Jane Kenway, Sue Willis and Jenny Nevard
Our purpose in this chapter is critique, not as an end in itself, but as a possible stimulus towards new directions in our thinking on the issue of girls and schooling. We offer this study in the belief that as feminist educators we must be constantly and restlessly critical, not only of the implications of the sex/gender system for members of our sex, but also of our own discourses. For if feminism cannot criticize itself, it cannot 'serve as the bearer of emancipatory possibilities that can never be fixed and defined once and for all' (Elshtain, 1982, p. 136). Our focus is upon the self-esteem discourse as it manifests itself in discussions of girls' education. We believe it is important that a form of 'ideology critique' is conducted on this literature for the following reasons. Discourses often direct and affect our behaviour in subtle ways which we are not particularly conscious of and have wider social implications which, on quick inspection, are not apparent. Dredging such 'subtexts' to the surface provides us with a better sense of what we are meaning to others and to ourselves. It also allows us to ask whether this is what we intended to mean and, if not, what of our language, imagery, style, logic, etc. we need to change so that the effects of our politics may more closely resemble our intentions.
Let us first establish what it is that we wish to subject to critical scrutiny. The self-esteem discourse is a complex of interwoven strands, each having its own ongoing history. It consists of the research on self-esteem and on self-esteem and education, and the application of both to the study of girls and their schooling. More remotely, it also comprises the various theories, methodologies and ideologies which inform and help to structure this research (cf. Renshaw, Chapter 1 above). Arising from the research, often filtered through the media and constituting many distortions and simplifications, is popular thinking on the matter. Further, including both the research and its popular interpretation, along with hosts of competing ideas and interests, is state or federal government