Academic journal article Family Relations

"The Glass Ceiling Is Kind of a Bummer": Women's Reflections on a Gender Development Course

Academic journal article Family Relations

"The Glass Ceiling Is Kind of a Bummer": Women's Reflections on a Gender Development Course

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study was to explore women students' experiences and reactions to a core Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) class cross-listed with Women's Studies (WS). Using 6 focus groups with 22 women, we found that the course increased awareness of gender (Theme A) but was limited partially because of patriarchical beliefs, evidenced by acceptance of sexism (Theme B) and men as central (Theme C). The beliefs were manifested in how students interacted with course material, which was predominately through rejection of the course (Theme D). Using skill theory framework, we explain our findings through the interplay of the environment and students' cognitive skills. Implications for HDFS/Women's Studies cross-listed courses are discussed.

Key Words: feminist pedagogy, gender life span development, internalized sexism, undergraduate curriculum, Women's Studies.

The call for infusion of feminist perspectives in the Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) curriculum was put forth in the early 1990s (e.g., Allen & Baber, 1992; MacDermid, Jurich, Meyers-Walls, & Pelo, 1992) and discussion of the importance of and how to teach from a feminist perspective in HDFS reemerged in Family Relations about a decade later (e.g., Baber & Murray, 2001; Blaisure & Koivunen, 2003; Humble & Morgaine, 2002). Suffice to say, other scholars have clearly articulated the need for and the critical role feminist theory, content, and pedagogy have in HDFS undergraduate education. Yet, in 2008, our experiences as instructors in HDFS classrooms raise concern about the extent to which the "feminist revolution" (Allen & Baber) has actually taken place within the HDFS curriculum (Sharp, Bermudez, Watson, & Fitzpatrick, 2007).

In the past few decades, the social climate of the United States has served to depress feminist thinking, with key feminist writers arguing that a return to traditional, conservative gender ideologies has been especially pronounced in the aftermath of 9/1 1 (e.g., Faludi, 2007; Ferguson, 2005; Tickner, 2002). Indicative of the rise of neoconservatism are policies of the Bush Administration, including efforts to weaken Title IX, the resurgence of The Defense of Marriage Act, as well as the instability of the Roe vs. Wade ruling. These and other policies are grounded in notions of traditional gender ideologies and a backlash against gains made through the feminist movement. The rhetoric accompanying such policies has affected the academy as well, with "liberal" professors and programs facing high scrutiny (Minnich, 2005).

How has the current social climate affected the goal of infusing feminist content, theoretical considerations, and the use of feminist pedagogy in HDFS? We sought to partially answer this question through an examination of women students' experiences of taking a cross-listed HDFS/Women's Studies (WS) course. We have taught a sophomore-level HDFS course, entitled "Gender Roles: Life Span Developmental Perspectives" for several years. In a previous publication, engaging in reflexivity, we discussed our feminist pedagogy, classroom climate and dynamics, and our experiences teaching the Gender Development course (Sharp et al., 2007). Working on that article, we realized how little we knew about the students' experiences. Gleaned from students' strong reactions during class, in their papers, and from talking to individual students during office hours, we had only a partial and disjointed sense of what was happening. In response, the purpose of the present investigation was to explore female students' experiences and reactions to a core, required HDFS class cross-listed with Women's Studies.

The course examines gender development throughout the life span. The textbook explores development from conception to adolescence, and we supplemented readings for adult development (we offer a more detailed description of the course in Sharp et al. …

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