Troubling Women: Feminism, Leadership, and Educational Change

Troubling Women: Feminism, Leadership, and Educational Change

Troubling Women: Feminism, Leadership, and Educational Change

Troubling Women: Feminism, Leadership, and Educational Change


Feminism as a social movement has historically been a force for educational change. However, in this book Jill Blackmore argues that the particular approaches taken by feminist theory towards educational leadership now require reviewing in the light of the radical restructuring of educational systems. This is because new forms of managerialism, while seemingly sympathetic to so called 'female styles of leadership', have produced a value shift which is troubling for many (but not all) women in leadership. The book provides an historical overview of educational management and the 'masculinist' models embedded in leadership and organizational processes, an analysis of equal opportunities policies and their different strategic approaches and effects, presents new research on how educational restructuring has produced specific dilemmas for women in educational leadership and finally offers a series of issues and principles which are premised upon centralised decentralisation and market liberalism. While situated in Australia the book will be of interest to both educational practitioners and policymakers as well as postgraduate students and academics in the field of administration, management and policy in all education systems.


Gender trouble is inevitable and the task is how best to make it and what best
way to be in it.

(Judith Butler 1990: vii)

Troubling women

Women have long been troubled by the notion of ‘leader’ and the images it conveys. In a casual discussion with two female principals the issue arose of how we, as women seen to be in leadership positions, ‘represented’ ourselves to others. Each of us recognized the importance of ‘naming’ ourselves, but no one descriptor could portray the multiplicities of self that we felt constituted who we were or could express all the contradictions we experienced on a daily basis of simultaneously being teachers, learners, mothers, daughters, partners, administrators, workers, leaders, and indeed feminists. I was particularly troubled by one principal’s depiction of herself as first and foremost ‘a leader’ who would one day take her skills into private industry. At first I was concerned by the potential loss of a good female principal to public education due to burnout. At another level I was puzzled by her uncritical acceptance of contemporary management discourses that portray leadership as a value-free practice or set of generic competencies that were readily transferable into any domain of activity. In particular, I was surprised at her rejection of the label of feminism, for her leadership practices had suggested otherwise. I wanted to ask: ‘What are the principles you wish to uphold? What ambitions and desires do you wish to fulfil other than the experience, the pleasure and pain of leadership itself? What are your criteria for judgement on how to act as a leader?’

My experience in schools during the 1970s and universities in the 1980s and 1990s has told me that change occurs in diverse and complex ways, and that leadership cannot be as readily identified and categorized as management theories suggest. As a young teacher, my personal and professional identity was closely bound up with radical pedagogies and teacher union activism, and not the least the women’s movement. Leadership was to me about working creatively with colleagues, sometimes subversively, to produce educational change and reduce social inequality, more . . .

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