The Gender Binary: Working Towards Uniqueness in American Education
In today’s society, the categorization of gender in our educational system is leading to a socialization of masculinity and femininity, which is reaffirmed by gender-biased curriculum, testing, and activities. By attempting to define gender, we, as a society, are ultimately attributing specific gender roles to males and females, and constructing a moral understanding of what behavior is tolerable for boys and girls en masse.
While gender-biased curriculums may be well disguised in many school systems, they are still inadequate forms of teaching, which often reinforce gender stereotypes, and unfortunately, go unchallenged. Educators throughout the nation need to devote more time to trying to decrypt traces of gender bias, which are discretely embedded within a plethora of textbooks and materials used in the classroom.
Many talk of embracing change and knocking down the gender barrier that preempts expression and opportunity, yet when the time comes to make a stand, they turn the other cheek and pretend our society is a utopia, where everyone is equal and no one is ever frowned upon.
Until bigotry and the intolerance for individuality is completely eradicated in school systems around the country, we can not expect the youth of our nation to grow up as agents of change. By failing to construct an adequate example of why gender stereotypes are nothing more than mindless pretense, we invite our children to conform to the confines of standardization and lack of differentiation that plagues our society.
When children grow up being constantly separated and categorized by their specific gender, they will inevitably fall into the deep pit of normality, where uniqueness and the expression of one’s inner self is a rarity. Their actions exude ordinariness, because their customary routines disallow them the ability to convey their true personas; the identities they may want to express, they must conceal, in order to fit into the monotonous ethical code our soceity makes mandatory.
What's "normal?" Image: Ivan Kopylov.
Even today, many schools have gender designated line formations or seating charts, and trying to find a school that doesn’t have gender-designated sports is next to impossible. In high school, a girl who wants to join the football team, or a boy that wants to join the volleyball team, are looked at as if they are a different species. A girl doing a male dominated sport and a boy engaging in a female dominated one, utter chaos, right?
This is what society has come to, and the sad thing is that we let it happen. Many politicians, teachers, and administrators talk of embracing change and attempting to knockdown the gender barrier that preempts expression and opportunity, yet when the time comes to finally make a stand, they turn the other cheek and pretend our society is a utopia, where everyone is equal and no one is ever frowned upon.
Many individuals grow up with gender-biased tendencies and don’t even realize it. They grow up with an unwarranted perception of what gender is supposed to be, and they conform to conventional gender roles inside the classroom, resulting in those roles being mimicked outside of the classroom. Mary and David Sadker argue that “boys were far more likely to receive praise or remediation from a teacher than were girls. The girls were most likely to receive an acknowledgement response from their teacher.” They also go on to argue that “teachers give boys greater opportunity to expand ideas and be animated than they do girls and that they reinforce boys more for general responses than they do for girls" (Sadker, 1994).
So by adopting gender-biased teaching styles, these educators are treating boys and girls completely differently, and in turn, they will treat each other differently because of what they are being taught. Females tend to praise each other for the way they look or how they do their hair, while boys praise each other for getting the winning touchdown or the highest score in Call of Duty.
Society, as a whole, needs to stop labeling activities, trends, and appearances as “male” or “female.” In fact, one could argue that by allowing girls to do more boy activities and vice versa, it will not only broaden the eligibility for participation, but will enhance the overall value and distinctiveness of the given activity.
The educational system in this country isn’t the only thing that invites gender bias without admitting it – the news media is also persuasive when it comes to influencing our views on gender. The countless forms of media in existence today work to manipulate our consciousness on a daily basis; they encapsulate our lives, while embedding stereotypical messages in our brain by conveying pictures of impractical and formulaic celebrities and icons. The media limits our perception on what is right and wrong, proper and improper. These images of celebrities are essentially interrogating our brain, stage-managing us into believing that we must look like them, and act like them, in order to enhance our own habitual progression.
Gender bias in the media makes us believe that in order to achieve economic mobility and climb the social latter in this country, we must dye our hair blonde, get a six-pack, or gel our hair back. Although, what is not readily transparent is the fact that individuality and uniqueness stem from the inner ability to accept who you are and wear it like a suit of armor. If we can teach kids from an early age that acceptance is the key to success, instead of mere conformity, then this world would be a much better place.
Sadker, M and Sadker, D. (1994). Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.