AQA A-Level Sociology: Gender Differences in Education - Identity, Class & Girls' Achievement

Rhiann .
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All credit goes to the 'AQA A Level Sociology Book One [Including AS Level]'. Any opinions expressed are the opinions of the sociologists mentioned. Author credits: Rob Webb, Hal Westergaard, Keith Trobe and Annie Townend

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Rhiann .
Created by Rhiann . over 2 years ago
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1 There are social class differences in girls' achievement.
1.1 For example, in 2013, only 40.6% of girls eligible for free school meals achieved five A*-C GCSEs, whereas 67.5% of those not on free school meals did so.
2 SYMBOLIC CAPITAL
2.1 According to feminists such as Louise Archer et al (2010), one reason for the class differences in girls' achievement is the conflict between working-class girls' feminine identities and the values of the school.
2.1.1 Archer did a study of working-class girls and used the concept of 'symbolic capital' to understand this conflict.
2.1.1.1 Symbolic capital refers to the status, recognition and sense of worth that we are able to obtain from others.
2.1.1.2 She found that by performing their working-class feminine identities, the girls gained symbolic capital from their peers.
2.1.1.2.1 However, this brought them into conflict with school, preventing them from acquiring education capital (qualifications) and economic capital (middle-class careers).
2.1.1.2.1.1 Archer identifies several strategies that the girls followed for creating a valued sense of self. These included adopting a hyper-heterosexual feminine identity, having a boyfriend and being 'loud'.
2.2 Hyper-heterosexual feminine identities
2.2.1 Many of the girls in Archer's study invested considerable time, effort and money into constructing the 'desirable', 'glamorous' hyper-heterosexual, feminine identities.
2.2.1.1 One girl spent all her babysitting wages on her appearance.
2.2.1.2 This involved constructing identities that combined black urban American styles with 'sexy' clothes, make-up and hairstyles.
2.2.2 The girls' performance of this feminine identity brought status from their female peer group and avoided them being ridiculed.
2.2.2.1 However, it also brought them into conflict with the school as they were often punished for having the wrong appearance; such as wearing too much jewellery or make-up.
2.2.2.1.1 Teachers saw the girls' preoccupation with appearance as a distraction that prevented them engaging with education
2.2.2.1.1.1 This led to the school defining the girls as 'not one of us', incapable of educational success and thus less worthy of respect.
2.2.2.1.1.1.1 Bourdieu describes this process as 'symbolic violence' - the harm done by denying someone symbolic capital, such as defining their culture as worthless.
2.2.2.1.1.1.1.1 Archer states that the school's ideal pupil identity is a de-sexualised, middle-class one that excludes many working-class girls.
2.3 Boyfriends
2.3.1 While having a boyfriend brought symbolic capital, it got in the way of schoolwork and lowered girls' aspirations.
2.3.1.1 Instead the girls' aspired to 'settle down', have children and work locally in working-class feminine jobs such as childcare.
2.4 Being 'loud'
2.4.1 Some working-class girls adopted 'loud' feminine identities that often led them to be outspoken, independent and assertive, for example, questioning teacher's authority.
2.4.1.1 This failed to conform to the school's stereotype of the ideal female pupil identity as passive and submissive to authority, and brought conflict with teachers, who interpreted their behaviour as aggressive rather than assertive.
3 WORKING-CLASS GIRLS' DILEMMA
3.1 Working-class girls are faced with a dilemma.
3.1.1 Either gaining symbolic capital from their peers by conforming to a hyper-heterosexual feminine identity
3.1.2 Or gaining educational capital by rejecting their working-class identity and conforming to the school's middle-class notions of a respectable, ideal female pupil.
3.1.3 Some girls tried to cope with this dilemma by defining themselves as 'good underneath', despite the teachers' negative views of them.
3.1.3.1 This 'good underneath' self-image reflects the girls' struggle to achieve a sense of self-worth within an education system that devalues their working-class female identities.
3.1.3.1.1 Thus, Archer argues that working-class feminine identities and educational success conflict with one another.
3.1.3.1.1.1 Working-class girls' investments in their feminine identities are a major cause of their underachievement.
4 'SUCCESSFUL' WORKING-CLASS GIRLS
4.1 Although working-class girls in general are likely to underachieve, some do succeed and go on to higher education.
4.1.1 However, even they may be disadvantaged by their gender and class identities.
4.1.1.1 Sarah Evans (2009) did a study of 21 working-class sixth form girls in a south London comprehensive school.
4.1.1.1.1 She found that girls wanted to go to university to increase their earning power. Nevertheless, this was not for themselves, but to help their families.
4.1.1.1.1.1 Skeggs (1997) notes that 'caring' is a crucial part of the girls' working-class feminine identities, and the girls in Evans' study wished to remain at home and to contribute to their families.
4.2 Cost and fear of getting into debt are major issues for many working-class students in deciding which university to apply to.
4.2.1 However, while living at home made higher education more affordable, it also limited their choice of university and the market value of their degree.
4.2.1.1 Living at home was not just an economic necessity; it was also a positive choice and an aspect of their working-class identities.
4.2.1.1.1 Louise Archer (2010) showed that a preference for locality is a key feature of working-class habitus. The girls showed a strong preference for the local and familiar over the distant.

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