Equality in Education Leads to Equal Pay… Or Not!

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.



About inmyinternest

A thirty-something woman, watching the world turn
This entry was posted in Culture, Equality, Feminism, Men, Women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Equality in Education Leads to Equal Pay… Or Not!

  1. zinemin says:

    I cannot stand the whining of men about the fact that the fraction of female university graduates is going up. Really, this makes me angry. Does anyone consider that may happen because of all the suppressed dreams about a fulfilling job, and a higher education, that women had over generations, and passed on to their daughters? I had the strong urge to be good at school also because I wanted a different life than my mother and grandmother, and because I saw how depressed they were. This is an excellent motivator, that boys just don’t have. I get so angry if people say it is because girls are more obedient and better at following rules. Being very good at school and getting a university degree entails a lot more than just blindly following the rules. It requires critical thinking, passion, and intrinsic motivation that you either have or don’t. It makes me really angry that suddenly being a good PhD or university student is seen as being “obedient”, if the good student is a woman (the man in the same situation is seen as very bright, of course).

    • zinemin says:

      Haha, I just said “angry” about 10 times. 🙂 This Jokinen seems to hit a nerve with me.

    • I never thought about it like that but you’re right – maybe aiming for a university degree represents a way out of the tradional role of women as housewives. Maybe that’s not such a big factor in Finland because the Finnish women have been operating outside traditional gender roles for two or maybe three generations, at least in the sense that they’ve had full time jobs and even careers. We have paid maternity leave (and a shorter paternity leave), laws protecting women from being fired because of pregnancy, or laid off during the maternity leave. Then there’s the public daycare system that allows women to combine their family and their career, so Finnish women have long been able to arrange their lives the way they see fit.

      Argh! Yes! I hate it when people assume that a when a girl gets good grades, it’s just because she’s so conscientious and hardworking, but when a boy gets poor grades, people say he’s intelligent but he just doesn’t find school all that interesting! I haven’t really noticed this happening at university level… but maybe that’s because there were hardly any men who shared my major subject? Well, no, that’s not it. Most of the teaching staff and professors were men, but those men were the ones who convinced me that feminism is really relevant. They never belittled female students, they were fiercest feminists I had met!

  2. tigtog says:

    What I’ve seen noted elsewhere too is a growing sense among boys that doing well at school is now “girly”, and therefore to be rejected for oneself as an unmanly pursuit.

    Generational attitudes to education would play a part there. My mother was a high achiever at school and her teachers recommended that she go on to senior high school and that she could expect to do well at university. However her father didn’t see the point in her going on for 2 of maybe 5 years of further education when she could get an office job and start earning from 16 years old, and she was “just going to end up getting married anyway”, so he refused to give permission for her higher education. In an environment where families held daughters back from education for such reasons, men could view advanced education as their own domain, and therefore an area in which to aspire to success.

    But now, when in the global “west” almost no girls are held back from education for such reasons (not least because now even a basic office job requires completing high school and maybe even a college diploma), higher education is no longer just for boys, and seeing women get grades just as good or even better than their own erodes that sense of superiority. Young boys see that higher education is no longer a simple and obvious mark of male superiority, and therefore they don’t see it as worth working towards just for its own sake.

    e.g. Veterinarians in Australia used to be very highly regarded professionals when they were nearly all men, and required a very competitive matriculation score in order to study veterinary science. Now it’s still a very competitive course to qualify for, but about 20 years ago women started entering the profession in large numbers and doing very well, about 10 years ago they moved to more than half of students, and now all of a sudden young boys with good marks want to be merchant bankers instead, and veterinarian pay for new graduates is dropping like a stone even though demand for veterinary services is rising.

    There’s absolutely nothing teachers or schools can do about social attitudes at large reflexively devaluing any field in which women prove they can do well.

  3. If you’re right about the reason why boys no longer have as much interest in higher education – it’s no longer a sign of male superiority – that’s really depressing. I’d like to think that men are smart enough to want a good education even if it’s no longer something that distinguishes them from women! But there probably is a group of men (or boys) who have that attitude – and certainly the younger boys sometimes object to school work because they think it’s girly. (Because girls tend to be good at it.)

    And that example of Australian veterinarians is infuriating but rather typical, unfortunately!

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