Gender Disparity: A Classroom Issue
– Mandira Adhikari
Gender disparity means not having equality in terms of gender, either in language use, equal participation in educational program or in the form of textbook or curriculum itself. We can find disparity in different aspects and it is most commonly found in classroom interaction. Similarly, various researches have shown that we can find gender biasness even in the interaction between the teachers and the students. As Freeman and Mcelhynny, (cited in Mckay & Hornberger, 2009) put, especially in teacher fronted classes, the amount of interaction between girls and boys can be defined by the teacher because he/she is the one who defines students’ role and can change the dynamics in the classroom. Thus we can say that the teacher is a person who can provide identity of the students inside the classroom. Wardhaugh (2008) says, gender is a key component of identity (p.316) and if the teachers are focused in the language of a group, another group is left out. Focusing on the place of women in society, Lakoff ( 1973) says “ in every aspect of life a woman is identified in terms of the men she relates to but the opposite isn’t true of men as they act in the world as autonomous individuals but women are only ‘John’s wife’ or ‘Harry’s girlfriend’. Thus, women’s social identity believed to be is related with that of the men to a large extent.
In the area of applied linguistics, we can find gender disparity because of the use of sexist language. The term ‘sexist language’ means the use of language focusing to a certain gender and not indicating to the other gender. Holmes (2008) says, “Sexist language is one example of the way a culture or society conveys its values from one group to another and from one generation to the next” (p. 317). Thus, we can find the trend of repeating the same sexist language generation to generation as a process and the reason behind it is the use of such sexist language. She further says that language conveys our attitudes and sexist attitudes stereotype a person according to gender rather than judging on individual merits which encodes stereotyped attitudes to women and men. In this way, she has clearly mentioned why the use of stereotyped language helps to develop negative attitudes to the particular gender and if we are habituated to using such language, we happen to use it regularly because we have already developed our attitudes with the help of such language.
Similarly, focusing more on the user of the language, Wardhaugh (2008) asserts that the disparity and the use of sexist language depend on a person. The Chinese, Japanese, Persian and Turkish do not make the kinds of gender distinctions English makes through its pronouns but it is difficult to claim that males who speak those languages are less sexist than males who speak English. So, a teacher using such language in the classroom must be aware.
By and large, the issue of gender is a global issue and can be found discussed in various parts of the world and even in our Nepalese context. Let’s analyze our own context regarding gender disparity.
Gender Disparity in School
School is a place where the learners come from various social backgrounds carrying their own social identities. Freeman and Mcelhinny (cited in Mckay & Hornberger 2009) suggest that in school children come to understand their social identity relative to each other and relative to the institution. They further say that although schools are not only responsible for teaching students their gender-differentiated social roles, they often reinforce the subordinate role of girls and humans through curricular choices or classroom organizations that exclude, denigrate and/or stereotype them. Thus, we can say that the source of gender disparity lies in the curriculum and it further comes as a reading material which helps learners(especially girls or females) to stereotype them.
Gender Disparity in Textbooks
Various researches have shown that there is imbalance of using language in terms of gender, especially in textbook. Fatemi, Pishgham & Hidarian (2011) conducted a research on gender delineation in high school textbooks and pre-university ELT textbooks and revealed a clear gender imbalance, both in text and illustrations in favor of males. Similarly, Hartman and Judd (1978) reviewed a number of textbooks for the purpose of assessing the image of women and men that they present to the student and found out that women suffered most obviously from low visibility and in most cases male referents heavily out- numbered the female.
I found through a study that in terms of using language inside the classroom or in different books articles, there is biasness. I tried to analyze the primary level textbooks used in Nepalese schools. I prepared a checklist to analyze whether the use of language of those textbook is biased or not. I selected a book entitled Delights a Multi-genre Reading Course in English’ by Deepa Shakya, Bunu Dhungana and Nina Amarasinge to analyze whether the writers are concerned about the matter of gender or not.
The cover page of the book has altogether four pictures where an adult male can be seen with a boy and an adult female can be seen with a girl. There is the involvement of both male and female gender in the picture and the book isn’t biased in terms of picture in cover page. I then looked at both pictorial and verbal aspects of the book’s contents. In pictorial part, I analyzed the pictures using two categories:
- Adult (male or female)
- Child (boy or girl)
I analyzed the content part in three different categories:
- Main characters refer to male or female
- Authors (male or female)
The writers have used 11 pictures of male adults and 3 pictures of female adults, which clearly shows the disparity in using pictures in the textbook. Similarly, we can find altogether 8 pictures of boys and 7 pictures of the girl. In this way the book is biased in terms of gender in pictorial part.
In the verbal part, the author of the first lesson isn’t mentioned but it has got male main character. The author is a male in unit two and the picture of a boy clearly helps us to guess that the main character of this unit is male. Third chapter is concerned with nature thus; the main characters are both. The Fourth chapter is also devoted to male. The fifth chapter has both characters and is written by a female author. Similarly, the sixth chapter contains the picture of a male and is by a male author. The content choice therefore shows a disparity in consideration of gender. It implies that the sense of masculinity is dominant in the text book while the space for feminine gender is literally underestimated and limited.
The analysis of primary level textbook has revealed a clear gender imbalance both in the texts and illustrations in favor of males. This type of imbalance is the prominent factor which must be considered in every policy and publication to reflect equality between males and females.
A shift towards the way of creating the equality among the genders in education ensures the social and individual confidence particularly in female students. This will help in the social uplift of females in the future. So, curriculum planners should broaden their view towards gender roles and stereotypes. This equally applies to text book writers, who I believe, should be careful while dealing with gender in their textbooks.
[Mandira Adhikari is a Masters in ELT scholar at Kathmandu University]
Fatemi, A. H., Pishghadam, R., Heidarian, Z. (2011) Gender delineation in high school and pre- university elt textbooks: a criterian- oriented approach to text. The Iranian EFL Journal, 7 (3).
Hartman, P.L.,Judd, E.L.(1978) Sexism and TSOL materials. TESOL QUARTELY, 12 (4).
Holmes, J. (2008). An ntroduction to sociolinguistics. Longman: Pearson.
Lakoff, R. (1973). Language in society. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Mckay, S. & Hornberger, N. (2009). Sociolinguistics and language teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Wardhaugh, R. (2008). An introduction to sociolinguistics. London: Blackwell