Gender Equity in Education Term Paper

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Gender Equity in Education

Taking the Field: Women, Men and Sports (Michael a. Messner)

Chapters One, Two, Three & Five

Women and men are clearly different, in ways far beyond mere physical composition, as Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus discusses in deep detail. But, the author (Messner, 2002) of Taking the Field: Women, Men and Sports also wonders: where children are from, how children "do gender," how the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) does gender, and he wonders about the cultural symbolism of the process of sports. These are valid investigative questions.

Other questions posed by Messner: is gender a "thing" that one "is" or "has" - or is it situation-constructed through one's performance on the soccer field, for example? Those questions came to mind after the author witnesses the "Barbie Girls vs. Sea Monsters" soccer contest - with "boys...unwittingly constituted as an audience for the girls" team mascot Barbie statue ceremony prior to the contest. When the boys stopped just watching and chanting "No Barbie!" In response to the Barbie presentation, and in fact, physically invaded the girls space, it was "with the intention of disrupting" the Barbie show. And the parents saw this as rivalry between the sexes, not "social constructions of gender."

The Structure / Culture of Gender

The author views the parents' reaction as a failure to view the similarities of the boys and girls' actions; rather, the parents were saying, "They're so different." What is this due to? "An institutional context that is characterized by informally structured sex segregation among the parent coaches and team managers and by formally structured sex segregation among the children" (Messner, 9). And what does that long sentence really mean? Firstly, the children on the field mirrored the adults running AYSO: the board of directors (21 men, 9 women), head coaches (133 men, 23 women). And the person organizing the team parties was almost always a woman - showing that formal authority was mostly in the hands of men, while support roles fell into the hands of women. (One could carry this line of reasoning over to education, as well: the great majority of elementary teachers are women, but very, very few women move up the ladder of school administration to the superintendent's position.)

And secondly, as for the division of gender on the field of play, though boys and girls at ages 4 and 5 can run and kick the ball about equally, segregating soccer players by sex was/is done for social reasons. Is this bad? Is it evil? The author isn't saying that directly, but he notes that Latino and white boys are not segregated on teams by race, so why segregate by gender? It comes down to social traditions. The author clearly is opposed to carrying on such traditions, particularly when it's done purely for the sake of it being a tradition, and Barbie is the symbol of his scorn. Barbie is plastic, yet is promoted as "an icon...of true white womanhood and femininity," and yet, even the recently introduced doll, "Multicultural Barbie" (p. 16), "does not boot blond, white Barbie from center stage," he quotes Erica Rand as saying. All this information about Barbie is presented in the context of the separation of gender, the author continually emphasizes. Indeed, the day the author witnessed the soccer game between the Barbies and Sea Monsters, was a day which gave him a symbolic impetus to either add to what he had already written, or helped him launch a series of theories and arguments about gender in kids' sports.

Meanwhile, there is a clear paradox, he notes, of having a gorgeous, busty, tiny-waist / long legged Barbie wearing various career women "role-modeling and empowering message" clothing - since not all career women can look that beautiful. And that situation ultimately can, he continues, lead to girls growing up with eating disorders, becoming slaves to the fashion industry, and engaging in "compulsory heterosexuality." Does "compulsory heterosexuality" seem a bit extreme? Yes, perhaps, but some ideas and issues offered in this book are likely designed to stir up conflict and discussion, rather than appeal to a mass audience like the proverbial glass of milk matched with a stack of homemade cookies.

In Chapter Two, Messner asks a pertinent yet elusive question: "Are male athletes more likely than non-athletes to engage in acts of violence off the field, (p. 27) or when some athletes assault others are we just more likely to notice it because of their high-profile public status?" This book was written well before the alleged sexual assault on a Colorado woman by NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, and before the killing of Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy (allegedly by his roommate, Carlton Dotson) moved from the sports page to the front page. The author, meantime, points out that while African-American athletes seem to be in the news in a violent and negative sense more than non-black athletes, it may be (p. 29) because of "their dramatic overrepresentation in the central team sports...their positions at the center of athletics [author's italics] that make "certain athletes" - not just blacks - "more likely to engage in sexual assault than other men." This discussion of males in sports and their violence springs from the author's earlier point of dividing boys into masculine groupings, and girls into Barbie-doll feminine groups. This early childhood division by gender, the author goes to great lengths to discuss, apparently can lead males - and does indeed lead in many cases - to cruelty against women later in life, including: gang rape, acquaintance rape, sodomy, voyeurism, wife abuse. And also, readers must not forget the abuse men do to themselves, such as steroids, drug and alcohol misuse, and other ills.

The author, in Chapter Three, sees "an ironic outcome" of the success of Title IX: "In 1972, over 90% of women's programs were headed by a female administrator; by 2000, that had dropped to 17.4%" (p. 71), as women's college-level sports increased exponentially and males hustled to fill those administrative slots. That dynamic could easily and accurately be equated to the generally accepted male-female role structure in U.S. business; but the author doesn't go into that.

However, the author, in Chapter Five, does go into the "mass movement of girls and women into sports" - a phenomenon which has "empowered women in ways that have challenged and destabilized the masculinist center of American sport." And this destabilization of the "contested center" [masculine center] has "reasserted itself" (p. 137), he notes, by continuing to 1) "sex segregate" children, coaches, and sports media; 2) structure athletic programs "inequitably"; 3) "promote, justify, and glorify men's violence"; 4) promote "misogyny and homophobia"; 5) "render women athletes invisible in sports media..." Or "belittle them." And so, is this reflective of Andy Rooney's awkward comment about women reporting from the sidelines of broadcasts of NFL games - the "belittling" of women?

The author, in summation, says that adults should allow boys a more complete "range of emotional expression and connection with others" (e.g., girls), which will mean "fewer boys and young men" embracing the "homophobia, misogyny, and violence" that characterized the "current masculinist center of sport culture." While there is certainly truth to those remarks, many in and out of the sports world would argue that those values should be instilled in the home, by the family - not by decision makers in high school, college, and in the media.

Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls (Sadker & Sadker)

Chapters One, Three, Four, Eight & Ten

The authors begin Chapter One by asserting (Sadker & Sadker, 1994) that "the heart" of the "educational process" is creating "second-class educational citizens" of girls, through "loss of self-esteem, decline in achievement, and elimination of career options." The authors have come to this conclusion after twenty years of research grants and "thousands of hours" of observing classroom situations. "We remain amazed," they say (p. 1), "at the stubborn persistence" of "hidden sexist lessons." All this "unconscious bias" is not deliberate, they report (p. 3), but rather a case of "well-intentioned professionals...inadvertently teach boys better than girls." They allude to an NBC "Dateline" feature in which subtle bias against girls is rampant; playing the tape back over and over a viewer could clearly see that notwithstanding "both girls' hands and boys' hands waving for attention," the teacher chose "boy after boy to speak." The authors point to "textbook bias" - only men invented and discovered important things - and to a survey in Glamour where 74% of respondents say they had a teacher who was biased against girls in class. Indeed, the entire first chapter is a compilation of "devastating" instances of sexism against girls, where schools rob - "like a thief" (p. 13) - girls of their potential. Their bulleted points of evidence: girls "enter school but leave behind"; girls score lower in science and math on SAT tests, College Board achievement exams, law and medical school entrance exams; boys are more likely to…

Sources Used in Document:

Self-esteem is covered in Chapter Four, with plenty of statistics. In elementary school, 67% of boys said "I'm happy the way I am." But by high school, the percentage of boys agreeing to that statement dropped 21 points, to 46%. And for girls, the drop was more dramatic: 60% said they were happy about themselves in elementary, but only 37% answered "affirmatively in middle school" (p. 78), and only 29% in high school. The authors develop this theme throughout the chapter (titled, "The Self-Esteem Slide"), concluding with this: "The girl who once laid claim to the top of the slide does not go into the playground longer is she at the peak of her world...instead she walks cautiously, wary of the traps around her."

In Chapter Eight, the boys who rose to the top of the class in elementary now pay a price, and often "land at the bottom" in high school. And since boys have learned, from their "earliest days...a destructive form of division - how to separate themselves from girls," even though they now may fall short, they are still ahead of the game because "they are not girls."

These books are certainly legitimate and interesting, and clearly authentic works of scholarship. But if one is looking for a more thorough, more balanced view of boys and girls in the classrooms of 2003, and the dynamics created by social forces outside the classroom, further research might be advantageous.

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