Oh to be one of the boys again

13th August 2004 at 01:00
All three of my bosses are female, which is surprising given the macho nature of the school. It's a place where handshakes are vice-like, the hallways stink of unwashed hockey pads, and American football is much, much more than an extra-curricular activity.

This is part of a broader trend. Internationally, teaching is becoming feminised. Here in Ontario, for example, 70 per cent of new entrants to the profession are women. And judging by the comments "concerned parents" make on radio phone-in shows, that's not a good thing. Children, they say, need both male and female role models if they are to succeed. They want more blokes in the classroom, and quick.

To me, though, it seems that the feminisation of teaching points to a much more fundamental problem. When women dominate a profession, it is because that profession is not valued.

There are many precedents for this. In the early 18th century, novel writing was poorly paid and infra dig. Two-thirds of novelists were women.

By the 1840s, when the social status of fiction had risen, 80 per cent of it was written by men. And women only began staffing telephone switchboards when it turned out that the young boys originally hired for the task didn't have the attention span.

Look, too, at divisions within professions. Women are more likely to be family doctors than neurosurgeons or oncologists. Teaching has its own history of gender division. While men established and ran prestigious boys' schools such as Eton, women went to work teaching the unimportant poor.

Even now, in a female-dominated profession, men are likely to be found where there is less overt nurturing to do, they are more likely to be perceived as clever, and working conditions are invariably better. As such, you'll find them in high schools rather than primary schools.

So the fact that women are now teaching the majority of children across the system suggests the lowly status of the profession as a whole is beyond dispute.

If men want power - and they always do, whether it's as schoolboys dominating lessons or presidents dominating the world - they are hardly going to move into a role that is constantly questioned, manipulated, patronised, and therefore degraded. Women will continue to fill the gaps, as they always have.

So I pine for more men in my school. Not because they are better at the job or I prefer their company, but because their presence will mean that teaching is making a recovery. It is appalling to acknowledge that, in our culture, a female-dominated profession is a profession in crisis. Yet when 70 per cent of new teachers are women, it is a crisis that cannot be ignored.

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