The Gendered Curriculum - Producing the Text: developing a poststructural feminist analysis

Year: 1993

Author: Weiner, Gaby

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Until relatively recently, the changes and solutions put forward by feminist teachers and other educationists to challenge patriarchal relations in schooling and in education more generally (for example, for girls to do better at science or for school books to be non-sexist) have tended to be perceived as relatively unproblematic. The main struggle has been how best to get gender inequalities (alongside other social aspects of educational inequality) high(er) on to the educational agenda. Concern about how to generate, implement and sustain change has been of less interest. However, after a decade or so of, admittedly patchy, feminist activity in education in the UK, the gains that have been made seem relatively modest. What has emerged is that where change has occurred it has tended to be restricted to relatively visible factors such as course content or staffing patterns; the success of initiatives has depended on the continuing and active commitment of individuals; and where 'activists' have left or 'burnt out', or when local policy priorities have changed, there has been an apparent reversion back to 'normal' sexist practices. In order to understand the reasons for this, it is my view that we need to move beyond the easy answer or the rational solution and look much more closely at education to see how the 'normalising' and 'regulative' aspects of dominant discourses operate to subvert attempts at fundamental change. This paper sets out to do this by exploring current understandings about the curriculum as gendered, and as a set of discursive practices in which girls and boys, teachers and pupils, different racial groups are differently and variously constituted as powerful or powerless, good or bad, feminine or masculine, workers or mothers etc. It will start with a discussion of the value of poststructuralist analysis in understanding how gender relations are inscribed (or imprinted, etched) within curriculum practices and then consider three examples of how such an analysis can be helpful. Two of the studies concentrate on specific subject areas, though in different sectors of education: Walkerdine (1988) explores pre- school and early school maths and Thomas (1990) investigates how subject areas, science and humanities in particular, are constructed in higher education. The third considers the relationship between policy and text in a study of British national curriculum documentation: in particular, the form of knowledge produced, how multiple closed texts have been used, the likely effect on present gendered meanings within schooling, and the utilisation of curriculum by government for political and rhetorical reasons (Burton & Weiner, 1990, Weiner 1993). The final section suggests an educational politics arising out of poststructural feminism which will also go some way to refuting the criticism that poststructural feminism is likely to be ineffective within feminist politics due to its inability to put forward a viable political programme.