Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Subtle Sexism

A paradox of Education is that if it's the key to professional success, why are women, who do better at school, paid less than men and less likely to attain senior positions?

The optimistic view is that the legacy of sexism is being swept away by well qualified young just hasn't happened quite yet. I am not convinced. It seems rather that while appearing to privilege girls over boys our education system actually continues to skew society in favour of men.

The thing our education system rewards is doing what you've been told, the way you've been told to do it. Submitting to authority in this way is an easier choice for girls because they face less cultural pressure to be rebellious. Boys have to walk more of a tightrope where they need a certain level of academic achievement, without which you're a loser with no job prospects, but they also need to rebel against authority to assert their masculinity.

In this way boys get worse grades but a better education. School is the last workplace any of us have where recompense is based solely on the quality of the work that's been done. Doing what you're told and waiting paitiently for a just reward is a great recipe for success at school and a terrible one thereafter. Those who've learned to follow the rules only so far as it's advantageous to do so are far better primed to get promotions and pay rises.

Of course sexism is a broader and deeper problem than can be tackled by schools alone. But until we teach young women to ask questions as well as answering them, schools are part of the problem not the solution.

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