The Elimination of Sexism and Stereotyping in Occupational Education

By Sayman, Donna M. | The Journal of Men's Studies, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

The Elimination of Sexism and Stereotyping in Occupational Education


Sayman, Donna M., The Journal of Men's Studies


They called it "BOCES." Until recently, I did not even realize it was an acronym. It really stands for "Board of Cooperative Educational Services," and represents the vocational education system for the State of New York. For me the name evoked images of young girls learning banal skills that would keep them enslaved to low paying jobs. This was not the educational track for me although the majority of my peers were enrolling in cosmetology, nursing, or secretarial programs in droves.

During the 28 years that have passed since I left high school, I envisaged vocational education as having evolved into a sophisticated, high-tech organization that allowed students to acquire knowledge that would equip them for the world of work. It is a truism that vocational schools, now more correctly termed "Career and Technology Centers" are updating their programs to a more rigorous standard that enables students to compete in a global economy.

Within this bright and promising hope of new technological promise is a dark side that reveals continued archaic practices of relegating women to training programs that guarantee a lower paying vocational future than their male counterparts. An inverse relationship is formed as men are still expected to choose specific occupations that continue a cycle of culturally produced gendered occupations.

The Problem

In American society schools were constructed to mirror the workplace. Experiences that reinforced prescribed sex roles molded and confirmed both by the traditional curriculum and by teacher expectations that were a subtle harbinger of social relations students would encounter when they entered the workforce. Concept formation of what is considered masculine and feminine was habituated in the classroom, through athletics, and in all unstructured activities. This hedonistic ideal was reified for young women and men in the media, the home, and especially in the structure of typical schools (Kimmel, 2000).

Years after the Civil Rights Act and other laws to assure equality were firmly in place, American women still found themselves marginalized socially and economically. They comprised the largest demographic living in poverty and yet continued to hold themselves responsible for their plight (Kincheloe, 1999). Studies that focused only on the barriers for girls and women failed to take into account the social and educational ramifications that dilemma held for boys and men. The problem of nontraditional career choice for men was not addressed or even recognized in current regulations as being an essential component of sex discrimination.

In order to break the cycle of poverty that continued to grow for women and children, educators needed to concentrate on eliminating issues that promote sex role specific occupations and ease avenues for boys and men wishing to enter nontraditional careers. To ameliorate the disparity for girls, it was necessary to understand the dynamics of how boys are educated and how occupations become unequally dominated by one sex group.

Career and Technical educational programs viewed themselves as breaking down barriers that promoted nontraditional occupational choice. A nontraditional occupation was defined as one that employs less than 25 percent of one sex (University of Hawaii, 2003). Statistics have shown that there existed a definitive gap in career technology education between boys and girls (Bostic, 1998-1999; Reese, 2002). Understanding the factors that influenced educational and career choice of women and men were crucial to discovering reasons for this inequity. Teacher styles and teacher/student interactions are still much the same today as they were decades ago. Equal enrollment in a classroom does not mean equal experience.

For decades researchers have examined how sex inequality in schools can affect academic and occupation choices for females. In his research to discover variables that influenced involvement in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering (SME) educational programs, Jerry Trusty (2002) suggested that differences in socialization and different interaction styles of the classroom teacher may influence whether girls as early as the middle school grades will pursue SME studies. …

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