How to Identify and Confront Gender Bias in the Classroom

Have you ever found yourself sitting in a classroom feeling like something is a little off or not quite right? Running the options through your head, you wonder if maybe the teacher just doesn’t like you. Maybe your peers just act like they know everything, or even you simply get the sense that you don’t belong there. Often times, feeling this way can make your learning experience not as enriching as you’d like it to be, further making it harder in the long run to strive for success. But why do we get this feeling in a classroom setting? Why is it that in a space of education, a place that is intended for everyone to learn, the classroom isn’t always as inclusive as it is intended to be? Having any of these questions in your mind may very well indicate a power structure (a hierarchy that favors those with power) that exists within your classroom which has yet to be addressed. One of the most common power structures that present themselves within the classroom space most often is gender bias.

Frequently, gender bias goes right over our heads, either unnoticed or translated into questions concerning the teacher’s attitude towards your participation in the classroom, or how your peers interact with you. This is the patriarchy in work. Attempting to shift the reason for why you are having a harder time getting your education, gender bias favors one gender over the other, making it harder in every way to maintain focus on your learning experience and your ability to do well in school. The hardest part of this task presents itself: in this day and age, often times we don’t experience flat out discriminatory behaviors such as slurs or violence, so it may be more challenging to identify gender bias when it takes place. So, what tools can you use to make sure you are getting the most out of your education, and what is the next step to confronting gender bias in the classroom?

  1. Identify the red flags.
  • Lingo

A big indicator that gender bias or discrimination is happening often lies within the mere words people use. This may include your teacher and/or peers unnecessarily gendering objects as “he” or “him” during class, or even using words such as strong, protective, or courageous—words commonly regarded as “male” qualities—to describe certain things as valuable, while using words like emotional, sensitive, or gentle—words commonly regarded as “female” qualities—as not redeemable. It is important to pay attention to small words such as these, for it may indicate a bigger problem in your classroom.

  • Body language 

Another indicator that can be noted is body language. A common way of gender bias manifesting itself through body language includes people physically turning away to show lack of interest, or the exclusion of one from a conversation. How this works includes the process of positioning oneself away from females within the classroom and giving male counterparts more attention. Though shifting body position is a simple thing, it may be a red flag behavior for some sort of discrimination on the basis of gender.

  • Male domination of the space

At school—especially fields that have been historically dominated by men, like STEM majors—you may notice that your class has a heavy male demographic. This may indicate that the space you are in lacks female representation. With a lack of female representation, often times this can create an environment that excludes women and paints women as “not belonging” to that field or area of study. If there is a lack of representation in the classroom, it may very well expose gender bias in the classroom as a place that inherently favors male students over female. Additionally, male domination of the space often can lead to what is called mansplaining, (the over explanation of something by a male to a female that serves as condescending or patronizing). Due to how people are constantly conditioned in our society on how to think about males vs. females, males having the power in our society may take it upon themselves to overly explain concepts to their female peers as if their female peers are not as knowledgeable, or even capable of obtaining the knowledge that their male counterparts have. Therefore, it is important to note the demographic makeup of your classroom. If it consists largely of males, then it may indicate a lack of representation and/or a possibility of mansplaining taking place, potentially hindering women trying to get the most they can from their education.

  • Female participation limited

Another red flag for identifying gender bias includes limited female participation in the classroom. This may entail a lack of calling of female students to answer questions, despite female eagerness to be involved. Often times, the way in which people categorize females in societal power structures translates directly to the classroom. A female that has strong opinions and involves themselves and participates consistently, is painted as “selfish” for that behavior or even as “b*tchy”, when male peers would be praised and pushed farther to engage in school for that same behavior. If there is any distaste or push back for female participation, this shows a major red flag for gender bias in the classroom, further creating a hindrance towards one’s ability to do well in school.

2. Take action.

  • Open a dialogue with teacher about concerns

The first step to addressing the problem is to bring it up with your teacher. Gender bias affecting your school space and ability to do well is a serious problem. More often times than not, your teacher may not even notice this type of bias or behavior happening, due to their large workload, and the patriarchal socialization around gender that makes this behavior a norm. So reach out. Most likely your teacher will want to do what they can to better the situation.

  • Reach higher

If the problem persists post conversation with your teacher about gender biases taking place in the classroom, the next step is to contact administrators about the problem. Sometimes addressing at a localized level doesn’t create the change you need. For instance, your classroom environment despite the conversation with your teacher, may still function in a harmful way concerning the red flags of gender bias and discrimination, or simply you may have a teacher who sadly doesn’t care to make a change about these behaviors. In this case, you must reach out to your teacher's department, or even contact leaders within your educational institution about the problem. There is no reason in which your education should have to suffer due to this discrimination in the classroom.

  • Forcing your own path.

Occasionally, neither opening a conversation nor reaching out may properly address the gender power structures dominating the classroom. If reaching higher doesn’t work, the next step to take is to communicate with others who face discrimination centered around gender and discuss ways to force the path to better more equal spaces and inclusion. Sometimes, you have to start from the grassroots of a problem, such as calling out harmful words or actions on an individual basis, and force your way to a more inclusive space to better your opportunities. Sharing your experiences with other individuals who share your experience, and exposing the ways in which gender bias manifests itself in the classroom, is critical to creating a better learning environment for those face this educational and societal block.

With these tools in mind, hopefully you can take the next step to making your learning experience in school the most beneficial it can be. With modern day discrimination and gender bias, it may be hard to identify what exactly feels wrong, and what may be holding you back. The identification and confrontation of gender bias is a hard process, but it is critical to deconstructing your learning environment, so you can get your degree, rather than discrimination.

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