The Dichotomy between the Concept of Professionalism and the Reality of Sexism in Teaching

Article excerpt

Gender is not difference, gender is hierarchy . . . the idea of gender difference helps keep make dominance in place. (MacKinnon, 1987)

American culture is accustomed to men exerting control over females. Perceptions of gender affecting the division of labor are deeply rooted in the culture, making progress toward genuine gender equality painstakingly slow. Discussions of the glass ceiling in various professions, industries, and organizations reinforce patterns of gender stratification that have persisted across occupations. Schools and teaching, like other social institutions and professions, cannot be free of the ideology that has shaped them for decades.

Barzun (1944) wrote, To be sure, there is an age-old prejudice against teaching (p. 10), within the same work in which he devoted a chapter to the subjection of women. The combination of the age-old prejudice against teaching with the subjection of women is ample reason to consider the status of female teachers in the United States and the professional status of the female -dominated teaching profession.

Such an analysis must avoid stereotyping and an overreliance upon anecdotal experiences. Gollnick (1992) noted that the categorization of any individual or any group of individuals by a single microcultural membership and the expectation of certain behaviors is inappropriate and often incorrect. Given even a low-level understanding of the complexity and diversity of the issue of gender inequality, an analysis of gender inequality and the correlate analysis of a category as large and diverse as women in the teaching profession is a hazardous undertaking.

Minow (1990) cautioned of the problems inherent in both considering and ignoring difference when she wrote of the dilemma of difference. She described the danger of stigma that ignoring and focusing on given differences can recreate: Decisions about education, employment, benefits, and other opportunities in society should not turn on an individuals' ethnicity, disability, race, gender, religion, or membership in any other group about which some have deprecating or hostile attitudes. Yet refusing to acknowledge these differences may make them continue to matter in a world constructed with some groups, but not others, in mind. The problems of inequality can be exacerbated both by treating members of minority groups the same as members of the majority and by treating the two groups differently (p. 20).

The now decades-old `revolution' in women's status remains one of the more compelling tales of recent change affecting U.S. society (Brines, 1994, p. 652). Brines and others believe the revolution is far from over. Despite substantial change in employment patterns and attitudes, division of labor based largely upon gender exists. This division persists despite John Stuart Mill's recognition of its inappropriateness over 100 years ago: There are no grounds for supposing that women are constitutionally so different from men as to be unsuited for broadly the same education and the same range of occupations; such natural differences as exist are complementary to, even corrective of, the aptitudes of men; other differences are due to social conditioning by which their nature has been `greatly distorted and disguised' (J. S. Mill, in Garforth, 1980, p. 132).

In a society in which women are not seen as valuable members of the workforce, reconstruction will be slow and controversial. The social construction of gender--patterns of childrearing; messages about independence, dominance, competence, sexuality, intelligence--is deeply embedded in the culture. Ideas about gender are intricately connected with the core culture's values, which are largely the result of the greater society's servitude to the interests of the powerful in society (Walum, 1977). Work to overcome the level of acceptance of the social construction of gender will require individual activism and governmental vigilance. …