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Breaking the Sex-stereotyping Circle

Sandra Brown and Jim Fitzpatrick

How can education help to break down unnecessary sex-stereotyping of school subjects? The issue was much discussed in the 70s. The 'Catch 22' situation in the diagram was common and it was realised that you could try to break these circles either by providing the missing classes, or by supplying the classes with the missing c hildren. Our research followed up such ideas.
Throughout the 1970s in Western Australian state secondary schools boys and girls chose tertiary-oriented courses, and took elective subjects, in patterns which hardly changed. For example, the ratio of males to females in Technical Drawing stayed steady at 12:1 and there were about 16 girls taking typing at school for every boy. We looked at what was happening in 1981 in two large metropolitan high schools and found that in over half the optional subjects the boy:girl ratio [or girl:boy ratio] was greater than 4:1.

In many respects sex-stereotyped enrolments reflect broad social patterns. But some school policies and practices unwittingly limit the 'free ' choice of students. We explored these matters in detail in those two large Perth secondary schools.

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