Through feminist informed understandings of injustice, this paper draws on significant research to re-articulate prevailing issues of gender inequity within and beyond the contexts of education in Australia. Following a location of the unconvincing but pervasive warrant for boys' issues to dominate the gender equity scene, the paper turns to a discussion about locating and leveraging strategic points of intervention for transformative gender just educational policy and practice. New and emerging policy environments, more receptive to educational research, that address issues of economic and cultural marginalisation in new times are argued to offer generative spaces to reinvigorate crucial gender debates associated with post-school pathways and social outcomes. Foregrounding feminist concerns in these areas is presented as central to constructing strong policy frames that can better address issues of gender, economic marginalisation and cultural disadvantage. The paper then turns to a discussion about how radical re-envisionings of curriculum and pedagogy, to reflect issues of distributive and cultural justice, might work to dismantle and transform the inequitable power relations and underlying frameworks that generate gender injustice within and beyond the contexts of education. The paper concludes by illustrating the imperative of drawing on transformative gender justice lenses to evaluate and, in particular, anticipate the limits of particular reform agendas and interventions.
The first is socio-economic injustice which is rooted in the political-economic structure of society. Examples include ... economic marginalisation (being confined to undesirable or poorly paid work or being denied access to income-generating labor altogether), and deprivation (being denied an adequate material standard of living) ... The second understanding of injustice is cultural or symbolic. Here injustice is rooted in social patterns of representation, interpretation, and communication. Examples include cultural ... nonrecognition (being rendered invisible by means of the authoritative representational communicative, and interpretative practices of one's culture); and disrespect (being routinely maligned or disparaged in stereotypic public cultural representations and/or in everyday life interactions).Through these lenses, while the problematics of discussing 'all females' and 'all males' as distinct and separate groups are acknowledged, it is clear that gender justice is by no means a reality. As feminists and pro-feminists engaged in schooling we might begin to define our goals within a framework that draws on these understandings of injustice. This framework recognises that females as a group, relative to males as a group, in Australia and beyond, remain socio-economically disadvantaged through structures, systems and practices that privilege males and the 'masculine'. Traditional divisions of labour within the public and private spheres, for example, continue to generate gender-specific modes of exploitation, marginalisation and deprivation through lower salaries; over-representation in part-time work; increasing and unprecedented levels of welfare dependency; fewer career opportunities; and a greater share of domestic responsibilities for females (Ailwood, 2003; Fraser, 1997; Lingard, 2003; Hayes, 2003; Summers, 2003; McLeod, 2004a). Women as a group, relative to men as a group, also suffer cultural and symbolic injustice within an enduring patriarchal society that continues to devalue and demean activities connoted as feminine. This devaluation persists in generating unacceptably high levels of sexual assault and exploitation; a pervasive culture of domestic violence; the trivialising and objectification of women and the under-representation of women in all areas of public life (Brabazon, 2002; Fraser, 1997; Summers, 2003; McLeod, 2004a).
The sphere of education reflects these injustices with the generation and perpetuation of structures and practices that privilege the 'traditionally masculine' such as staff hierarchies (that reflect an over-representation of males in positions of authority and power), the hierarchical organisation and division of curricular and extra-curricular activities and the gendered nature of teacher practice (Alloway, 1995; Connell, 2000; Kenway & Fitzclarence, 1997; Gilbert & Gilbert, 1998; Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003). Within this context, girls tend to suffer relative to boys in terms of post-school options. Here, for example, girls are at a socio-economic disadvantage because they do not enjoy the same opportunities as boys in terms of vocational education and training programs. Further, while girls' retention rates are now greater than boys, as a result of their subject selection and, in particular, their under-participation in specific 'high-status' curriculum areas, girls do not benefit from the same vocational choices and security as boys (Collins, Kenway & McLeod, 2000; Hayes, 2003; McLeod, 2004a). Indeed, to compete equally in the labour market, Collins et al (2000) found that females required more education than their male counterparts. Moreover, as a reflection of broader society, girls and women in schools continue to be subject to unacceptably high levels of sex-based harassment and abuse (Ailwood, 2003).
Essentialising females as a disadvantaged group grossly oversimplifies issues of equity and social justice, nevertheless, this essentialising has some strategic defensibility within the context of Fraser's understandings of injustice. Against this backdrop, we can construct an affirmative feminist agenda that seeks redress for gender injustices on the basis of a theory of both economic redistribution - "ensuring access to opportunities and material resources", and cultural recognition - "cultural and social diversity and respect" (Fraser, 1995, p.9). Importantly though, this strategic lens, through focusing on injustices in relation to economy and culture, allows a nuanced approach to the issue of disadvantage - one that acknowledges that gender interplays with other identity relations in ways that compound disadvantage.
Feminist and pro-feminist work in education has, of course, been approaching the issue of gender disadvantage through nuanced lenses for some time (Collins et al, 2000; Ailwood, 2003; Lingard, 2003; Hayes, 2003). Here the importance of a 'which boys/which girls?' approach is clear in nuanced readings of performance data that tell us that the most accurate predictors of educational disadvantage in Australia are poverty and indigeneity (Collins et al, 2000; McLeod, 2004a; ABS, 2004). Despite these predictors compounding issues of disadvantage for both boys and girls in education and despite the broader masculinist socio-political discourses that amplify these issues of disadvantage for females, essentialised accounts expressing concern about boys' poor educational performance are the most common refrain in dominant equity discourses (Hayes, 2003; Lingard, 2003). This common refrain "...centres boys' needs, sidelining many issues still to be adequately addressed for girls" (Ailwood, 2003, p.19). Alarmingly, these concerns about boys are often justified as issues that must be addressed as matters of social injustice (Mills, 2003; Hayes, 2003). Drawing on Fraser's framework for understanding injustice, this remains both worrying and indefensible.
Amplifying the dislocation of social justice issues from their broader socio-political contexts, a presumptive equality is now the dominant tenor of gender equity policy and practice (Ailwood, 2003; Hayes, 2003; Lingard, 2003). This presumptive equality (after Foster, 1994), characteristic of our most recent national policy statement - Gender Equity: A Framework for Australian Schools (MCEETYA, 1997), for example, is seen as signalling the 'endgame' for national girls' educational policies (Ailwood & Lingard, 2001). While, according to Lingard (2003, p.45), Gender Equity "...held off the worst elements of recuperative masculinist politics, [it] ... also placed boys very firmly on the gender equity agenda..." Certainly this text, and more obviously, other gender 'equity' statements since, reflect the 'boy turn' in the gender debate (Weaver-Hightower, 2003), the downstreaming and mainstreaming of gender reform in Australia (Blackmore, 1997; 1999) and the reality that, "...in policy terms, girls are no longer identified as a specific 'equity target group'" (Henry, 2001, p.88). Rather, both boys and girls are positioned as equally but differently disadvantaged in schools. This presumptive equality "...eschews any recognition of structural disadvantages and power differentials experienced by women as a category..." (Lingard, 2003, pp.35-36) and can be seen as legitimatising an essentialist "...discourse of competing victims that should be considered rather unhelpful in terms of equitable change for either girls or boys" (Ailwood, 2003, p.25).
Fuelling the 'boy turn' in the gender equity debate, a competing victims approach (after Cox: see for example, Cox, 1995) has been a media favourite that has worked to generate panic around boys' schooling performance (Lingard, 2003). Here reductionist accounts of gender and crude indicators of success and failure (such as those associated with easily quantifiable standardised tests), have promoted a 'failing boys' discourse and a sense that all girls are now outperforming all boys (Epstein, Elwood, Hey & Maws, 1999; Gilbert & Gilbert, 2001). Often boys' underperformance in English tests, for example, is presented as a major concern. However, as Hayes (2003) and other commentators (Rowe, 2004) continue to point out, this is not a new phenomenon - boys as a group have trailed girls as a group in English over the past 100 years. Moreover, this 'outperformance' in English does little to advantage girls post school (Collins et al, 2000).
The 'boy-turn' and reductionist discourses of current gender equity debates are, to be sure, also made possible through broader socio-political structures and practices. Certainly the essentially neo-liberal tenets driving the processes of a globalised economy can be seen, in an Australian context, to generate legitimacy for these discourses. Taylor and Henry suggest that the ascendancy of these tenets, and in particular, the "... increasing emphasis on markets to drive educational provision, [the] devolution/decentralisation of schooling systems [and] a focus on outcomes rather than inputs as a policy and funding lever ..." (2000, pp.1-2) is highly regressive for social equity. Here, a de-regulated environment of competition, reduced funding, and the pressure of 'market advantage' is seen to be incongruent with producing enhanced equity outcomes (Taylor & Henry, 2000; Gillborn & Youdell, 2000; Connell, 2002).
Against this backdrop, as Lingard (2003, pp.36-37) points out, "...equity has been rearticulated in respect of performance conceived in a particular fashion, that is, performance as measured by standardised tests and university entrance scores." This culture of 'performativity' has resulted in a strong focus on the measurement of literacy and numeracy outcomes. Indeed, as Taylor and Henry (2000) highlight, strong foundational literacy and numeracy skills are seen as a panacea in current Commonwealth policy for addressing issues of academic and social disadvantage and are key accountability mechanisms through which the state retains regulatory control over schools. Here, literacy is constituted as a "...surrogate for other forms of educational inequality..." (Taylor & Henry, 2000, p.6). Thus, in a context where market forces are driving school priorities classroom environments are characterised by an overemphasis on management, basic skills and narrowly defined understandings of success and achievement (The State of Queensland, 2001).
These socio-political discourses have made possible the overwrought concerns with boys' schooling performance. The rearticulation of equity to stress, particularly, literacy outcomes, has enabled a re-presentation of boys as educationally disadvantaged. Similarly, the discourses of performance and competition have legitimised other concerns about boys such as their poorer rates of retention relative to girls. Moreover, from the early 1990s these concerns have been amplified within a backlash context fuelled by public discourse, particularly the media, against feminist gains in education (Hayes, 2003). Nonetheless, as a response to the generally unconvincing but pervasive warrant for boys' issues to dominate the gender equity scene, feminists have been compelled to adopt a defensive rather than offensive stance in defending past policy gains for girls and holding off the worst ravages of recuperative masculinist politics (Ailwood, 2003; Hayes, 2003; Lingard, 2003).
...away from a reductionist focus on outcomes towards a broader analysis of how educationally acquired capital has material consequences in individuals' and communities pathways through and via emergent economies and institutions (2003b, p.98).This policy moment has generative implications in terms of negotiating spaces for gender justice that will transform the narrowly defined discourses currently pervasive in distorting issues of equity in education. Feminist and pro-feminist research that documents how changing demographic patterns continue to impact on issues of cultural and economic gender injustice will be instrumental here in reconceptualising the culture of performativity and map of gender equity. More specifically, the current receptiveness of policy to educational research in the areas of poverty, new demographies and cultures, available capital in social fields, life pathways, fair and unfair patterns of access and employment and changing economies and institutions (Luke, 2003b), provides a context to re-invigorate crucial gender debates associated with post-school pathways and social outcomes (McLeod, 2004b).
Key feminist research (Allard, 2004; Bullen & Kenway, 2004) that documents how issues of poverty, isolation and social and cultural capital interact to constrain the school experiences and future life options of particular groups of females will be instructive here in shaping policy agendas that seek to redress issues of economic and cultural gender injustice. The demands for a re-envisioning and designing of senior school trajectories to reflect new pathways and institutional partnerships (Pitman, 2003; Luke, 2003b), for example, will provide a context for new policy agendas to address the relationship between school performance and post-school patterns and experiences, and more specifically, the gendered patterns of subject selection and vocational pathways that contribute to economic marginalisation for many females (Collins et al, 2000; McLeod, 2004b). Associated work (Allard & McLeod, 2003) that investigates the disadvantages particular groups of females experience in relation to the gendered dimensions of early school leaving, will also be instructive in these policy debates, particularly as this work highlights the importance of addressing the impact of the social, emotional and relational dimensions of schooling (McLeod, 2004b). Reviving the significance of these dimensions certainly resonates with continued feminist and pro-feminist calls for a re-focus on social outcomes in gender policy and practice - calls often generated in response to the enduring prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse within our schools and broader local and global communities. Importantly, these calls can and should be situated within changing demographic patterns that reflect cultural and social disarray and illuminate the imperative of social cohesion in globalised and diverse socio-cultural environments (Luke, 2003b; Milojevic, 2003; Taylor & Henry, 2000).
Against this backdrop we can see that the dynamics and broader socio-political contexts that shape the current policy environment provide spaces for reviving crucial gender debates. Reviving these debates will be imperative in constructing a strong redistributive and redressive policy frame that can better address issues of gender, economic marginalisation and cultural disadvantage through initiatives and strategies that move beyond a presumptive equality to recognising the structural disadvantages and power differentials experienced by women as a category while also recognising that gender identity intersects with other aspects of social identity (namely socio-economic status and cultural identity) to compound issues of disadvantage for many females (Allard & McLeod, 2003; Fraser, 1997; Collins et al, 2000).
In meeting the requirements of justice for all, Fraser (1997) challenges us to think about alternative conceptions to remedies based on theories of redistribution and recognition. In moving beyond these remedies she talks about the imperative of a theory and politics of transformation. Here the aim is to remedy social disadvantage through problematising and restructuring the underlying frameworks that generate such disadvantage. Crucially such transformative politics in relation to gender disadvantage will recognise the centrality of problematising and restructuring the power inequities of hierarchical gender dichotomies. More specifically, as Fraser (1997, p.30) articulates, a transformative politics aims to replace inequitable gender hierarchies with
... networks of multiple intersecting differences that are demassified and shifting [where] ever-new constructions of identity and difference are freely elaborated and then swiftly deconstructed ...Through these conceptual lenses and within a policy framework that is moving towards professional interventions which reflect a sustainable focus on pedagogy and curriculum, rather than management and accountability (Luke, 2003b), redistributive and cultural gender justice may be pursued in transformative ways. In terms of redistributive justice and the crucial gender issue of post school pathways this would mean disrupting and transforming particular gendered structures and pathways within and beyond school and in terms of cultural justice and the issue of social outcomes this would mean disrupting and transforming gendered patterns of recognition and respect (Collins et al, 2000). To these ends, professional interventions would need to recognise diversity and difference through promoting multiple ways of being masculine and feminine but within an affirmative and discerning critical framework that seeks to problematise and transform the gendered ways of being, practices and structures that limit and constrain students' lifeworlds and future pathways. In other words, transformative gender justice will seek to question and challenge the social processes and structures that construct inequities through the privileging of 'the masculine' and marginalising of 'the feminine' but also seek to transform these inequities through the proliferation of alternatives that do not re-inscribe relations of domination. Of course, these sorts of professional interventions in pursuing the goals of gender justice reflect key research and writing in this sphere (Alloway, 1995; Alloway, Freebody, Gilbert & Muspratt, 2002; Collins et al, 2000; Davies, 2000; Lingard, Martino, Mills & Bahr, 2002; MacNaughton, 2000; Kenway & Willis, 1998; Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2003) and thus are far from new. However, in further articulating what a transformative gender justice agenda might look like (and drawing on the understandings of redistributive and cultural justice articulated earlier), this paper adds to this research and writing in evaluating some of the key curriculum and pedagogical reforms and initiatives that currently seek to address issues of social/gender justice in education within Australia.
Earlier this paper articulated how gender inequities are endorsed and perpetuated within the sphere of education through structures and practices that privilege the 'traditionally masculine' - structures and practices such as staff hierarchies (which reflect an over-representation of males in positions of authority and power), the hierarchical organisation and division of curricular and extra-curricular activities and the gendered nature of teacher practice. In terms of generatively and transformatively responding to new configurations of diversity (including new configurations of gender diversity), Luke (2003a) calls for alternatives to compensatory programs or tactical fixes that attempt to modify existing systems. Resonating with Fraser's ideas for transformative justice, he argues for a transformative social justice through a 'radical re-envisioning' of curriculum and pedagogy. His involvement in constructing the key Queensland state curriculum and pedagogy initiatives, the New Basics Project and the Productive Pedagogies (The State of Queensland, 2003; The State of Queensland, 2001) are certainly reflective of this call and can be seen as particularly generative in addressing issues of gender inequity in transformative rather than compensatory ways.
In terms of the potential to transform the hierarchical and gendered organisation and division of curricular areas, for example, we might see frameworks that re-imagine the traditional eight discipline areas, such as the New Basics as disrupting and transforming the privileging of 'the masculine' through organising content knowledge to reflect key social issues and questions that draw on the skills of particular disciplines rather than being constrained within the outmoded, artificial and gendered knowledge boundaries of the eight key learning areas. The New Basics Project, a framework of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment that is currently being trialled in fifty-eight Education Queensland schools, organises curriculum knowledge as follows.
In terms of transformative gender justice and teacher practice, the Productive Pedagogies framework (the mandated pedagogical framework for state education in Queensland) has also been presented as potentially generative (Keddie, 2005; Lingard et al, 2002). This position draws on the understanding that quality pedagogy is central to improving students' academic and social outcomes (The State of Queensland, 2001). The Productive Pedagogies provide a scaffold to recognise and engage with student difference in intellectually demanding, socially supportive and connected ways. In this respect the framework is designed to integrate social justice issues within, rather than separate to, the pedagogical process through all four of its dimensions, intellectual quality; connectedness; recognition of difference; and supportive classroom environment (The State of Queensland, 2001).
In terms of transformative gender justice, the focus on the problematising of knowledge (a pedagogy in the dimension intellectual quality) for example, provides a platform for critically analysing and challenging the power inequities that construct gendered knowledge; the focus on valuing non-dominant cultural knowledges and inclusivity within an environment of social support and mutual respect (pedagogies within the dimensions recognition of difference and supportive classroom environment) provides a platform for recognising and valuing multiple ways of being male and female in respectful but also critical ways; and the focus on connecting with students' life-worlds and biographies (pedagogies within the dimension connectedness) provides a platform to explore issues of gender and identity through connecting with students' interests, preferences opinions, cultures, emotions and sense of self (Alloway et al, 2002).
Teachers drawing on key threshold knowledges in the area of gender and schooling is, of course, imperative in enacting the New Basics and Productive Pedagogies in such transformative ways (Martino, Lingard & Mills, 2004; Keddie, 2006), for example, in ways that value multiple masculinities and femininities but do not re-inscribe relations of domination and restrictive understandings of gender. In this respect, the gender justice capacities of these frameworks necessitate a critical approach to the issue of cultural recognition - one that recognises "...those claims for the recognition of difference that advance the cause of social equality from those that retard or undermine it..." (Fraser, 1997, p.5). Nevertheless, these frameworks exemplify how radical re-envisionings of curriculum and pedagogy to reflect issues of distributive and cultural justice (Luke, 2003a) might work to dismantle the inequitable power relations that privilege traditional masculinity and masculinist modes of relating and transform these relations to reflect more equitable "...networks of multiple intersecting differences that are demassified and shifting..." (Fraser, 1997, p.30).
The Australian Government is committed to helping all young Australians achieve strong educational outcomes. Research shows that overall, while many boys in Australian schools are doing well, boys are not achieving as well as girls across a range of educational and social measures.In analysing this brief overview, we can see at least two assumptions that may be interpreted as particularly constraining in terms of pursuing a sustainable and transformative redistributive and cultural gender justice. Firstly, its focus on boys only ignores the injustices that many at risk and disadvantaged girls still face in schools; and secondly its selective (and strategically indefensible) use of the 'competing victims' frame to legitimise this focus on boys, essentialises gender and achievement and reduces gender equity to school success, thus ignoring any recognition of boys' and men's relative economic and social advantage within and beyond the school environment. Further the proposal to improve boys' educational outcomes through the three intervention areas: positive male role models; literacy teaching and assessment; and information and communication technology throws up some key contentions in terms of potentially re-enforcing gender injustices.
Boys are more likely to drop out of school early and less likely to go on to university than girls. Boys achieve lower literacy scores and are more likely to experience discipline problems than girls.
Success for Boys aims to support schools across Australia to improve boys' motivation, engagement, and learning outcomes. Success for Boys will focus particularly on supporting boys at risk of disengaging from school through addressing three key intervention areas:
- Giving boys opportunities to benefit from positive male role models and mentors
- Literacy teaching and assessment
- Using information and communication technology (ICT) to engage boys in learning (DEST, 2005)
These three curriculum and pedagogy related areas within the sphere of gender and education have prompted significant debate and disagreement. Indeed, the high visibility of these areas within gender debates can be seen as generated from the outcomes-based reductionist and partial accounts of boys' issues and supposed disadvantage referred to earlier. As such, many reforms that predominate within these areas draw on reductionist and partial ideas of boys' ways of being. For example, in relation to positive male role models, interventions to increase the number of male teachers in boys' lives are often underpinned by an understanding that 'feminine' and 'feminised' school environments disadvantage boys and that more male teachers would somehow work to fix this 'problem' (Mills, Martino & Lingard, 2004). Similarly, many reforms put forward to improve boys' educational outcomes in the areas of literacy and ICT can be seen as drawing on reductionist assumptions about boys' supposed 'natural' (or biologically determined) behaviours and learning orientations (Martino et al, 2004; Keddie, 2005). Within the context of boys continued and enduring domination of space and resources in both these areas, 'boy-friendly', essentialist and prescriptive strategies, such as increasing 'masculine' curriculum content, resources and teaching styles are familiar (Alloway, 1995; Keddie, 2006; Francis, 2000; Gilbert & Gilbert, 1998; Lingard & Douglas, 1999; Martino et al, 2004).
While certainly such reforms and strategies might be developed and pursued in gender just ways (that move beyond blaming and essentialising), Success for Boys' broader aims and intervention areas in responding to an incomplete and partial understanding of gender and disadvantage will likely generate reforms and strategies that will also be incomplete and partial (such as those listed above). Reforms more likely to generate compensatory initiatives or tactical fixes that sit within existing systems, rather than initiatives that transform the inequities of existing systems (Luke, 2003a). To be sure, unlike the New Basics Project and Productive Pedagogies Framework, the aims and interventions of Success for Boys cannot defensibly be associated with a redistributive and cultural gender justice (in relation to issues of economic marginalisation and cultural recognition and respect), and in this regard, the program sits on a weak and unconvincing platform. Indeed, Success for Boys in further enabling boys' issues to colonise the space of gender equity, particularly in the intervention areas of male role models, literacy and ICT, rather than areas associated with social outcomes (for example, exploring, challenging and transforming harmful understandings and enactments of masculinity), is more likely to re-inscribe, rather than transform the broader social systems, processes and structures that privilege 'the masculine' and construct gender inequities.
In terms of constructing sustainable approaches to improving boys' (and girls') educational outcomes in socially (gender) just ways, anticipating the limits of such large scale programs through transformative lenses is imperative. Importantly, while we can and should critique such programs through these lenses, articulating their limitations also allows us to strategically and generatively locate them within broader frameworks that reflect transformative (redistributive and cultural) gender justice. In this respect, for example, to refer to the intervention areas of Success for Boys, the issue of increasing the number of male role models and mentors in boys' lives would be understood as positive only if it signalled a dissolution, not perpetuation of gendered and masculinist hierarchies and ways of being (Gilbert & Gilbert, 1998). Similarly, interventions that focus on literacy teaching and assessment and the increased use of information and communication technology would move beyond essentialist and prescriptive approaches to approaches that are understood within the context of quality pedagogy and, more specifically, within the context of supporting high levels of intellectual quality, connectedness, recognition of difference and social support (The State of Queensland, 2001).
The dynamics of new and emerging policy environments within an Australian context can be seen as offering generative spaces for gender justice, particularly in relation to the receptiveness of policy to educational research in the areas of poverty, social capital, life pathways, patterns of access and employment and changing economies and institutions, and the move towards professional interventions that reflect a sustainable focus on pedagogy and curriculum, rather than management and accountability (Luke, 2003b). These dynamics provide a platform to redress issues of post-school disadvantage and social marginalisation through a re-envisioning of pedagogy and curriculum in ways that transform, rather than affirm, existing inequitable systems and structures (Luke, 2003a). Strategic points of intervention will involve a re-envisioning of curriculum and pedagogy within a distributive and cultural justice that dismantles the inequitable power relations that privilege traditional masculinity and masculinist modes of relating and transforms these relations to reflect more equitable and gender just ways of being.
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|Author: Dr Amanda Keddie is a postdoctoral research fellow within the School of Education at the University of Queensland. Her research interests involve gender, poststructural feminism, transformative pedagogy and social justice. Email: email@example.com
Please cite as: Keddie, A. (2006). Negotiating and enabling spaces for gender justice. Issues In Educational Research, 16(1), 21-37. http://www.iier.org.au/iier16/keddie.html