Gender Issue in Education: Critical Analysis of Vocational Education

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Ambivalent sexism is bias or discrimination based on a person's gender. Sexism can affect anyone, but it primarily affects females. It has been linked to stereotypes and gender roles, and include the belief that one gender is intrinsically superior to another, it may arise from social or cultural customs and norms. Gender discrimination is especially defined in terms of the politics, the education and workplace inequality.

Ambivalent sexism is a theoretical framework which posits that sexism has two sub-components: hostile sexism and benevolent sexism.

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Hostile sexism reflects overtly negative evaluations and stereotypes about a gender for example:

  • The ideas that women are incompetent and inferior to men.
  • Most women fail to appreciate all that men do for them.
  • Women seek to gain power by getting control over men.
  • Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist.

Benevolent sexism represents evaluations of gender that may appear subjectively positive, but are actually damaging to people and gender equality more broadly for example:

  • The ideas that women need to be protected by men.
  • Women should be cherished and protected by men.
  • Many women have a quality of purity that few men possess.
  • A good woman ought to be set on a pedestal by her man.

According to Professors Glick and Fiske, sexist ambivalence is the result of two basic facts about relations between women and men: male dominance (patriarchy) and interdependence between the sexes. Male dominance is prevalent across cultures, with men dominating high status roles in business, government, education, and so forth. Hostile sexism arises in large part because dominant groups tend to create hostile ideologies concerning the inferiority of other groups. Despite male dominance, however, men are often highly dependent upon women as wives, mothers, and romantic partners. This dependence fosters benevolent sexism, which recognizes women as valuable and attractive and how ambivalent sexism fosters barriers to women’s education, workplace and political advancement.

Educational Differences

To date little research has been conducted exploring the relationship between educational attainment and support for sexism. Such a relationship, however, is plausible given the extended literature demonstrating that education is associated with less prejudiced attitudes. Schools expose adolescents to egalitarian ideas, teach students how to stand up for their rights (e.g., equal rights for men and women) and try to instil and coax the capacity to feel compassion and tolerance for others (Davis and Greenstein, 2009; Ohlander, Batalova and Treas, 2005), and the educational position of young people is one of the first characteristics of their achieved social position.Flanders is an excellent case to study educational differences in sexism amongs adolescents. Education in Flanders is organized centrally and free of charge during compulsory education (ages 6–18) (De Ro, 2008). Secondary schooling is characterized by a rather strong ‘tracking’, and there are great differences between pupils following different educational tracks when it comes to behaviours and attitudes (Elchardus, Herbots and Spruyt, 2013). Flemish secondary school comprises 6 grades (age 12–18), and from the third grade onwards (14 years and older), pupils are divided over four tracks: (1) vocational education preparing for the labour market, from which few students go on to higher education; (2) technical education preparing for the labour market and higher technical training, from which a small proportion also goes on to higher education; (3) general education, from which almost all pupils move on to higher education; and (4) arts tracks which comprise only about 2 per cent of the pupils. In this analysis, we have grouped together tracks (1) and (2), and tracks (3) and (4). The tracking system in Flanders is quite radical: while it remains possible for students to ‘descend’ from general to technical and further to vocational education, ‘ascending’ movements in the oppo-Vandenbossche et al. 57 site direction almost never occur. There are several reasons why we expect more highly educated pupils to have less sexist attitudes than less educated pupils. First, students in technical and vocational education have a higher chance to grow up in less educated (working-class) families (Ohlander, Batalova and Treas, 2005) that endorse traditional role attitudes more often (Kulik, 2002). Previous research by Elchardus (1999) confirms that Flemish adolescents in vocational education have a stronger preference for traditional role attitudes, which are strongly linked to BS (Viki, Abrams and Hutchison, 2003). Second, there is significant gender segregation between specializations in vocational education (Lappalainen, Mietola and Lahelma, 2013). Specializations in social care and health care, almost exclusively, attract girls, whilst specializations in transport and technology, one-sidedly, appeal to boys; no such internal segregation appears in general education. Third, macho culture is linked to HS (Kaufman and Richardson, 1982) and is especially prevalent amongst boys in vocational tracks. Macho behaviour entails an anti-school culture and a lack of study orientation (Jackson, 2003).

Many scholars interpret the macho culture amongst students enrolled in vocational education as a compensation for the little prestige this type of education has in contemporary ‘knowledge societies’ (Spruyt, Kavadias and Van Droogenbroeck, 2015). The strong focus on masculinity and femininity, typical of macho culture, provides an alternative status hierarchy that allows pupils to achieve a positive social identity.

Masculine identification thus correlates with ingroup favouritism towards traditional male subtypes and complementary favouritism towards traditional female subtypes (stay-at-home mothers and feminine women) (Glick, Wilkerson and Cuffe, 2015). Therefore, we expect that students in technical and vocational education will have more sexist attitudes than students following general education (Hypothesis 3).

Ambivalent Sexism Theory highlights the need for prejudice-reduction interventions specific to sexism. Due to the unique features of gender relations, sexism researchers cannot simply co-opt strategies designed to reduce other forms of prejudice. Increased intergroup contact, for example, will have little effect in reducing sexism; in fact, close contact between men and women reinforces gender status divisions (Jackman, 1994; Ridgeway & Correll, 2004). Other challenges in reducing sexism include women’s reliance on men for status and resources, which increases the costs of confronting sexism, and BS’s positive stereotypes of women, which make sexism more appealing, more difficult to recognize, and more difficult to confront. The following sections discuss ways to reduce and confront sexism, as well as the particular challenges associated with even recognizing, let alone confronting BS.


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Gender Issue in Education: Critical Analysis of Vocational Education. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from
“Gender Issue in Education: Critical Analysis of Vocational Education.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
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