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(Refer to Assignment for the sections relating to the following comments)


Does gender influence how inequality is experienced in Ireland? Discuss this question under one or more

of the following headings: education, poverty, social exclusion.


Sociology has always had difficulty defining the term gender. Since the term itself describes a

socially constructed product (Radtke & Stam, 1994; Giddens, 2006) it could be argued that the social

actors within the discourse are inevitably influenced by the properties of the subject they seek to define.

Notwithstanding the difficulty in the definitional aspirations of Sociology when dealing with the term,

there as broad agreement that it involves myriad consequences for everyone in society and in virtually all

aspects of their lives. Connell (2002, p.8) initially suggests a “...common usage...” definition of gender

that stresses the cultural differences between men and women and is dependent on the biological division

of males and females. However, as Connell (2002) highlights, this narrow interpretation is prone to many

weaknesses including the failure to recognise that in reality there are more than two gendered

characteristics within people e.g. gay men and women, also that a dichotomous view of gender fails to

acknowledge diversity of approaches to gender within either the male or female population. He instead

posits that in order to gain a coherent sociological understanding and therefore most efficiently utilise the

concept of gender that it should be thought of as a social structure or pattern. It now becomes a

consequence of the manner in which men and women interact with each other in society, these

consequences are derived from prescribed ideas based in distinctions about reproduction and the

involvement of our bodies in the reproductive process (Connell, 2002). It is worth noting that the

prescriptive nature of these ideas are based on a heterosexual framework and this is conceptualised

further by Connell in his thoughts on the hegemonic nature of masculinity. Thinking of it in this way

gender becomes more applicable to a wider array of circumstances that can be used to more

comprehensively engage in relevant discourse. Tovey, Share & Corcoran (2007, p.224) state that “Gender

refers to the meanings that arise out of sexual classification; and to the socially constructed experiences

and identities that arise from assumed sexual differences”. In the context of this assignment title the

meanings of these sexual classifications will be explored and discussed. Also, it will be shown how these

socially constructed experiences and identities create and maintain inequality in many aspects of the

education system for females in Ireland.

Statistics and their Relevance

Statistical evidence demonstrates that women in Ireland with the same academic qualifications as
men in the workplace are paid less when occupying the same positions (National Employment Survey,

2007 p.51) and as this essay will show, that it is education which plays a central role in creating the

social conditions for this situation to occur. Lynch and Lodge (1999 cited in O'Connor, 2010, p.8-2) argue

that gender inequality exists to some degree in all three levels of analysis; the socio-economic, the socio-

cultural and the socio-political, so the question could be asked then is how does the educational system

as a structural institution in Ireland perpetuate inequality along these lines? The post-educational

employment experience in terms of earnings, as we have seen is heavily in favour of men and from a

socio-cultural level of analysis this phenomenon could be rooted in the fact that Irish society is a highly

gendered one and this reality is reflected in our educational institutions because they are elements of our

society (O'Connor, 2010).

Sociologically there is evidence of the influence of a culturally gendered ideology that pervades

Irish schooling at primary level. Research conducted by Morgan & Dunn (1990 cited in Morgan & Lynch,

1995) showed differences in gender being punctuated at a teacher-pupil interactional level, in

management strategies and in access to school equipment. An indication of male-centered and gendered

socio-cultural influence in Irish secondary schools is demonstrated by recent efforts by the Irish

educational sector to improve equality within the system, but which have been taken from a particularly

male-centered perspective. Girls in the secondary school system have been encouraged to participate in

subjects that were previously regarded as male subjects, i.e. mathematics and science subjects.

Conversely, very little effort has been spent in an attempt to encourage boys to participate in what may

be viewed as female subjects i.e. home economics and the social sciences (O'Connor, 2010). An

essentialist ideology dominates thinking within government around the issue of subject choice. This is

starkly illustrated in a government report commissioned to investigate gender inequality which states the

following with regard to the continuity of subject take-up in early secondary school and further and

higher education by both boys and girls,

“It is difficult to assess the extent to which this reflects innate dispositions towards different

subject areas and the extent to which it arises as a consequence of socialisation and social

conditioning” (Dept. of Education and Science 2007, p.4).

Whether subject choice is innate or not still seems to be a question the Irish educational establishment is

struggling to answer. The socio-cultural landscape then seems to play a significant role in shaping both

the attitudes and content of both those involved in the delivery of education as well as the curriculum

itself. Both of these elements combine to produce and reproduce a gendered reality for girls attending

primary and secondary therefore shaping their educational experience.

From a socio-political viewpoint, the introduction of free secondary education in 1967 along with

growing alternative career opportunities may have enticed men away from primary teaching to more

immediately lucrative professions. Also, the constraints of the B Ed. qualification which provided for no

other career path except than teaching may also have lead men away from primary teaching (INTO,

2004). The net effect of these political decisions on the male/female gender imbalance in primary

teaching is that it has reinforced the highly stereotyped perception of primary school teaching as a caring

profession, which as O'Connor (2010) highlights is not generally regarded to be of as much value in

society as the more masculine practical professions. The extent of political failure to deal with gender

inequality within the university system in Ireland was highlighted by O'Connor (2008) who maintains that

policy documents produced by domestic and international institutions including the OECD (2004); the

National Development Plan (2007-2013); the EU Roadmap for Equality (2006) and the National Women’s

Strategy (2007-2016) all fail to adequately plan for more integrative measures to deal with gender

inequality in the future, or to recognise the consequences of gendered policy within the educational

structures. An examination of the segregated nature of the educational hierarchy of workers can also

expose how the distribution of power within that structure is effected by gender. Horizontal segregation

can be observed in the sharp decline of women teachers in primary, second and third level institutions;

80% to 58% to 29% respectively (HEA & Dept. of Education 2002 cited in O'Connor, 2010). This clearly

shows a disinterest by men to be involved in the area of primary school teaching and, as previously

shown, could be connected to political decisions regarding how primary teaching qualifications were


Vertical segregation within all sections of teaching staff in schools and Irish universities has been

widely acknowledged in recent years (O'Connor, 1999; Dept. of Education and Science 2007). By 2003

women accounted for 87% of all primary teachers but by 2005 accounted for only 53% of principalships

(Dept. of Education and Science 2007). This trend seems to reflect a wider social reality that even within

employment sectors dominated by women, men still occupy most of the positions of authority. Vertical

segregation is most starkly illustrated in breakdown of staff in the third level sector.
Table 8.12 : Source Department of Education and Science 2007

As the table shows, between 1997 and 2004 the largest gain in female (18%) staff positions was also the

category which was historically the most under represented proportionally, that of college lecturers. Both

of the most senior positions within the university sector, professorial and associate professorial saw the

smallest gain in female numbers of 2% and 4% respectively. One may ask whether the very weak gains

in these areas may have reflected a very low number of female applicants for the positions? This is

difficult to ascertain, but what we can observe is that during the period 1993-2003 female enrolment in

universities was 16% higher than male enrolment and the gap in the male to female Ph.D. graduate ratio

was eliminated (Department of Education and Science, 2007). This would seem to provide some evidence

that there were sufficient numbers of qualified female graduates who could have applied for professorial

positions. These statistics are evidence of a reversal in the rate of participation of women in higher

education at both the entry and advanced levels within universities as students, however as has been

demonstrated, this changing picture of representation is not reflected in the presence of women in upper

positions within university teaching hierarchies and power structures, once again highlighting the

difference gender plays in the educational experience in Ireland. As O'Connor states

“...the under-representation of women within particular Departments and Colleges did not

simply reflect patterns related to the gender stereotyping of subject choice. Rather, the

organisational culture within particular Departments appeared to have an impact, this being

created by the attitudes and practices of staff and Heads of Departments within a context

created by the Dean of the relevant college” (O'Connor, 1995 cited in O'Connell 1999, p.13).

Theorising Gender Inequality in Education in Ireland

The nature, attitudes and values of bureaucratic processes within Irish state institutions has been

referred to as an “organisational culture” and at the centre of this culture, according to O'Connor (2006,

p.1) lies a patriarchal agenda based mainly on the subordination of women. More significantly educational

institutions act as a power base for what Connell calls “hegemonic masculinity” (1987 cited in O'Connor

2006, p1). This concept of a hegemonic gendered value system is central to the discussion about the

inequality of educational experiences in Ireland since even concerted efforts to deal with inequality within

these institutions (e.g. 2000 Equal Status Act, Employment Equality Act 1998, NDP Gender Equality Unit)

have had little effect in addressing the problem. This failure would seem to indicate that there is a

gendered script within a wider social reality which also plays out in educational institutions and overrides

attempts to implement change internally. For the most part however there is even a failure to recognise
organisational bias, be it through processes or within the structures. In an attempt to explain why

gendered practices go unchallenged Wharton (2005, P.68) notes that because such institutions and their

purpose is taken for granted by society, “...they produce a socially shared “account” of their existence

and purpose”. Because of this socially common idea regarding the self-evident nature of states'

institutions, operations and functions, the dominant ideologies within (in this case those which pertain to

a masculine based vision of the world) are rarely questioned. The educational sector in Ireland, being a

structural institution and reflecting the aforementioned organisational culture ensures that men are the

benefactors of what Connell refers to as the “material and patriarchal dividend” (1987 cited in O'Connor

2010, p.9-8). In terms of elevated levels of prestige and a right to be in positions of authority, simply

being a man within the educational employment structure appears to take these as a given right and so

have a positive influence on a career.

Social research is also concerned with the construction of our understanding of our social world

from different perspectives, including those of interactionism and ethnomethodology. These approaches

are primarily concerned with ordinary language use and how people make sense of what others do and

say (Giddens, 2006). The different ways in which boys and girls experience school and make sense of

peer behaviour and teacher-pupil interaction has been shown to effect their levels of achievement

(Grossman & Grossman, 1994 cited in Gentry Gable & Rizza, 2002). A relatively new area of study

attempts to align the study of inequality in education with feminist poststructuralism and seeks to

transcend more traditional theories of gender formation that typically focus on biological and socialisation

perspectives (Blaise, 2005). With respect to classrooms in Ireland, this type of in depth study of the

concept of “doing gender” does not seem to have been researched in much detail. However there does

not appear to be any socio-cultural reason to assume that there are major differences between Ireland

and England with respect to male or female teaching staff. This being the case, Younger, Warrington and

Williams (1999) found that in their U.K. Based study of teachers that there was a distinct difference in

the attitudes of teachers between towards male and female pupils. Both male and female teachers

regarded female pupils

“ self-learners, spending more time on homework, adopting a more rigorous and

carefully planned approach to coursework and revision, able to anticipate and conform to the

demands of the school” (Head, 1996 cited in Younger, Warrington & Williams, 1999 p.328).

This belief amongst teachers was also shown to manifest as more time being spent focussing on

both the disciplining and motivation of boys and consequently at the expense of female learning,

female pupil-teacher interaction (Paechter, 1998). Hence by viewing the classroom through the lens
of micro-sociology, it becomes apparent that even at the micro level female pupils are again

disadvantaged by way of being female.

In light of the apparent deep level of control and dominance by maleness and male centric

thought, another question that arises when considering inequality within the Irish educational

sector is why has the primary school classroom become a female dominated teaching zone? As

discussed earlier the gendered nature of society is produced and reproduced through hegemonic

masculinity that enforces the social construction of gender through a “heterosexual matrix” (Blaise,

2005). Implicit in the effect of the heterosexual matrix is the subordination of women and the

superiority of masculine forms of knowledge and as has been shown, this knowledge is delivered by

a predominantly male workforce at secondary and third level institutions. Notwithstanding the

aforementioned reasons involving political decisions that may have affected men when deciding to

enter primary school teaching, there is another possibility on a more theoretical level which may

also be part of this situation. Could there be acquiescence by the male hegemonic establishment to

a cultural feminist ideal that the predominantly female position of a higher moral ethic of care

stands contrary to the male ethic of justice and is therefore more suited to the nurturing processes

of primary school teaching? The distinction between the ethical values of “care” and “justice” made

by Gilligan and Annatucci (1988) are illustrative of the cultural feminist approach of celebrating

differences between gender and suggesting that a female outlook on certain aspects of social life

may be more beneficial than an androcentric perspective (Ritzer, 2008). However if there is any

element of allowance by the masculine hegemony in the reasoning behind the male/female teacher

ratio within the primary school system it could be viewed as patronising and an anathema to

feminism but once more, illustrates a type of abstract inequality within the overall concept of

pedagogical practice in Ireland.


Inequality in education has at its centre the same modus operandi as the process of inequality

that operates on a broader social platform. It appears that knowledge (within a socio-cultural realm), as

with the division of labour (within a socio-economic realm) have been designated worth and attributed

value from an overwhelmingly male-centered perspective. This seems to reflect the interests of the

majority of those at the socio-political level where men control the vast majority of the seats of influence

and power. This is illustrated by the fact that in 2006, women represented 14% of TDs in Dáil Eireann

and 34% of memberships of State Boards but under 20% of members of regional and local authorities.
However, men do not appear to determine their position, even within state institutions of power, to be

one of subordination, this is emphasised by the fact that 81% of staff in clerical grades in the Civil

Service were women, but women represented less than 10% of staff at Assistant and Deputy Secretary

levels (CSO, 2006).

There is no evidence indicating the existence of more than two genders in the world. The problem

of defining the noun or applying it to people of varying dispositions does not detract from the reality that

the word “gender” in all its forms and connotations essentially describes a dichotomy of either them or

us, the subject or the object. In the preceding sections regarding education in Ireland there is a clear

sense of marginalising female positions, attitudes and requirements as elements of Otherness through

what has been referred to as hegemonic masculinity, i.e. a dominant form of cultural expression that

subordinates women, feminine values and all other non-compliant forms of masculinity (Connell, 1996).

This process of the objectification of women and how it influences the realm of education could have

consequences for future interpretations of masculinity and the hegemonic state for the following reason.

It is widely recognised that the science and technology fields have been appropriated by males within our

society and therefore designated as highly valuable in this society i.e. a male controlled society. However,

in the nineteenth century science was noted to be particularly suited to women, while study of the

classics was eminently more a male pursuit (Delemont, 1994 cited in Paechter, 1998). It does seem

worth an attempt, as society moves forward, to track whether the importance of the sciences keeps its

relevancy in society, and if not what reasons will be cited for a change in importance. If there is a gradual

change to a discipline currently viewed as more female i.e. non-important and of little value to society

from a male perspective e.g. primary school teaching, will this be claimed as a victory in society for

equality (by men), or a failure of the system?


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