Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A victory for women?

In the last couple of years I have heard the same piece of interesting news over and over again in the Danish media: More women than men (in Denmark) get a higher education. According to the website of the Danish Department of Education in 2006 26.806 women and 16.864 men[1] were accepted to an institution of higher education. And furthermore, the percentages of women accepted are highest in the areas of education were a high grade point average from high school is required. This, apparently, is due to the fact that girls on average get higher grades than boys both in high school and lower secondary school.

I have discussed this phenomenon with my parents numerous times. My mother is a kindergarten teacher, and from her own experience she believes that parents demand more of their daughters than of their sons. If a boy has trouble concentrating in school parents will often say: “Oh he is a boy. A seven year old boy is supposed to have trouble concentrating in school. All boys are like that.” And then they let him off more easily than they would a girl.

I tend to agree with my mother’s view. You would never hear a grown-up say the above quoted sentence about a girl, because that is not how we expect little girls to behave. On the contrary, if a girl has problems concentrating, her parents will probably think there is something wrong with her.

This stereotyping regarding the behavior of small children can probably have severe consequences for a girl, who has trouble concentrating in school, since she will be regarded as unusual since she does not conform. But I think that the consequences are much more serious for boys. The stereotyping, in my experience (which, I admit, is not that great) only affects few girls, while it affects thousands of boys in a very serious way. Because letting boys off too easily when it comes to school work actually deprives them of a fair chance to a good education. The foundation of a good education, and with it a good life, is laid very early on, and many grown-ups, parents and others, do not realize that.

The fact that more women than men get a higher education seems like a victory for feminism. And of course in a way it is. But it seems like less of a victory when you think about the reason why it has become this way. Because, if what I have written above is true, women have not gotten their bigger share in the market of higher education by fair competition, but by the fact that they are actually favored in the educational system, since they are raised to conform to it better. And I do not think that that is what we want, because it has too serious consequences for men and for society as a whole.

One of the consequences is that some educations risks being regarded as “women’s educations”. Today it is already like that with many shorter educations like that of nurse and kindergarten teacher. But that might also be the case for educations that today are not regarded as “women’s educations”, since educations where a very high grade point average is required accept a very large percentage of women. These are for example medicine (67 percent women in 2006), psychology (81 percent women in 2006) and law (62 percent of women in 2006).[2]

Another problem is that even though there are more women with a higher education in the work force, the really high paying, high prestige jobs are still held by men, even in the areas where there are a very high percentage of women such as law and medicine.[3]

The large percentage of women taking a higher education is a good thing from a feminist point of view. Of course it is. But it also creates and reveals other problems concerning the equality in education and work for women. The large percentage of women in higher education is a good start, but we are certainly not there yet. However, well begun is half done.

1 comment:

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

I find the notion that we expect less of little boys very interesting -- especially as the mother of a fairly rambunctious almost-four-year-old. My hunch is that we do expect less (and perhaps others), in the classroom/education context, from our sons. You've given me a heads up, Anne, which I hope means I won't do that.

Of course, the equally sobering news here -- especially for women -- is that men still ultimately get ahead, particularly in the uppermost echelons of government and commerce. Maybe both parts of this have to do with the bonding that goes on around sports . . . perhaps Ruthann will chime in with some thoughts on this.