Sexism in School

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Paulina Cid Vega, Sociologist, M.A. in Gender and Culture  Ministry of Women and Gender Equality / Translated by Patricio Novoa

The educational process in Chile reproduces traditional roles, expectations, and gendered practices. This reality is hard to make explicit, because of the difficulty of highlighting what has essentially become normalized and, therefore, accepted socially and culturally.

Visiting educational institutions to observe classroom practices reveals what numerous investigations and texts about sexism have concluded with regards to school environments: girls receive less stimulus, they often raise their hand, without getting any attention, as if they didn’t exist, and many teachers believe that girls are just not very good at mathematics. On the other hand, boys who answer questions and participate in class receive more stimulus and positive reinforcement.

The school curriculum, the programs of study, the textbooks, and the actual teaching that takes place in the schools are full of practices and ideas that tend to minimize women and their potential role in the country’s development, and they downplay unpaid domestic work and homecare, which is an integral part of the productive chain and of the sustainability necessary for life in any society.

This situation has an impact on the lives of girls, boys, and adolescents, reproducing to a greater or lesser extent unequal relationships and disparagement between the masculine and the feminine, all of which affects friendships, relationships, decisions about what majors to pursue in higher education, careers, and life in general.


Thus, for example, women who go on to higher education opt for areas of study that are extensions of the work done in the domestic sphere or in the care for others—like education or healthcare—while men are overrepresented in areas of study that have to do with technology, such as engineering.

Even if one of the consequences of sexist education is the disseverance of career choices, the emphasis should be on what kind of country we want.

The consequences of a culture that still treats women—their social, economic, and political practices—as subordinate bears on the economic development of a country, since these reinforce the conditions that lead to ineffectual participation in the job market for women, poverty related to women, violence towards women—sexual harassment on the street or erotic passivity in relationships—scant female participation in representative politics, and finally to more extreme outcomes like femicide, the homicide of women due to their condition and gender.

In the last twenty years, Chile’s education system has achieved much that has gone unnoticed in public opinion.  Examples of this include the sustained growth in preschool registration, the increase of total years of schooling, and the massive incorporation of new generations into the technical schools and universities, with women representing a higher proportion of the students compared to men—51.6% of the total enrolment in 2015.

What is it, then, that is being questioned about the Chilean education system?

What is being questioned is the gap and the differences that exist between the education provided to men and that which is provided to women, which are based on the degree to which men and women are socialized and adhere to the rigid parameters of femininity and masculinity—the socioeconomic conditions they are born into can also be added as a factor.

Today, “educational quality” is one of the most important elements under discussion, which leads us to the question of what is understood by quality.

The existence of standardized instruments of measurement, both national and international, like the SIMCE and the University Selection Test (PSU), reveals that quality is part of a curricular ideology where the assessments of standardized educational achievements in specific areas of study are favoured—such as language and mathematics.

However, there is recognition, thanks to the government’s educational reforms, that the social environment is also fundamental in defining what quality is.

A system of inequality gains its legitimacy from an evaluation system that is based on the premise that inequality of learning outcomes is the result of the differences in the individual performances and personal merits of each girl, boy, or adolescent.

This excellence, and meritocracy, is then carried over to the university selection process, by means of the University Selection Test (PSU).

In fact, the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OCDE), in their latest 2013 report about higher education in Chile, points out that one of the weaknesses of the admission process is precisely the bias that affects students of low income families, or who graduate from municipal schools—this constitutes a major barrier for women.

This situation is confirmed by the higher numbers of women enrolled in the universities that are not part of the Council of Rectors (CRUCH), and which are seen as less prestigious by the job market.

Meritocracy, from the point of view of access to higher education and to the job market, is based on instruments that are biased in favour of one type of human being: males from high income families, and from private schools that reproduce the privileged class.

It is urgent, then, for the public policies of inclusion, which form the basis of the current education reform, to correct this overemphasis on values like excellence and merit, which promote exclusion and reproduce the social inequality of a social order based on strict gender norms, ignoring everything beyond and anything that transgresses them.

All of this leads us to conclude, from within the Ministry for Women and Gender Equality, that this merits not only a profound criticism of the social and political disadvantages of women, but also of a social and economic order that is facilitated by a curriculum, by programs and by educational evaluation instruments.  That is why we have proposed moving forward towards a kind of cultural change that places gender equality as the keystone for all public policies.

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