Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Smart Girls, Hard-Working Girls but Not Yet Self-Assured Girls: The Limits of Gender Equity Politics

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Smart Girls, Hard-Working Girls but Not Yet Self-Assured Girls: The Limits of Gender Equity Politics

Article excerpt

Higher levels of girls and women's participation in targeted areas are widely apparent, particularly in affluent and middle-class sites. Here, we report on research with young middle and upper middle-class high school girls successfully enrolled in non-traditional advanced placement (AP) courses in mathematics, science, and computer programming in a suburban school district in Midwestern USA. Focus group inter-views with 45 of the highest achieving students in this affluent suburb revealed salient inequities and lingering impediments in the struggle for women's equality. Likewise, the limitations of gender equity politics are evident in the coopting of discourse of privilege and individualism.

Key words: girls' achievement, secondary schools, girls in advanced placement study, AP classes

Une presence accrue des filles dans les cours avances de mathematiques, de science et d'informatique au secondaire est manifeste, surtout dans les milieux aises aux E.-U. et dans d'autres pays occidentaux. Cette recherche quantitative, effectuee aupres de jeunes filles de classe moyenne ou superieure inscrites dans des cours de niveau avance de mathematiques, de science et d'informatique au secondaire dans un arrondissement scolaire du Midwest americain, revele des inegalites importantes et des obstacles persistants dans la lutte des femmes pour une pleine egalite, ce qui montre les limites des politiques en faveur de l'equite entre les sexes.

Mots cles : equite entre les sexes, filles et mathematiques avancees, cours de science, cours d'informatique, filles et science, cours de mathematiques


Gender equity in education evolved from political work that sought overall to illuminate gender bias and widen access for girls and young women in school programs. In the USA, the effort was fueled by the publication in the early 1990s of the groundbreaking report, How Schools Shortchange Girls, which exposed wide systematic inequities in girls' education in American schools (American Association of University Women, [AAUW] 1992). It detailed evidence of biased teaching practices, curricular omissions, sexual harassment, unfair testing procedures, and limited access to or lower participation of girls in certain school subjects and programs (AAUW, 1992, 1998; Bryan, 2000; Sadker & Sadker, 1994).

Gender equity advocates have long targeted intervention efforts in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs in secondary and higher education. This effort was considerably hastened in the early 1990s when the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded more than 90 million dollars for programs and research in this area (AAUW, 2004). Their efforts continue to attend to the persistent shortage of women and girls in STEM fields and the need for increases in girls' and women's participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Spears, Dyer, Franks, & Montelone, 2004).

Underlying this push for girls' participation in STEM is the central belief that successful academic engagement in these fields of study in high school and college may lead to more lucrative careers for women. Such efforts would result in wider career opportunities for women, a reduction in the persistent salary gap between the sexes, and more female representation in top management (Betz, 1994; National Science Foundation, 1996).

In truth, girls' and women's participation in STEM has increased in recent years as a result of these efforts (Darke, Clewell, & Sevo, 2002). Girls are as likely as boys to enroll in advanced life sciences such as biology and anatomy or advanced mathematics classes. However, they are still much less likely to enroll in advanced physics or computer sciences (AAUW, 2004), and their overall achievement in all these academic areas continues to lag behind their male counterparts (AAUW, 1998, 2004). …

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