapprove of all of Brad’s ideas. I agree with Brad that it is important to form relationships with students, and have respect towards one another. Jennifer also shows respect to students and their views, as well as challenging stereotypes, inspiring students to get past these narrow ideas, and discouraging behaviour that marginalizes gender differences. I think this is very important, and difficult to teach without the aid of critical texts, which she uses. It would be great to be able to balance Brad’s technique with Jennifer’s, so that students feel a connection and learn a valuable lesson.

I hope that when I am a teacher I can find resources that show male dominant privilege, feministic viewpoints, and challenge stereotypes. Since Jennifer taught English, which is my area of specialty, I am confident I will be able to find the sources appropriate for my lessons. In addition, I would like to take more gender-based classes that would teach me more about these viewpoints, and also how to incorporate them into my lessons. I looked at several classes and think that Sociology 212 would be an excellent choice because the course focuses on gender, femininity, and masculinity. Sociology 313 is another course devoted to feminism, and it would be helpful. A great collection of classes to take to learn more about gender equity would be Women’s and Gender Studies. I would like to try taking some of these classes because gender equity is still a major issue and should be addressed in classrooms. I think gender equity workshops would also be a good resource for learning more about this topic, and it would be beneficial for students to participate in a workshop and hear guest speakers. I would also like to invite an Elder into my classroom to bring connections with Aboriginal learning for students and discuss the important roles both genders play in their society.

This entry was posted in Social Justice, WGST 100: Introduction to Women's and Genders Studies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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