March 18, 2014, by melissayoong

Gender in the Classroom

A few students had recently brought up the topic of boys’ underachievement in education, particularly the role of feminism in contributing to the issue. Many studies have found that other factors, such as ethnicity and social class, have a more significant impact on educational attainment than gender, and while the debate about this is very interesting, I’d like to focus on one gender-related topic that could affect a student’s achievement: the performance of conventional masculinity and femininity in the classroom (and may I add, this is an area that the feminist movement has been contesting and struggling against in the wider society).

9207webAlthough biological essentialism (i.e. the notion that men and women are “how they are” – and different – due to genetic makeup) is still alive in certain segments of society, there is increasing scientific evidence against this. Gender stereotypes are being challenged, and within the academia, there is a strong belief that gender is socially constructed.

So, in this blog post, I’d like to invite students to consider how they may be unconsciously conforming to positive stereotypes – or avoiding negative stereotypes – as they construct their gender identities and perform masculinity or femininity – and if this could perhaps be hindering their academic achievement.

For example, group work is a vital component of our students’ formative assessment here at CELE, and as we know, having a good leader is important for a successful group project. Moreover, being a leader helps the student develop interpersonal and strategic skills that will be very useful in their future careers. However, I’ve encountered female students who shy away from leadership roles because they do not want to be perceived as ‘bossy’. I’d like these women to challenge such labels as well as the traditional image of the deferential and accommodating female – the people-pleaser – and realise that it is not wrong to be opinionated and outspoken.

Some male students, on the other hand, do not want to be perceived as the ‘teacher’s pet’ since this is ‘uncool’. This sometimes leads them to adopt a detached persona in the classroom, such as by sitting at the back of the class and refusing to interact with the teacher or engage with the lesson. Therefore, just as with the female students, men also need to be aware of the male gender roles that are being enforced on them and how these could be affecting their classroom behaviour and educational attainment.

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