Women in the US Education System

There is no argument against the fact that women have been oppressed in the United States educational system and in general — being that they essentially didn’t have a “voice” until the 19th amendment. In the early years of America, girls were only allowed to go to public school and receive education for limited amounts of time, and even then their education was tailored toward maternal and household skills — many times only being taught how to read, being writing was an unneeded skill. While we have obviously made improvements since then, it is the perpetuation of suppressing women and girls that is most concerning.

With a quick history lesson, we see that the system has been slow to accept that women are of equal intellectual capabilities — only recently in our history with the passing of Title XI in 1972 was it made illegal to discriminate against a person on the basis of their sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. Yet on the local level, many school districts have their own quirks to discriminate subtlety against girls. Our most prevalent example would be that of school dress codes.

Hearing dress codes in a public school typically has a negative connotation, and for good reason — its restrictions are typically heavily directed toward girls. Most school’s reason for dress codes is so that male teachers and peers aren’t distracted from their work. This is a clear attitude enforced by male hegemony oppressing the simple expressions of girls at school. Instead of conditioning males to value women equal to their own, the educational system prolongs the ideals of patriarchy and male superiority.

Best put by Gretchen Whiteman, “punishment for dress code violations makes girls feel guilt; and in the event of a sexual assault, ‘conditions boys to victim-blame women later in life ’”. Within having strict dress codes on girls in school there is an implicit notion that a boys education is more important than theirs.

I took the liberty of making a poll and asked the simple question: Have you ever been dress-coded at your public high school? I add the option to comment on their experience and the choice to disclose their gender identity.

The findings were unfortunately unsurprising. Women and girls were 6 times as likely to report being dress coded. In addition to this, half of those who commented stated in some way or another that the reasoning for their violation was because their clothing was “distracting”. This only goes further to show this egregious systematic targeting of dress codes against women and girls. Note and disclaimer: I did not point out that more than half of the girls responded said yes, as the sample data may be skewed due to there being a greater desire to report dissatisfaction on the topic.

In taking a look at the pay gap between men and women a study done by Economics of Education concluded that “female teachers’ average annual personal wage income is $52,362 compared to $59,186 for male teachers. Among administrators, the pay gap is even larger, with female administrators making $69,657 compared to $91,365 for male administrators”. While it is noted parts of these wage differences may be due to other variables, primarily the ability to bear a child, the most likely determination is because of another instance of men having an upper hand and access to leadership positions (higher-paying jobs) — even while the field of work is majorly dominated by women.

Women are also oppressed on the operational/administrative level in education. While 76% of the employed workers in the educational system are women, only 42% are at the top administrative, superintendent level. This yet again points to male dominance over women — as we have seen for over 200 years in this country.

Works Cited

The Condition of Education — Preprimary, Elementary, and Secondary Education — Teachers and Staff — Characteristics of Public School Teachers — Indicator May (2020). National Center for Education Statistics. (2020, May). https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_clr.asp#:~:text=About%2076%20percent%20of%20public,school%20level%20(36%20percent).

Fox, D., Gmeiner, M., & Price, J. (2019). The gender gap in K-12 educator salaries. Economics of Education Review, 68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.econedurev.2018.11.004

US Department of Education (ED). (2020, January 10). Title IX and Sex Discrimination. Home. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/tix_dis.html.

Whitman, G. M. (2020). A Curricular Critique of School Dress Codes. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 93(2), 72–77. https://doi.org/10.1080/00098655.2020.1721415

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