I just read a rather convoluted editorial in Tuesday’s Aamulehti, concerning gender equality in education and the pay gap. The editor-in-chief, Jouko Jokinen, proposed that wages would rise in traditionally low paying women’s jobs in fields like healthcare and education, if more men could be lured into the traditional women’s professions.
For one thing, isn’t it pretty pathetic if the only way to raise wages in traditional women’s fields is to populate them with men? I’d rather see a raise in teachers and nurses’ wages, not because at least 40 % of teachers and nurses are suddenly men, but because those jobs are demanding. Finnish teachers are highly educated professionals who work hard in a stressful environment and who have a huge responsibility of not only the education and the upbringing of their pupils, but also of their safety and wellbeing during the school day. And I hardly need to tell you about the workload and the responsibility of the low paying women’s jobs in healthcare.
I raised my second objection to this editorial when it turned out that the editor-in-chief wasn’t really interested in raising women’s wages. All that talk about the pay gap and equality was just a Trojan horse hiding his real worry, which was the alarming number of female students in universities. The fact is, the majority of Finnish university students are female, and have been for over 10 years, if not 20. Women hold the largest majorities in disciplines like languages and arts, psychology, sociology and medicine. Only the technical universities have, and I quote, “stood their ground.” Against women.
It’s not the same what words you use when you talk about these things. When Jokinen says technical universities have “stood their ground,” he makes it quite clear that he thinks having large numbers of female students in universities is a bad thing, something that should be opposed. And now we get to the bottom of this. Jokinen thinks there is something sinister and wrong in the way girls are doing so well in school. Thanks to their greater success in school, girls are better equipped to compete for the admittance to universities. The result is, more girls than boys pass the entrance exams.
The assertion that there is something wrong and unfair about girls’ academic success comes up from time to time. On the surface of it, yes, it does seem unfair that girls are raking in the academic achievements while boys are barely passing their exams. But it’s a fallacy to claim that the school system itself is somehow responsible for this. Historically, schools and universities have been the domain of boys and men. Since women’s emancipation, both genders have had the right to an education, but education hasn’t been changed to favour girls on the expense of boys. Sure, teaching and studying methods have changed over time, but the change has been to accommodate the short attention span of modern pupils. That doesn’t detract from boys’ chances to success. If anything, it should add to it.
As a teacher, I can promise you that schools do nothing to make boys into under achievers, and girls are not to blame for the boys’ poor success, either. There are no gender quotas for good grades, so girls are not “hogging” the success. Everyone who works hard and performs well gets a good grade. No matter how many girls get top grades, the boys can get the same grades – if they do the work.
As a teacher, I can also tell you that boys tend to do less work than girls. Obviously this is a generalisation and there are girls who work less than the average boy, and boys who work harder than the average girl. But the grand total of homework and classwork done by boys is smaller than the total of schoolwork girls put it. Again, schools are not at fault here. Schools and teachers do their best to support boys and to encourage and tempt them to participate in class, do their homework and prepare for their exams. But if schools are not to blame, then who? Or what? I would suggest that the culprit is, once again, patriarchy.
Like I’ve said before, patriarchy hurts men as much as it hurts women, and this is one way it does that. Because of our culture’s ingrained patriarchal stereotypes, boys will be boys. Boys learn early on to be bold, rebellious and independent. Boys don’t have to follow the rules, and no one can make them! Cool dudes don’t study because studying is for sissies!
Adopting this stereotypic gender role provides immediate reward for boys because it makes life instantly easier and more fun. They can skip studying to have more time for play, and be all the more cool for it. The boys who have achieved the admiration of their peers don’t really care about the poor grades because having bad or average grades is better for a boy’s street rep than having good grades. It takes a strong personality to go against this current and be a good student because that pretty much ruins a boy’s chances to be regarded as a cool guy.
Of course, these days many girls adopt the same rebellious attitude as boys. The difference is, such girls don’t usually get the unreserved support and admiration of their classmates. The gender roles sit in so deep that especially young kids still see an openly rebellious girl as an oddity and a noxious troublemaker rather than a hero. Girls have their own ways of being cool, ways that don’t require a systematic indifference to all school subjects.
Jokinen fails to see the real reasons behind boys’ poor performance in school, assuming the problem is in the school system rather than in the patriarchal society. His proposed remedy is to implement gender quotas to ensure that in fields where women are the majority, at least 40 % of students accepted to universities are male, and vice versa.
The idea may be well-meaning but it’s still absurd. Finnish universities choose their students based on their performance in the entrance exam. You get some bonus points for success in the matriculation exams but the entrance exam is what matters most. It would be really unfair to give some applicants a free pass based on their gender, while rejecting others, even if they get enough points in the entrance exam.
Jokinen claims that there is no equal pay without equality in education. Or, worded differently, we must have equal education to have equal pay. But that doesn’t make sense because if there was such a correlation, then the pay gap would be history… or actually, it would be reversed. As it is, women are better educated than men, but women still earn less than men. So clearly there is no correlation between equal educational opportunities and equal pay.
As for what constitutes equality in education – I don’t think gender quotas are it. Gender quotas assume there are no differences between genders. I bet such quotas could never be filled in certain areas because fewer men than women tend to be interested in teaching, and fewer women than men tend to be into mathematics. Implementing gender quotas is not going to make more women take interest in male dominated subjects, or vice versa. The best way to ensure equal education is to give everyone an equal chance to get an education, and we are already doing that. Now we just need to smash patriarchy so that boys will be free to seize their chance without being bullied for it by other boys.