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Issues of Class and Femininity

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  • Published On: 2-12-2023
Issues of Class and Femininity

Central to feminists and other groups’ pursuit of and campaign for gender equality and justice in different institutions such as schools and workplaces is the recognition of the fact that the approach followed in the gendered capital distribution is unfairly reinscribed in a manner that limits or constraints the lives of women/girls. This recognition includes an awareness of the sophisticated struggles linked to the intersections of class and gender, especially an understanding of the critical ways in which the intersections operate to preserve the gendered status quo in the institutions and larger communities. Also, critical to fighting for gender justice is acknowledging how valuing of dispositions linked to masculinity constructions is increased by wider institutionalised gender discrimination or inequalities like family, companies, media and sports (Hickey-Moody and Kenway, 2017). This paper aims to analyse the sophisticated issues associated with class and femininity and how such issues preserve a biased or gendered status quo in society.

The Conservation of a Gendered Status Quo

There various strategies established to conserve a gendered status quo in different fields and institutions like family, media, sports and companies. These strategies work by amplifying gendered behaviours in the various settings (Connolly and Healy, 2004). The strategies create conservation patterns which usually reinforce the ‘natural order of things’ which is the inequitable relations of power and gender in different contexts. This issue is best described by Bourdieu’s theory of field. According to this notion, there is a struggle to conserve field in relation to the views of gender. This theory enlightens us concerning the behind-the-curtains workings of the pervasiveness of the conservation patterns. Also known as ‘games’ or ‘markets’, fields or social contexts of actions are competition arenas for influence and power between the weapons and objects of struggle like capital among those who are unequally endowed. People bring to this competition relative power or the capital which is available to them (Keddie, Mills and Mills, 2008).


This theorising is crucial in comprehending the power struggles in the gender relations contest and in identifying the different patterns which can either subvert or reinscribe inequitable relations of femininity and masculinity. According to Thompson (1991 p.14), Bourdieu believes that participants in the competition have different goals where some want to conserve the status quo while others seek to transform or change it and they have varying probabilities of losing or winning based on their locations within the structured area of positions. Positions in this area inclines participants to behave based on a certain pattern or method of conduct. This theory further indicates that individuals occupying dominant positions in the competition arena tend to follow conservation patterns, particularly the existing or current capital distribution patterns. On the other hand, those in subordinate or lower locations or positions are more likely to assume and deploy subversion strategies. This framework can help explain people’s inclination towards either preserving their dominant positions such as masculinity in a gendered status quo or subordinate positions of femininity and females, a power struggle that arises from a gendered capital distribution.

An example of this conservation has been demonstrated by Garcia-Lopez and Segura (2008) who researched about the challenges that Chicana lawyers face in their professions as a result of being women in what is considered a man’s profession. These authors’ analysis looked at how clients, supervisors and co-workers always test the legitimacy and qualifications of successful Chicanas. By doing so, the researchers revealed some of the key ways in which workplace interactions and structure reinscribe racially gendered-boundaries which contradict the wider social diversity goal. These authors found a situation where Chicanas that decide to venture into the legal field to serve society navigate past racially gendered environments of work by creating different strategies like negotiation a unique Chicana presentation of ‘dual femininity’ or self and unique practice to be seen as legitimate lawyers.

According to Garcia-Lopez and Segura (2008), dual femininity is an implementation of gendered practice and ideology that is produced though a number of negotiations across gender systems, culture and class. These authors opine that Chicana attorneys are always held accountable to middle-class femininities, white femininities which are increasingly becoming visible in legal settings. Chicanas, unlike their counterpart white women, are always expected to stick to particular values and show culturally gendered-behaviours by their Latino or Chicano clients. As a result, the Chicana lawyers come up with dual femininity as a dynamic and ideological gender practice which can help them negotiate the ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ of both the culture and the profession respectively. Garcia-Lopez and Segura (2008) note that studying as well as practicing law has historically been a province of middle-class and white men. Additionally, law is one of the most gendered institution in which the presence of gender can be felt in almost all aspects, including power distribution, ideologies, images, practices and processes. The main characteristics linked to women, like being morally superior, gentle and kind are seen as being antithetical and inferior to the characteristics associated with success male attorneys. In other words, the legal field is looked at as a place for men and even though the integration of women has been strategic and channelled into specialties that are socially constructed as feminine or appropriate, including public defenders, family law, estates and trust. This occupational segregation increases gender inequality at the interactional and operational level. In other words, Chicana lawyers become submerged into a field or institution where success is determined by male heterosexual masculinities.

A Gendered Distribution of Capital as a Conservation Strategy

Feminist political agenda and principles have, in many occasions, been challenging to pursue. In some cases, women have felt like their feminist principles are being eroded where they are not only excluded from important decisions but also diminished by their male colleagues. Grosser and McCarthy (2019) claim that some women have felt like being a woman is a hurdle which they have to overcome to receive acceptance as worthy of their professional roles. In such instance, women feel like being female is disadvantageous, especially in a male dominated culture of working institutions where men are considered more useful while females are devalued. There are many institutions which endorse gender stereotypes even where a significant number of women work with men and doing similar work. Women who enter male dominated workplaces often feel overt and covert resistance, mostly from male colleagues and they feel this in many ways such as through sexist comments. The problem is associated with the efforts by these resistant individuals to preserve inequitable and conventional perceptions of gender. This situation is caused by unequal capital distribution or endowment which ends up defining the power and positioning of women in a masculinised field and community (Grosser and McCarthy, 2019).

Even for women in higher working positions, they still feel like the larger masculinity culture shape the fact that legitimate authority and power is linked to maleness. Robinson and Smetana (2019), found that this legitimacy is used undermine these women’s authority. Robinson and Smetana (2019) believe that valued capital in these institutions have been aligned with the Western discourses of male dominance and their masculinised, body, practice and knowledge. As mentioned by Bourdieu’s theory of field earlier on, varying positions in the struggle forces agents to pull strings or assume specific behavioural patterns. As a result, male colleagues in dominant positions fight for or engage in conservation strategies to sustain current gendered distribution of capital. On the other hand, women in lower or subordinate places to the dominant positions of power or authority resist the strategies in a struggle to gain more influence and power. The challenge experienced by feminists, however, is that the behavioural patterns which seek to maintain a gendered status quo appear to be stronger or enduring despite the feminists’ efforts to gain respect in the institutions and community (Albright, Hartman and Widin, 2018).

According to Gerdin and Pringle (2017), such conservation patterns are institutionalised in many spheres like family, the media and competitive sport. For instance, research by Gerdin and Pringle (2017) in schools show that such patterns instil a gendered behaviour in students. These author claim found that schools often reward some behaviours in male students who engage in sporting activities like football. Behaviours such as anti-female attitudes, violence and aggression are encouraged in sporting activities. This male-dominated tendencies in competitive sport reinscribes male masculinity in young children (Gerdin and Pringle, 2017). As a result, boys associate their gender with power, and attention-seeking behaviours like displaying physical strength. In some cases, boys physically assault girls in schools to assert their dominance. Some boys even go as far as undermining and transgressing their female teachers’ authority. Gerdin and Pringle (2017) associate such behaviours with the larger gender conservation patterns which are also institutionalised in various cultural products and artefacts like family, media and sports.

According to Antunovic and Whiteside (2018), the feminists issue here is how boys’ position and view themselves as having a masculine identity in society. These authors say that the problem is worsened further by the influencers in the media and sport, as well as the stereotypical treatment which girls and boys receive in schools and in homes. The things children watch on television and in computers also assert the masculine culture in the young individuals. The researcher argue that the problem is a complex issue that requires a thorough look into family circumstances like social roles in their class (socio-economic status) and the wider society or environment. The patterns working to preserve a gendered status quo is liked with class structure, particularly the disenfranchisement that comes with belonging to a low socio-economic class or background. Evidence shows that boys and girls who come from this background tend to show violence, aggression and dominance compared to those from higher socio-economic backgrounds (Scholes, 2020). According to Martino and Pallotta-Chiarolli (2005), poverty situations can in many instances exacerbate or worsen gender stereotypes. This situation results in negative consequences like prevalent lack of confidence or self-esteem in goals and overbearing behaviours in boys. These researchers claim that poverty amplifies disruptive behaviours like aggression because these individuals lack alternative ways or resources which can help in conflict resolution. Therefore, class is a major factor that increases the power struggle in males’ effort to preserve their gendered status quo and to maintain dominance as men.

On a different note, there is evidence that associate this power struggle to the cultural capital mismatch between individuals’ working-class home settings and the dominant values of institutions like schools or workplaces (Connolly and Healy, 2004.). Some institutions like schools may have a middle-class culture, values and attitudes. This means that some students will not have the necessary cultural capital to achieve academic success. According to Grenfell and James (1998), such orthodoxy at a young age has determinate consequences on people’s behaviour, especially on how they think.

Walker, Butland and Connell (2000) points us towards what is known as middle-class hegemonic masculinity which is associated a cultural capital that is characterised with aggressive displays and physical toughness, a masculine hegemonic construction. This author associated this class with masculine tendencies which align to dominant values. According to Quadagno (2007), this middle-classness enforces and ensures that a masculine hierarchy persists.

Family influence is another issue when talking about the problems that feminists face in different settings or institutions. It is considered a major source of masculine tendencies and the power struggle for and against the status quo. Björk (2017) says that many families pass messages which reinforce male dominance and valued maleness to their children. These messages also work to sustain the status quo where the dominant have access to cultural capital unlike the disadvantaged classes (Björk, 2017).

Pedagogies or the Methods and Principles of Teaching Subversion

One of the other issues which feminists see as needing transformation is the method teachers in learning institutions use to teach students, especially those that emphasise and support masculinity. Bourdieu (1990) cited in Mouzelis (2008) believe that how teachers understand the issues of justice and identity determine what they perceive as possible. Young people, particularly students should have a broader perspective in terms of their valuing and demonstration of difference, lifestyle choices, or transcending race or gender. Evidence suggests that tutors or teachers have often failed to establish a learning atmosphere which encourage respect for difference. Institutions like schools should seek to transform or eliminate the stereotypical dispositions linked to the conventional/traditional masculinity associated with things like sports, abusing girls verbally or homophobia. Schools and many other institutions still experience these stereotypical masculinity dispositions. In schools for instance, there are many contextual factors that encourage these dispositions. For example, there are learning institutions where boys are overrepresented in the classroom, and where boys have a tendency to assert dominance over girls and an environment where girls lack self-esteem and confidence. Such an environment perpetuates the usually masculinity dispositions that engenders boy-students the feeling of male dominance and entitlement (Mouzelis, 2008).

Feminists are seeking to put in place scaffolding situations which can either transform or rupture these gendered rules which give the male gender entitlement and make the feel like they should assert their male dominance and which relegate the female gender into subordinate positions. These issues are responsible for the feminists’ inclinations to create an upfront approach of teaching which supports femininity and girls and challenge violence and marginalisation against females because of their gender. Evidence shows that a significant number of teachers fail to support the female gender, like by addressing their self-esteem issues (ALI, 2003).

Research shows that important literacy activities and structural considerations have failed to put gender equality at the centre stage hence the need to rework and rupture the existing gendered dispositions in students and young people. For instance, learning environments should be arranged in a manner that allows equitable access to resources like computers and space. Teachers have failed to be mindful concerning the wider school community gendered climate and the boys’ masculinity and predomination in class, particularly how they undermine girl students’ self-esteem. Many institutions have failed to create an environment where the female gender has a voice. This is besides significant resistance from the male gender and a reluctance from females. Hey (2003) notes that there should be massive investment by women to ensure that the female gender also accesses education. This will help overcome the historically enforced gendered class notion and consciousness which believed that the place of woman is in tidying the house and in the kitchen.

There is a need to change young people’s dispositions by scaffolding important literacy activities which worsen stereotypical assumptions concerning femininity and masculinity. This can be achieved by drawing on different resources like media advertising and picture books. These pedagogies can help to begin a subversion and can be vital in eradicating the negative understandings concerning gender which limit young people’s lives through gender inequality.

Even though these methods cannot always eliminate the entire problem, especially those which endorse the modern idea of gender and what young people perceive as possible, it can help them to start changing their behaviours and seek gender equity. Evidence by Keddie, Mills and Mills (2008) show that pedagogies are important because they can transform and subvert the insidious gendered behavioural tendencies. It can help in exploring and addressing how the mismatch between schooling environments (and other settings in different institutions) and cultural capital in the middle-class. Pedagogies can also help address the classed and gendered dispositions within the environment of different institutions including school communities. According to Keddie, Mills and Mills (2008), dealing with this mismatch is vital in finding different ways to change the issue of masculinity constructions. Studies that look into the connections between school environments and family have shown that this mismatch is responsible for the poor academic performance seen in boy coming from working-class families. Many believe that educational difference comes from personal or individual giftedness instead of class-based difference. As a result, they ignore the truth that students’ ability to perform better academically comes from either a lesser or greater association between the educational system’s demand and class cultural behaviours or how success is defined within it (within the class and culture) (Uboldi, 2020). There are situations where the responsibility, independence and freedom of male students out of schools usually do not align with the regulations, control and structure of many schools. For instance, working-class males with their behavioural tendencies to show their masculinity through physical strength often rebel or invariably reject the values of middle-class schools (Keddie, Mills and Mills, 2008). The author opines that this fundamental mismatch between school demands and the masculinity dominance shown by the working-class boys portray poor dispositions against education and the students’ ability to be successful academically. Teachers have often failed to engage students in a manner that shapes their behaviour and lives within and mostly beyond school. There is a need to come up with remedies or solutions for the mismatch in a way that can blur or eliminate the boundaries between the community and school environments. Connolly and Healy (2004) point us towards the importance of the localities where different individuals come from in mediating their perspectives and experiences. Schools need to emphasise student autonomy and agency (Keddie and Mills, 2007). This can be achieved through programs which makes sure that students have a greater responsibility and say in processes of decision-making. The programs should aim to tap into the individuals’ and broader community’s concerns. For example, concerns like sustainability and environmental care, fitness, nutrition and healthcare. An inclusive and participatory focus should be established to encourage independent learning within the programs. For instance, students can be encouraged to take part in writing and researching about the challenges which their communities face or which they experience in within school communities. Through such transformative pedagogy, students can have or experience real-world connectedness which centres on their voices in a manner which encourages responsibility for other people’s welfare (Keddie, 2006).

Such programs can provide an opportunity for tutors to teach students concerning the issues of democratic processes and equity, particularly those linked to access to agency and power. For example, the programs can offer collaboration and multi-peer mentoring which can help enhance a sense of agency, identity and cohesion among all students regardless of their gender. Collaborative processes can be invaluable in providing alternatives and disrupting masculine stereotypes which are dominant in institutions and society. These processes can help rupture and legitimize the male gender’s interest for their peers, especially girls and even participate in some activities which they initially perceived as belonging to girls only ‘things that girls do’. Such programs can help turn environments within learning institutions into positive places with genuine opportunities for responsibility and leadership for both genders (Ardito, Czerkawski and Scollins, 2020).

Furthermore, these programs can help to transform or change the gendered way of doing things (rules) in institutions and communities. Through communities-focused and integrated approaches, the horizons for both genders can be expanded. Besides creating a sense of care and responsibility towards communities through active participation or engagement and citizenship, people’s awareness about diverse and different perspectives can be enhanced through social interactions between different genders in society. Through such activities, even those who initially demonstrated aggression and dominance might begin to do things which are important to society, like caring for the environment and relate with other people from varying backgrounds, gender and age groups. Getting such individuals outside their comfort zones, like school environment, widens their perception and mind-sets and puts them in contact with unique challenges, and different people with unique attitudes (Ardito, Czerkawski and Scollins, 2020).

It is important to provide young people with real and legitimate social opportunities and pathways for agency and action which can serve to encourage less gender-stereotypical habits and promote alternative. This can be helpful for males who usually want to assert control over what happens or show dominance. Such processes allow males to learn how to negotiate and how to operate alongside females in fair and equal ways. It also allows them to change their lives and that of others. According to Comber and Hill (2000), such programs allow schools to change from being areas of dislocation and disjunction and a place where learners can be associated curricula to the real world. This makes the learning environment an inclusive area where students see that their daily experiences and lives are relevant to the process of learning and academic success (Mills and Keddie, 2007).

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The main issue here (in learning settings) however is the presence of masculinised capital linked with poverty and class of the broader gendered community which always requires caution even as learners are taught to appreciate the learning process, themselves, their peers and society. Feminists seeking to change such cultures in learning institutions need to remain careful because they are engaged in a process of changing comfortable, and familiar ways of living or being. Pedagogies or teaching methods used by tutors can help close the gap and the mismatch between middle-class school settings, the working-class masculinities and cultural capital which causes gendered dispositions. Teachers can challenge their student’s limited understanding of femininity and masculinity and broaden their horizons by showing them about gender justice and changing the learning environment. As a result, students can start to see themselves and accept other people who are different (Francis, 2001).


There various strategies established to conserve a gendered status quo in different fields and institutions like family, media, sports and companies. These strategies work by amplifying gendered behaviours in the various settings. There is a struggle to conserve field in relation to the views of gender. One group work for conserving their dominance or conserve the status quo while others seek to transform or change it. Another issue is a gendered distribution of capital as a conservation strategy where feminist political agenda and principles have been challenged and their pursuit stopped. This paper has also looked at pedagogies or the methods and principles of teaching subversion where some institutions have learning environments which enforce masculinity or male dominance. Family also plays a role in inscribing this dominance. This paper has shown the need to come up with strategies in institutions which encourage collaboration and acceptance of difference.


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