1. Introduction

It is universally acknowledged that education benefit both individuals and countries. Educating women and men has similar results in terms of national development. Moreover, educating females has additional benefits to countries’ socio-economic conditions, such as increasing family incomes, improving health, reducing infant deaths, increasing economic productivity etc. (USAID, 2008). With the light of these facts, lots of attempts have been made over the years in order to provide equal opportunities to access in education for females, as well as males. However, the issue of inequality between females and males who are already in schools had insufficient attention around the world.

This paper will focus on the issue of inequality between genders at different levels of schooling in terms of: self-conception of students, and teacher attitudes towards students. It will examine the effect of inequality problems on academic engagement and academic achievement as well. After giving an international perspective, I will be focusing especially on Turkish context. I will discuss gender implications in Turkish context; close-knit traditional family relations, stereotyped gender roles, marriage, motherhood, patriarchal society structure, and how these elements reflect on different levels of education. I will be also examining university students’ gender role perceptions, teacher attitudes towards students, and Turkish culture’s effect on communal living. While analyzing gender role perceptions, I will use multiple examples from Turkish textbooks, and try to understand how they put social pressure on students in terms of gender roles.

  1. Sex vs. Gender

Inequality of genders is a big issue all around the world. Not only in education, but also in all social aspects, women are either suppressed, or underestimated. However, it should be acknowledged that these inequalities are not based on sex, but on gender. “Sex” is a demographic category based on biological features of human beings. On the other hand, “gender” is a concept constructed by people. When children are born, they are either a female or male, but gender is the result of the socialization process. Other people, media, culture, religion, school etc. construct it through time. (Kızılaslan & Diktaş, 2011). So, we can say that being a woman or a man starts with biological features, but it is shaped and completed by learning the social expectations. Almost in all cultures, for instance, masculinity is associated with being self-sufficient and being strong, while femininity is associated with neediness and being maternal.

The effect of social expectations and media shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to youngsters creating self-conceptions. Because they adopt these features and establish their identities based on those perceptions. These self-conceptions and identities cause possible different behaviors at schools. And since these gender roles are commonly accepted, teachers consciously or unconsciously support students’ behaviors.

  1. Gender Identity and Academic Engagement

Gender identities that were established at very early ages affect academic engagement. Masculinity and femininity start to shape children’s characteristics. Boys tend to seek less help from teachers even though they need it, and girls tend to feel insecure about some subjects considered “manly”.

Especially during adolescence, because of social norms and expectations, subjects related to engineering, such as math and physics, are started to be considered as something “male”. It affects females’ engagement in those topics as if having an interest in those subjects is not very normal. Because of this misfit between females’ identity and STEM subjects (STEM: science, technology, engineering, math), when having to choose their majors at schools, females try to meet the expectations by gravitating to more “girly” subjects. (Kessels, et. al., 2014).

Traditional classrooms, which empower competitive and individualistic behaviors, misfit female students’ learning styles, which are cooperative and interdependent. (Hall, 2011). Although it is easy to change the structure of these classrooms, there are not many attempts to do it; maybe because even teachers are accepted these stereotypes.

A good example of how children establish their gender identities in time is shown in the below graphics. (see figure 1) It shows how female students feel about mathematics in elementary school, and how it decreases over time through high school. As a result of decreasing “liking”, the achievement decreases accordingly. When this graphic applied to male students, it is seen that the decrease is not as drastic. (American Association of University Women, 1994).

Untitled 2

Figure 1

Feeling less successful than others, especially starting from elementary school until high school, is very critical for pedagogical and social development of students. Because the feeling of not being good enough causes different results, for example becoming insecure or not standing up for own rights etc. In the left, the graphic shows this is actually the case. (see figure 2). In elementary school, almost half of female students and more than a half of male students think that they are good at a lot of things, but after the socialization process, we see that this percentage decreases dramatically especially for female students. When they reach high school level, only 23% of them think they are good at a lot of things, while almost half of male students still think they are good at lots of things.



Figure 2

When students reach to the high school level, socialization process is usually completed, and both women and men are finished shaping their identities. By the time female students start high school, they get used to feeling less successful than males at certain subjects, and it obviously affects their self-conception. They even cannot be sure about the things they know they know. As a result they cannot be assertive, and they cannot stand up for their ideas especially in classrooms when they are disagree with peers and teachers. Graphic in figure 3 shows the rate of female and male students who say they always argue with their teachers when they think they are right. And, as one can guess, the rate of females agreeing with the statement is very low when compared to males; males agreeing with the statement almost doubles 333females who agree with it. (see figure 3).

The basic reason of both female and male students form self-conceptions based on gender roles is because they are always exposed to culture, media, and society. Voluntarily or involuntarily, they accept and try to meet the expectations of society, and be a part of this inequality. However, another important factor is the teachers’ attitudes in classrooms. Especially in elementary schools, since students are very young, they see their teachers as their role models. And surprisingly, children at that age are very good at grasping the messages under people’s attitudes. So, when a teacher gives positive feedback to a male students and not the female student after solving the same problem, both male and female student will definitely get a message from it. Then, basically, it can be said that teachers are a very critical part of this issue of inequality in education; whether to prevent it, or to support it.

According to research, teachers do have a negative effect on gender inequality in classrooms. Research find out that teachers typically engage more communication with male students than female students in the classrooms which strengthens boys’ sense of importance, and weakens girls’. Another finding is that teachers ask males more abstract, complex, and open-ended questions, which leads them to active learning. An interesting finding, points out that teachers usually give detailed instruction to males while taking over and finishing the tasks for female students. I believe this attitude strongly implies that female students are less successful than males, and they need more assistance with their tasks. As a result of these consistent behavior, it can be said that females are tracked away from high-skilled, high-paid jobs, especially the ones requires math and science knowledge, and boys are encouraged to work in those areas. (American Association of University Women, 1994). We can reach the result from research that teachers with certain attitudes empower gender inequality by encouraging social and cultural norms and expectations.

The most obvious inequality between genders’ academic engagement occurs in science classrooms, since scientific subjects are acknowledged as more “male”. This norm affects both self-conception of males and females, and also teachers’ attitudes. Another research shows the role of gender in physics classrooms by doing various observations and interviews with students. (Guzetti, 1998). It finds out that in science classrooms male students always dominate the talk. And teachers take male students’ statements more seriously when compared to females’. This creates a lower self-esteem in females, thinking their ideas not worthy of giving voice. The interview made clarifies that both sexes think that “Boys make it seem more technical”, “Girls say the stupidest things”, “Boys are louder and more confident”, and “Boys have reasons to back up their hypothesis, and girls don’t” etc.

After the research is finished, Guzetti (1998), confronts students of both sexes with the findings. And the interesting thing is that both male and female students are aware of gender bias in their classrooms. However, males appear to be aware and proud of their oppressive behavior rather than being embarrassed.

  1. Gender Inequality in Turkish Context

So far, gender inequality in schools is examined from a universal perspective. Similar to other countries, in Turkey, there are several reasons for inequality in education that are based on; economic differences, regional differences, urban-rural differences, and gender. (Maya, 2013). Diversely from other countries, in context of Turkey, gender issues are more related to gender roles due to traditional close-knit family relations, conservative and patriarchal society structure. In Turkish culture, marriage, childbearing, large family size, and not being very individualistic like other countries strengthens especially women’s ties to the family. Conservative milieus in the society also want to see women aspiring for only being mothers. As a result of this social pressure and traditions, gender roles become more acknowledged in society. And they started to be taught to little children from a very early age, like giving boys toys such as machines, cars, while giving girls toys such as babies. As children grow up, these gender roles continue in schools, and girls are tracked towards the compulsory education only, and boys to high-skilled, high technology jobs. Eventually, girls are lead to aspiring being good moms and being obedient to their dominant patriarch husbands. (Erden-İmamoğlu, 2013).

4.1. University Students’ Gender Role Perceptions

A research done at Hacettepe University (2009) tries to show senior students’ point of view on gender roles regarding family life, work life, and marriage. The research has questions such as “Women cannot work without the permission of the husband”, “Politics is men’s job”, “A woman must be virgin in order to marry”, “If the woman deserves, the husband can beat her”, “It is not appropriate for a woman to live alone if the husband is dead, or they are divorced” etc. in order to determine those students’ opinions on social life, work life, and marriage.

The results show that there are significant differences between the points of views of two sexes. According to the research, female and male students have a more egalitarian attitude on gender roles related to social life. However, it is a fact that more than 30% of male students think “Women shouldn’t go out alone at night”. When it comes to work and marriage, male students have more of a traditional point of view. More male students than females believe that “Women should keep it as a secret if she is beaten by the husband”, or “Women should only be examined by female doctors at hospitals”. This research clearly shows that universities failed educating intellectual and open-minded individuals when it comes to equality of genders in social and work life. (Yılmaz, et. al., 2009).

4.2. Teacher Attitudes towards Gender Inequality

Another study done in a university in Turkey aims to identify discrimination towards university students by their peers and teachers. The study showed that students are discriminated because of their clothing style, religion, political views, and their gender. (Toker Gökçe, 2013). The questions in the research included various statements about teacher attitudes. The results were in line with other research done in other countries; it showed that teachers are taking statements more seriously when asserted by males, and surprisingly they mock female students’ questions, or they totally ignore females. Some of the statements related to teacher attitudes were “ignoring me in the classroom”, “withholding permission for me to speak while giving permission to others”, “asking mocking questions”, “allowing other students for making fun of me”, and “criticizing my clothing style”. On average, 33 males agreed with these statements, while 125 females agreed with them. These results show how serious is the level of inequality. The findings also emphasize the teachers’ role in creating bias in their classrooms, and it highlights the importance of making teachers aware of the discrimination created by their behavior.

Although teachers have pedagogical education and knowledge, they seem not very careful about gender issues in their classrooms. Most of them are not aware of the significance of discrimination or their critical part in it. Research show that most teachers are not interested in the issue at all. They defend themselves saying they were not educated in gender, but in math, science, literature etc. They do not see themselves as responsible for gender bias in their classrooms. (Leeman, 2014). However, in my opinion, let alone encouraging gender bias towards females in the classroom, even when the teacher is neutral towards the issue, they become a part of the discrimination. Because when oppressive parties see the teacher is neutral, this empowers them for being discriminative. Since the teacher usually is the authority in the classroom, and is the person with the sanction power, s/he shouldn’t be passive about this issue.

 4.3. Turkish Textbooks: From Past to Present

Examining this gender inequality issue, it seems very unrealistic. Even the research results seem delusive while imagining how people can be so unaware and irresponsible. However, we are saying that, in Turkish context, it is the result of culture, and we tend to underestimate the power of culture that was established over the years. It is the creation of a patriarchal society, and conservative moral values in relation to obedient women and suppressive men. Growing up and being a part of this society make gender bias seem normal. When examining the textbooks used in elementary schools, it is obvious how these norms were absorbed in books. Growing up reading those books make both females and males thinking how they should adapt this patriarchal society structure.

A study analyzes textbooks taught in Turkey during Republic era, and it examines the gender-biased statements. (Gümüşoğlu, 2008). And indeed, it finds out how these gender roles reflected as normal first in family, then in schools. It also points out how different governments act according to their interests. For example, during the first years of the Republic, domestic unity and cooperation were supported in textbooks. In 1928, 4th grade Civics textbooks, there are statements such as “cooperation” between mother and father, or “shared intents”, and it remarks that both mother and father are the building blocks of a family:

“Şu annem, görüyorum ve anlıyorum ki hiçbir işte babamı yalnız bırakmıyor, her şeyde ona yardım ediyor. Demek babamla annem arasında sıkı bir dayanışma var… Babam geçende bana bir “müşterek maksat”tan bahsetmişti. Bizim ev de müşterek maksatla vücuda getirilmiş bir müessese olacak. Babamla annem birleşmişler, hem kendilerinin, hem çocuklarının saadetlerini temin etmek için çalışıyorlar… Anneyle baba galiba her evin temel taşı.” [1]

In this example, the impact of early Republic can be easily seen. However, as years pass, and intentions of governments change, traditional Turkish culture starts to show itself in textbooks. Especially starting with multiple party era – 1950s, gender roles start to come to the scene. We can identify how females depicted as mothers who are in charge of dinner, cleaning etc., and how males depicted as moneymaking husbands. In 1950, Civics textbook, it is implied that a home cannot be imagine without kids, putting a heavy pressure on families:

Çocuklar evin çiçeği süsüdür, çocuksuz ev çiçeksiz bahçeye benzer… Sokaktan yorgun argın gelen baba, yavrularını daha kapıda kucaklayıp öperken yorgunluğunun hemen kaybolduğunu görür. Aynı zamanda bu güzel yavrular için çalışıyorum diye göğsü kabarır. Anneniz de bu manzara karşısında sevinç duyar. Hemen hepiniz, elbirliği ile babanızın rahatını sağlamaya koşarsınız. Bu ne büyük bir zevktir. Kiminiz babanızın kahvesini hazırlar, kiminiz terliğini verir, bazılarınız ayakkabılarını temizleyerek kaldırırsınız. Hem bu surette annenize de yardımınız dokunur. [2]

In 1970, gender roles become clearly defined: mother doing cleaning, preparing food on time, doing ironing; and father earning money. In this textbook, 3rd grade Social Studies, even children of the house are mentioned regarding gender roles. Little girls helping their mothers, and little boys helping outdoor house needs, probably going to the market etc.

“Bir evde outran ailenin dirlik düzen içinde yaşaması için herkesin kendine düşen görevi yerine getirmesi gerekiyor. Örneğin anne evin temiz tutulması, yemeğin zamanında sofraya getirilmesi, ütü çamaşır gibi çeşitli ev işlerini yürütür. Baba çalışarak ailenin geçimini sağlar. Kız çocuklar anneye yardımcı olur. Erkek çocukları evin dışarı işleriyle uğraşır. Böylece ailede kendiliğinden iş bölümü olur.”


When examined textbooks, it is seen that not only the tone and style of content has changed, but also wording of literary works has changed. For example, in 1935’s 5th grade reading book there is a stanza about tradesmen:

“Biz esnaf takımı severiz işi

Çalışır yaşarız erkek ve dişi

Aramızda yoktur tembel bir kişi

Ulusun özüyüz biz, şanımız var.”[3]

When reached to 1952, however, the stanza undergoes a change, and becomes:

“Biz esnaf takımı severiz işi

Çalışır yaşarız birer er kişi

Aramızda yoktur tembel bir kişi

Ulusun özüyüz biz, şanımız var.”[4]

Another example where gender roles and inequalities are clear is in a poem. The poem called “Kalabalık Bir Aile”[5] (A Crowded Family), in 1952’s 3rd grade Social Sciences textbook, describes twenty-eight children’s future characteristics, occupational tendencies, and social roles. First of all, the poem gives places only nine females, while giving place to nineteen males. In the poem, women are only depicted as housewives, who are quiet, luxuriant, fragile, coquettish, and delicate. On the other hand, men are depicted as courageous, strong, skilled, capable, smart etc. And their jobs are depicted as writers, architects, engineers, astronauts, soldiers, musicians etc.

Another example is more recent, from 2012-2013 academic year’s Social Studies textbook to be taught for next 5 years. (MEB’den Skandal Kitapçık, 2014). One activity described in the book, makes the teacher select a female student and act out the henna night with other female friends. According to the activity, it is important to mention that the henna night is the last night for the girl who is marrying to stay with her parents. And after that night, it is emphasized that the girl must stay loyal to her new home and husband, and she should demonstrate it by sacrificing herself if necessary. People see these activities very normal because they are imposed as “teaching traditions and values”, but I am sure that there are way too egalitarian traditions in our culture rather than these. When 5th grade students, both males and females, are growing up reading and performing these activities, it is normal that girls are aspiring to get married rather than improving themselves and leaning to high-skilled and high-status occupations.

After analyzing textbooks, we can say that gender roles and social expectations have a critical role in terms of creating self-conceptions among women and men. Growing up reading these books throughout their childhood and adolescence, both sexes are trying hard to meet what is expected from them. Women trying to be very neat, skilled at cooking, aspiring to have children; and men trying hard to find high-paid jobs in order to provide for their wives and children. Even in textbooks women were omitted from laboratories. For example in 2003’s Social Sciences book, in the unit: “energy”, only men are in the laboratories, while women are ironing and washing dishes. (Salman, 2012).

  1. The Role of Gender Inequalities in Communal Living

Education is one of the most powerful tools to shape a society. With right education, the next generation can be very improved, and beneficial for themselves and society; or they can be slaves in a modern way. According to Durkheim, the main purpose of the education is to preserve the structure of the society as it is. And the way to do that is through moral education. (İnal, 1991). In this view, offspring of wealthy families will be lead to high-salary jobs, and offspring of lower income families will be again proletarians. With the current education system in most countries, it is really difficult to move up the social ladder, because the system won’t let you. And its teachings of moral values and traditions make people accept this situation without an effort. In Turkish context, gender roles and expectations related to them are added to the class struggle.

Traditional and conservative values are taught to students leading them to become housewives and husbands. In order to achieve this, females are being brainwashed to either not working, or working in low-status jobs that won’t overshadow their husbands. And males, as well, are being brainwashed in order to become successful and wealthy enough to provide for their several children and wife. The supreme goal behind this education system, then, is to preserve the social system in the society which is based on prescriptive gender identities. This is why, in our society, even though a woman is very successful, or is working in a high-status / high-salary job, she is still seen as miserable only because she is not married, or had children.

Another connection that can be made between education and gender inequality is about the job markets. One of the purposes of education that empowers class system is preparing individuals as future employees. Education, here, plays the role of ranking students on their achievements, and eventually the ones with higher grades are accepted in better jobs. It also ranks students based on their gender identities. Even though a female students is successful at science, when two people are applying for the same job, especially when it is related to science or technology, the male applicant is preferred. So, social prejudice and biases also can be seen there, preserving the patriarchal social structure.

  1. Discussion

When textbooks and curricula are examined, the impact of education is obvious in terms of disempowering females in educational fields, and reducing their self-esteem. Moreover, various research studies reveal the critical role of teachers for discouraging females’ academic engagement in certain subjects. However, some teachers still think that gender issues are not under their responsibility, even though it occurs in their own classrooms. I believe that the schools and universities are the places where both instruction and education occur (eğitim & öğretim). If an institution is only interested in academic knowledge of the students, then it fails raising competent and sensitive individuals. According to research mentioned in this paper, even the universities in the capital of Turkey fail improving their students’ awareness of the gender inequality issue.

Lots of suggestions may be made in order to increase awareness among students in universities. One of them is to put gender equality courses as a must course. Especially, the students in education departments would benefit from such course, since they are teachers-to be, and they will have a huge impact on the issue itself, and on their future students. Actually, a course on gender equity issues was added to the program in the education department in a state university in Ankara. The research’s aim was to see if the course would had an impact on pre-service teachers’ attitudes towards the gender issues. For a semester, 33 students have taken the course, and 100 of them haven’t. During the course various point of views were studied: “What is gender?”, “What does the term ‘gender’ signifies?”, “Theories about gender and personality development”, “Parents, teachers, and peers as socialization agents”, “Historical overview”, “Subjects and instructional materials” related to the issue, “Quantity and quality of teacher-student interaction”, “Assessment and evaluation of female and male students”, and “How do we achieve gender equity in our classrooms?”. After the semester was finished, the results revealed that there is a fundamental impact of such a course on pre-service teachers in terms of their attitudes towards gender equality. The students, indeed, developed a more favorable approach on the issue when compared to the students who hadn’t take the course. (Tantekin Erden, 2009).

This paper focused on how education is an important tool for preserving the social values, traditions, and classes. Since, Turkey is mostly a traditional society, education in our country emphasizes the importance of values of a patriarchal structure. Growing up reading textbooks that prepared with this worldview, and being exposed to culture via media, family etc., our society is doing a good job in terms of imposing its expectations with certain gender roles. In order to provide a more egalitarian education for next generations, one of the most important jobs is the teachers’. From a very early age, children are seeing their teachers more than their parents, since most of the day is passing in schools. That’s why teachers are role models for students. And passing the gender equality idea across is up to teachers. To approach students of both sexes equally will increase their awareness towards the topic. And in order to have this attitude in long term, schools should focus on gender equity, as well as academic content and pedagogical knowledge.




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[1] Refik Ahmet, Yurt Bilgisi 4. Sınıf. İstanbul. p.21

[2] Fikriye Sunuhi, Yurttaşlık Bilgisi Ortaokullar İçin. Yeni Matbaa, p.35

[3] Okuma Kitabı, 5th grade. Devlet Basımevi, İstanbul. 1935.

[4] Okuma Kitabı, 5th grade. Devlet Basımevi, İstanbul. 1952.

[5] Şükriye İrge, Hayat Bilgisi, 3rd grade. Güney Matbaacılık. Ankara. 1952.