From textbook illustrations to our larger cultural imagination, it is always a figure of a matronly woman whom we imagine as the figure of a teacher. It begs the question, why does the gender ratio lean so heavily towards women when it comes to teaching?
Association of a woman’s honour and dignity with the profession
The teaching profession has long been dominated by women. In many families, parents and in-laws encourage women to pursue a career in teaching if they must pursue a career outside of their homes.
Teaching is often cited as a ‘noble’ and ‘honourable’ pursuit for women. It is often said, “The job of a teacher is the most honourable job a woman could have.” As the country gears up to celebrate Teacher’s Day on the 5th of September, the association of a woman’s ‘honour’ and ‘dignity’ with the profession of teaching needs to be deconstructed.
For the longest time, society has prescribed women as custodians of the private sphere and barred them from venturing into a profession that would require them to join the public domain. Teaching as a profession occupies a grey area that grants women a chance to pursue a profession that can be viewed as a mere extension of the private spaces that they are expected to occupy.
Teaching as a profession is essentialised with the social construction of what we understand as feminine traits. Women are thought to be more ‘nurturing’ and ‘caring’, and better equipped to take care of children. Working with children in a school setting is viewed as a form of care work that would appeal to a woman’s motherly instinct. It becomes a mere reflection of the domestic duties that women perform in their own homes.
UNESCO reports in 2003 suggest that the number of female teachers in primary school jobs has increased largely worldwide except in the least developed countries.
Why is teaching the new ‘daughter-in-law criteria’ for the “progressive” Indian households?
From matrimonial advertisements to in-laws’ demands, Indian households often pride themselves on being progressive by letting their women work but only if it is as a school teacher. This makes one wonder why is ‘school teaching’ deemed as the only acceptable designation for women besides being a ‘homemaker’?
External influences often convince women that teaching is the best career option for women. It gives more holidays and apparently has fewer working hours. It will allow them to spend time with their family. Most teaching jobs would also offer women a gender-segregated workspace which would promise women ‘safety’ that is lacking in corporate workspaces.
External influences often convince women that teaching is the best career option for women. It gives more holidays and has fewer working hours. It will allow them to spend time with their family. Most teaching jobs would also offer women a gender-segregated workspace which would promise women’ safety’ that is lacking in corporate workspaces.
Studies conducted in this area show that women comprise almost one-third of the teaching staff in countries like India, Pakistan, and China. Research also shows that South and East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Middle East countries have the highest workspace segregation by gender.
However, by deconstructing these seemingly beneficial features of the teaching profession, one can easily unveil the sexist double standards that persist behind it. Even now, women are conditioned to work only if they can balance their household chores alongside.
Less number of working hours ensures that women will have more scope to take on household duties and care work at home. The conservative outlook that ‘women must not work because they need to look after their homes’ has merely shifted into ‘women must work fewer hours so that they can still take care of their homes.’
Most teaching workspaces offer gender segregation and do not require them to interact with male colleagues. It keeps the traditional idea of the ‘purdah’ intact and keeps them confined within a homogenous workspace.
These exclusive features of a school functioning as a woman’s workspace does not threaten the patriarchal influences of her life and conveniently allow these households to maintain their sexist double standards under the garb of progressiveness.
Essentialised social and cultural construction of feminine qualities over intellect
Socially and culturally a woman’s primary role is constructed as a homemaker and caregiver. She is allowed to have a career outside of her home as long as it does not compromise the stereotypical wifely and motherly duties prescribed for her. Less working hours ensure that care work at home disproportionately comes under the woman’s responsibility.
Studies show that school teaching or Montessori jobs are largely female-dominated professions. However, this trend shows a steep decline when it comes to teaching at a college or a university. Teachers are responsible for raising children under their care from a quasi-parental position. Therefore, it can be concluded that teaching as a profession is recommended to women because it is complementary to the prescribed social roles that suit women. However, teaching at higher institutions is reserved for men because it needs to appeal to one’s intellectual faculty rather than their social roles.
School teaching jobs are also lesser paid and are therefore reserved for women, while higher-paid jobs at colleges or universities are deemed more suited to male professors or lecturers. This implies that “women are more likely than men to teach young children…and to have positions with little power or intellectual authority”.
A teacher is responsible for shaping the fate of a nation by guiding children when they are at their most vulnerable and impressionable age. They play a vital role in reforming our society and contributing to the global culture at large. Designating a teacher’s job based on prescribed gender roles undermines the importance of a teacher’s work in our society and becomes one of the crumbling cornerstones of the very education system that teachers are supposed to uphold.