Gender equality. Feminism. This topic needs to be better represented in the book lists offered by our district. Many people are not aware of the gender gap in the school curriculum, as shown in the statistics below. Even teachers here at Las Lomas are unaware. Are female authors included in the English curriculum? Mr. Collins said, “Why are you even asking this question?”
Questioning the subjects that are taught in classes is critical to ensure a diverse view of the world. In this case, we question the way females are included in the English curriculum by looking at the representation of female writers, book characters, and also teaching methods.
It’s important to remember that female authors are just as prevalent as male authors. Ms. Ashlock’s junior class curriculum includes no female authors, and she attributed this to the lacking book list, saying, “We definitely need more women authors…[and] better lists and options.” English teachers choose books from the district’s book lists for their curriculum, meaning that the number of books by women depends on the teacher. The Honors and AP English classes read more books, and consequently they read more books written by men with an alarming low amount of female authors sprinkled in.
This can mean varying levels of female representation, although they’re often low or nonexistent. While female writers deserve better recognition, their books don’t always represent women. For example, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is all about men, and so females aren’t even in it. Ms. Gieleghem said, “It’s not the quantity of female authors as much as what kinds of women are we representing in the novels…Shakespeare wrote some of the most admirable, realistic, brave, plucky, amazing women. It’s remarkable that he did that at a time when women were the property of their husbands.” Readers are more influenced by the characters they come to know, so the presence of female characters, or lack thereof, is crucial. Unfortunately, many of the books taught at Las Lomas do not include female characters at all. Ms. Ginsberg said, “There is an argument that a woman being absent is worse than being poorly characterized.”
In the books that do include women, they often follow stereotypes, such as the “dumb blond, disempowered female, the harlot, the Madonna, the neurotic woman, the submissive, subjugated woman, the drunk, and even the prostitute,” listed Ms. Gieleghem. These stereotypes can affect students’ perspective of gender roles in society, and taint their view of women in real life.
Of course, there are also a few strong female characters scattered throughout the grades. For example, the Greek goddesses, Sethe in Beloved, and Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God, are all strong female characters seen in the English curriculum. Ms. Munroe said, “One of my all time favorites was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Definitely a strong, resilient character that overcomes a lot of difficulties in her past.” However, the number of strong male characters we read outweigh the number of female ones. For example, there are many male heroes in The Odyssey, but only a few female characters, that are usually depicted helping the men instead of taking action themselves.
Sometimes the best way to learn about female stereotypes is to read about female struggles through a feminist lens. Ms. Ashlock said, “Doing a feminist analysis of the characters that we do have access to can be helpful and positive.” Yet, the problem is that the female perspective is often vacant in English classrooms. If the feminist lens is not utilized, students will be subjected to reading about female characters who are weak and unvalued. All in all, the feminist values portrayed through the English Curriculum are predominantly reliant upon our teachers, at least until more diverse book lists are made. Ms. Ginsberg said, “The perspective could be improved across the board in all departments. For the English department, it could mean bringing in more women writers, but it also means bringing in more social critiques to the canonical text.”