Re: Opening Statement - Deborah Brake

Tim Benham (
Thu, 23 Apr 1998 01:08:40 +1000

Deborah Brake <> (DB) writes:

DB> I'm afraid that your summary of the status of girls and women in
DB> education misses the forest for the trees. While women have achieved
DB> access to higher education and are graduating from college in record
DB> numbers, there are still very significant barriers. For example:

DB> -women remain underrepresented in traditionally male
DB> fields, especially in such areas as math and sciences, engineering
DB> and computers; also, women's representation declines as you go up
DB> the educational ladder -- for example, women get only 39% of all
DB> doctorate degrees;

Brake alleges "there are still very significant barriers", yet this is
not a barrier, it is a statistic about outcomes. That cannot
demonstrate a barrier ipso facto. The fact of women's declining
achievment "as you go up the educational ladder" could have many
possible explanations. In any event the proportion of men who obtain
doctorate degrees is very small, so presumaly the number (if any) of
women who are being unfairly denied access to them is correspondingly
small. The disadvantages affecting men and boys strike a much larger
proportion of the population.

DB> -women and girls experience sexual harassment more
DB> frequently than men and boys, and with greater detriment; such
DB> harassment is often severe enough to drive women out of particular
DB> education programs or out of school entirely;

That could indeed be a barrier, but sexual harassment has come to be
defined so broadly and loosely that no-one knows for sure when it
hasn't happened or what should be done when it has, so objective
meaurement of the problem is impossible.

DB> -vocational education remains highly sex-segregated, with
DB> women clustered in low-wage, traditionally female tracks;

Once again, that is not a barrier.

DB> -women have not achieved equality in employment in
DB> education: although women are 73% of high school teachers, they
DB> are only 35% of principals; women are 30% of college faculty, and
DB> remain in lower faculty ranks at all levels of post-secondary
DB> education. Women head only 13% of all educational institutions;

The relevance of this to the demonstration of "very significant
barriers" to accessing higher education is even more obscure.

DB> -studies continue to show gender bias in learning
DB> environments, with less attention, praise and encouragement given
DB> to female students;

Other studies find that this is not so and any surfeit of attention
enjoyed by male pupils is largely of the negative kind and that high
achieving female students get disproportionate amounts of praise. See
for example several articles in the collection "Gender Influences in
Classroom Interaction" L. Wilkinson & C. Marrett (Eds.).

Valerie E. Lee, Xianglei Chen, and Becky A. Smerdon, "The Influence of
School Climate on Gender Differences in the Achievement and Engagement
of Young Adolescents"; Washington, D.C.: American Association of
University Women Educational Foundation, 1996, found that gender
differences among eighth-graders were minor and as likely to favor
girls as boys, and that girls were ahead on such key measures of
academic engagement as school attendance and class preparedness.

Given boy's generally worse educational position such differential
treatment could be justified if it existed.

DB> -pregnant and parenting students face particular barriers
DB> to getting an education;

They may, but so do professional chess players and circus
performers. In either case the status in question is uncommon amongst
beginning tertiary students, largely voluntary and the difficulties to
some extent inevitable.

DB> -we don't have enough room to discuss the well-documented
DB> discrimination against girls and women in school and college
DB> athletic prgorams.

J. Zimmerman found space and I replied.

DB> All of these areas, and more, are summarized more fully in a
DB> gender equity report card issued on the 25th anniversary of Title
DB> IX by the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.
DB> The report card is online at
DB> As for your description of Title IX, it's a bit too simplistic.
DB> While you accurately quote the statute's main prohibition against
DB> sex discrimination, Title IX also permits affirmative action on
DB> the basis of sex where it is deisgned "to overcome the effects of
DB> conditions which resulted in limited participation by persons of a
DB> particular sex." See 34 CFR 106.3(b). Special programs for girls
DB> may often be justified under this standard.

So too could special programs for boys.

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