The prevalence of patriarchal hegemony in the South African secondary school curriculum: A feminist perspective

First author: Professor Anna-Marie (A.M.F.) Pelser
Research Professor, North-West University, Faculty of Economic and Financial Sciences- Entity Director – GIFT, Mafikeng Campus.
Corresponding author: Professor A.M.F. Pelser: HED (Home Economics, PU for CHE), B Com (UNISA), B Com Hons (PU for CHE), M Com (Industrial Psychology, NWU), PhD (Education Management, NWU)
e-mail: or
Co-author: Professor Edmore Mutekwe
Professor, North-West University, Faculty of Education, School of Professional Studies in Education.
Professor Mutekwe: PhD (UJ), M.Ed (UZ), MBA (NUST), Bed (UZ), PGDE (UZ), Dip in Personnel Management (UZ) & NC (Computers) (Hexzo)
Ensovoort, volume 41 (2020), number 5: 1


In this paper we explore how hegemonic masculinity or patriarchy manifests itself in classroom practice in the South African context of education. In our examination of the patriarchal hegemonic tendencies in the school curriculum, we adopt a feminist perspective as the lens for focusing on how the patriarchal ideology is embodied in the South African secondary school curriculum and how it masquerades as the common sense that leads boys to have inflated notions of their sexual and intellectual supremacy while relegating girls to the position of sexual objects at the mercy of their male counterparts. For this paper, an interpretivist paradigm was adopted while the qualitative phenomenological research approach and design were used to guide the data collection process, which takes the form of focus group discussion interviews. The study used a total of 60 participants purposefully sampled from five schools constituting the target population of secondary school girls from the Northwest province of South Africa. It is envisaged that the paper will provide answers to the following research questions: How does the South African school curriculum promote the patriarchal ideology? How do patriarchal hegemonic tendencies manifest themselves in the life of boys and girls as learners in the South African education system? What effects do the patriarchal ideologies have on the girls’ life chances? The findings to be reported herein are expected to highlight what constitutes hegemonic masculinity in not only the South African education system but also in its wider social structures; family, religion, polity and economy. The data analysis process for the paper was conducted in accordance with the dictates of the thematic approach and how the patriarchal hegemony and ideology disguise as the common sense typical of the South African school curriculum and society.
Keywords: hegemonic masculinities; patriarchal hegemony; masculine social roles; feminine social roles; social structures; South African education system


Mutekwe and Modiba (2014) contend that many women and girls in Africa are subjected to the hegemonic masculinities through their involvement in their social structures, which include the family, religion and their educational institutions. The ways in which the patriarchal hegemony is promoted in the school curriculum is in a way consistent with what the South African society considers as masculine and feminine social roles for males and females. The South African education system thus engenders the consciousness that boys and girls should play distinctly different social roles. As a consequence, such an ideology predisposes boys and girls to a strictly gender-polarised anticipation of roles. What is more worrying is that in some educational institutions this mind-set sometimes leads girls to a lower class attendance, performance and sometimes render them victims of unwarranted sexual violence by some boys (Mutekwe & Modiba, 2012a). Educators in many of the South African schools compound the situation by emphasising the significance of the existential attitudes, beliefs and values held within their social structures about appropriate gender roles and/or sexual aspirations of boys and girls (Christie, 2008). No wonder many in their school curriculum tend to reinforce the gender-polarised roles and ambitions for their male and female learners. A typical example is that through their interactions with educators, girls are oriented towards developing the type of consciousness, personal demeanour, modes of self-presentation, self-image and the gender identifications which predispose them to specific feminine social roles and possible competencies (Mutekwe & Modiba, 2014). The inference that can be drawn from the aforementioned is that the patriarchal nature of the South African school curriculum thus advantages boys as opposed to girls and this is maintained through institutionalised and ingrained gender-role beliefs and ritualised behaviours typical of the social interactions of boys and girls within their educational institutions and beyond.

Background to the problem

The influence of books in propagating the patriarchal ideology in South Africa is often compounded by educator attitudes and expectations towards their learners (Odaga & Heneveld, 2015). Nhundu (2007), Meyer (2008) writing from a feminist standpoint epistemology share these sentiments maintaining that the patriarchal values embodied in the school curriculum makes girls as a whole to be disadvantaged compared to boys as a whole. In concurring with the aforementioned view this paper explores the view that in South Africa, boys and men generally have access to all the educational goodies, or what Bourdieu (2008) calls a relevant cultural capital, a concept that he adopts to describe the background knowledge or experiences that are systematically denied to girls largely because of the ideology of patriarchy which is embedded in the school curriculum in its different facets such as the formal and tacit or hidden forms as can be discerned from the bulk of the school text books and teacher attitudes and expectations of learners’ gender roles (Mutekwe & Modiba, 2012b). This paper thus explores the above view on the grounds that the patriarchal hegemony typical of the social behaviour of many South African men is compounded by the portrayal of male and female images in the school curriculum.

Aim and objectives of the paper

This paper examines the predominant manifestations of hegemonic masculinity or patriarchy in the South African school curriculum and or context of education. Pursuant to this broad aim the paper focuses on the following objectives;

  • To establish the ways through which the South African school curriculum promotes the patriarchal ideology.
  • To identify the predominant patriarchal hegemonic tendencies that manifest themselves through the South African school curriculum
  • To examine the possible effects of the patriarchal ideologies on the learners’ life chances as boys and girls

Research questions

The discussion in this paper is guided by the following research questions:

  • How does the South African school curriculum promote the patriarchal ideology?
  • How do patriarchal hegemonic tendencies manifest themselves in the life of boys and girls as learners in the South African education system?
  • What are the effects of the patriarchal ideologies on the learners’ life chances as girls or boys?

Statement of the problem

The problem this paper sought to explore and unmask concerns the biased patriarchal nature of the South African school curriculum, which is implicitly replete with values and ideologies that blatantly promote hegemonic masculinity. As a consequence, the South African school curriculum tends to polarize the educational or career aspirations of learners along gender lines (Gordon, 1995). It is disheartening to note that despite the fact that there is an urgent need for equality between girls and boys or women and men, which is often given only lip service, the issue has never been taken into serious consideration as schools and education continue to promote the status quo of social inequalities of not only gender but also race and in some cases ethnicity (Mutekwe & Modiba, 2012b). Facets of social inequality such as gender-role stereotypes and disparities continue to dog the educational and other social institutional spheres of life (Gordon, 2005). The role of the educators in this process has also been noted with claims by some gender discourse analysts such as Dorsey (1996) and Gaidzanwa (1997) that some of them continue to engender and peddle hegemonic masculinity through gender-role ideologies and stereotypes which differentially predispose boys and girls towards not only different but highly gender polarized social roles.


The paper’s impetus is based on the view that despite women having worked their way into many school management positions, gender imbalance in education continues to pose a great global concern, with progress towards equity being very slow and uneven (Mutekwe, Maphosa, Machingambi, Ndofirepi & Wadesango, 2013). Its focus is therefore that improving girls and women’s involvement in school leadership and management plays a pivotal role in increasing their rights, freedoms and opportunities for success as it ultimately propels them to desire to progress to positions of authority and power in many organisations as well as to aim towards attaining gender equality in all the social institutions where the patriarchal hegemony is widespread (Momsen, 2010). It is therefore envisaged that the contribution this paper makes to the subject of gender inequality in South Africa is towards practically sensitising both men and women to the need to step up gender equality initiatives in their society so as to emancipate those women who continue to suffer the brand of patriarchal hegemony engendered by the school curriculum (Mutekwe, 2018). On the theoretical front, the paper is intended to benefit readers and scholars interested in understanding the importance of gender equality initiatives, which implies making an informed contribution to the existing body of the literature on gender transformation initiatives (Mutekwe & Modiba, 2012a). In its contribution to influencing the South African gender education policy, the paper is also expected to show that despite women constituting more than half of the basic education workforce in South Africa, they are still under-represented in positions of influence in many social institutions such as schools and religious institutions and that this can be alleviated by instituting many gender sensitive action programmes aimed at deconstructing the hegemonic masculinity typical of the South African school curriculum, which has the effect of predisposing many women to subordinate social roles (Meena, 2004; Mutekwe, 2007).

Review of the related literature

The philosophy behind this section of the paper is that the more new researchers understand trends in an area not necessarily similar but related to their study the more they are able to identify the research gap and also the more they can approach their own study from an informed position (Nieuwenhuis, 2016). Seen in this light, the following sub-headings characterise the discussion in this section of the paper; theoretical framework, typologies of feminist thought, how the school curriculum promotes the patriarchal ideology, predominant patriarchal hegemonic tendencies in the school curriculum and the effects of hegemonic masculinities on the life chances of learners.

Theoretical framework

The theoretical framework adopted for the discussion in this paper is feminism or the feminist approach. Feminism as viewed by Meena (2004) as a perspective or view that seeks to challenge the patriarchal nature of societies the world over. It is sometimes viewed as an action-oriented ideology that advocates equality of opportunities between males and females in society (Odaga & Heneveld, 2015), feminism therefore emphasizes the belief that women and men are equal and should be equally valued, as well as having equal rights (Odaga & Heneveld, 2015). Oshako (2015) considers it a movement seeking to create an awareness of the fact that woman are oppressed, devalued and dominated by men and that the structural arrangements that initiate, support and legitimate that systematic oppression, constitute patriarchy or male domination. As an ideology, the patriarchal hegemony is thus premised on the supremacy of males over women which enables the former to dominate the latter (Hartmann, 2012).
The history of girls and women’s rights owes much to the works of an Englishwoman Mary Wollstonecraft who published Vindication of the rights of women in 1792 demanding that women be given equal political, social, educational and civil rights (Higgs & Smith, 2017). Further developments on the need for girls and women’s liberation from patriarchal tendencies then spread through the works of Elizabeth Candy Stanton and Lucretia Mott’s (1848) document entitled Declaration of Rights and sentiments as a result of the Seneca Falls convention, John Stuart Mills’ (1869) publication, The subjection of women in which he describes how boys and men are brought up to believe that women are their moral, spiritual and intellectual inferiors. The events of the First World War years, 1914 to 1918 also played a major part as they showed that women could work in factories and mines doing jobs traditionally considered male domains. Further to this the 1918 milestone in which women over 30 won the right to vote also contributed to exposing the need for their rights alongside men culminating in the events of 1936 where all British women were granted the right to vote (Higgs & Smith, 2017). According to these authors, during the first wave feminist era, that is, the first half of the 20th century, most women in Europe also gained the right to vote including access to various other social rights and today women in many parts of Africa are gradually being integrated into formal institutions and social movements that create a new vision of gender relations in society.
For Higgs and Smith (2017) it is the belief that women should be given the right to vote and that they should be equal before the law that has given rise to the first-wave feminism. In the West and many other countries influenced by Western thoughts such as Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the above constituted the earliest forms of feminism (Higgs & Smith, 2017). Currently, it is perhaps true to note that virtually all educated men and women in the world at least understand that women should be allowed to vote, own property, have divorce and child custody rights and be given access to birth control, education and other human rights (Ogundipe, 2015). It is also true that many educated men and women accept that women should be afforded equal educational, job and pay opportunities. This type of feminism resonates with other methods of educational inquiry in philosophy, namely critical rationalism, which questions tradition, critical theory, which challenges all forms of power on the basis that critique is constructive, empiricism, which asks us to look at reality objectively, including social reality (Higgs & Smith, 2017:85). It is thus important to note that in general, the term feminism has as its ultimate goal, the triumphal emancipation of the woman as a unique, distinct individual with a mind uncluttered by patriarchal beliefs and abusive submission to tradition (Ogundipe, 2015).

Typologies of feminist thought

According to Higgs and Smith (2017:79) the term feminism covers a collection of philosophies rather than one philosophy given that women from different cultures and different societies have designed their own forms of feminism culminating in what we today know as radical, liberal, Marxist-socialist and African forms of feminism (which deals with the whole question of Western colonisation, gender and white male domination in Africa). Further to these typologies, Higgs and Smith (2017) also identify European feminism (which tends to be more Marxist and/or existentialist than British and US feminisms) and Islamic forms of feminism (which focuses on the place of women in Islam and generally contends that Islam gives moral and spiritual equality to men and women as well as British and US feminism (which can further be divided into first and second wave feminisms). In all the aforementioned typologies of feminisms, patriarchy or male domination is viewed as the root of all female subordination in society (Higgs & Smith, 2017). In the views of these authors, feminism claims that the entire experience of being human has been seriously damaged and distorted by patriarchy or masculine domination and the marginalisation of women.
Today in education, an example of a philosopher of education whose work has been greatly influenced by feminism specifically is American Jane Rowland Martin who has challenged the notion that motherhood and any form of academic activity are necessarily mutually exclusive. For her this view is absurd because a great deal of teaching and learning takes place in the home and therefore it is a mistake to equate education only with formal public schooling (Higgs & Smith, 2017:89). Other examples of notable feminist thinkers include Kate Millet (a political philosopher), Germaine Greer (a feminist theorist), Marilyn French (A novelist and feminist theorist), Naomi Wolf (a feminist theorist), Margaret Atwood (a Canadian novelist), Betty Friedman (a feminist theorist), Sheila Rowbotham (a radical feminist) and Mary Daly (a feminist theologian). Among the notable African feminists are the likes of Catherine Acholonu (a Nigerian feminist scholar and sociologist), Chioma Opara (a Nigerian feminist writer and scholar) Omolara Ogundipe (a Nigerian feminist activist), Obioma Nnaemeka (a feminist writer and scholar) and Obioma Nnaemeka (a Nigerian-American feminist scholar). It is important to note that feminism as a philosophy helps encourage women and men to re-examine their value systems, give women enormous courage, psychological and moral power and can contribute alternative ideas to discussions of social problems particularly the marginalisation of girls and women in society (Higgs & Smith, 2017).
Many of the notable feminists prefer to have the goal of feminism as empowering women while ensuring their equality to men. For some scholars, for example, for feminists such as Nnaemeka (2016) the term feminism has come to mean a movement that is anti-male, anti-culture and anti-religion. For purposes of inclusion, some women prefer to engage themselves in gender theory and activism by including men into the discussion because for them, men have so much power and control in society and because the majority of policy-makers in many African countries are men, some believe that inclusivity is important if women are to gain ground in policy changes that impact them (Nnaemeka, 2016). The importance that many women place on communalism and family results in their desire to work with men to develop an inclusive approach to solving gender issues. In order to eradicate the oppression women face because of their gender, working with men has become a necessity (Ogundipe, 2015). The role of African men in feminism is thus nuanced and depends on location, environment and personal ideology. In the ensuing section the focus is on examining and interrogating the feminist analyses and educational recommendations bearing in mind that feminism here incorporates a wide range of theoretical positions (Thompson, 2015).
There have been significant advances in the African women’s movement despite the view that the continued destabilisation of economies in many African nations has marginalised women and invalidated many of their social institutions including education (Higgs & Smith, 2017). In general, patriarchy is viewed as deeply embedded in the societal structures of the African continent and this contributes enormously to the oppression of African girls and women particularly in the educational sphere (Obioma, 1994). It is important to note that feminist research in the various parts of the African continent, particularly in parts of West Africa during the 1970s and 1980s, in South Africa during 1992 and in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria during 1994 revealed that girls and women’s feminist groups tend to focus on legal, educational and social reforms, violence against women, conflict resolutions in the social structures, economic and educational empowerment and other patriarchal issues in Africa (Higgs & Smith, 2017:81).
Following from the above, women’s feminist movements in Africa can best be described as political, pragmatic, reflective and group-oriented forms of feminism or the sisterhood of Africa (Higgs & Smith, 2017). Such a peculiarly African form of feminism focusing on the struggles of African women to create a space of independence and dignity out of a triple layer of oppression (oppression created by colonial, Western patriarchal and African patriarchal cultures) criticises Western and European feminists for trying to speak for African women, thus denying them their ability to voice their thoughts and or concerns (Higgs & Smith, 2017). African feminism thus maintains that African women’s liberation depends largely upon the development of an independent feminist voice meant to champion a tradition of female involvement in African societal affairs (Amadiume, 1997). Such a critical response is aimed at interpreting feminism as a Western cultural phenomenon, attempts of which are viewed as ignoring alternative perspectives on feminism that emphasise the historical conditions under which women’s movements and particularly those from Africa, challenge the patriarchal hegemonic cultures (Mutekwe, 2014). It is important to also note that African feminism focuses on the politics of gender or the power relations between men and women as they are structured around opposing notions of masculinity and femininity (Higgs & Smith, 2017). It is in this light that African feminist women are seen as viewing their role as based on male-female complementarity in overcoming discrimination by means of more equitable gender relations and changes in the sexual division of labour in society.

How the school curriculum promotes the patriarchal ideology

Walum’s (2008) assertion that discourses disseminate messages or cultural definitions of male and female roles and contribute enormously to the social construction of gender and sexual inequality between females and males was clearly supported in the study on girls and women in Zimbabwe. His views became invaluable in making sense of the representations or images that were witnessed through classroom observations in the classrooms. He considers language usage as the chief vehicle that makes social interaction possible and as providing an ideal illustration of the cultural transmission process (Wallum, 2008). For him, language contains many explicit messages regarding cultural definitions of male and female roles. It is through communication that much sexist interaction is engendered and perpetuated, that discourses have been used in the past and are still being used to dehumanise a people into submission. Such discourses reflect and shape the cultural context in which they are embedded. Drawing from Nilsen’s (2010) discussion of sexism in the English language, he argues that gender-biased discourses usually take three forms, namely, ignoring, defining and deprecating. In discussing the effects of these discourses, Wallum cites Nilsen’s use of a chicken metaphor to summarise a girl’s life course:

In her youth the girl child is a chick, and then she marries and begins feeling cooped up, so she goes to hen parties where she cackles with her friends. Then she has her brood and begins to henpeck her husband. Finally she turns into an old biddy (Nilsen, 2010:109).

The above mentioned view reveals that the cooping, cackling and brooding were conveyed and reinforced by the images of men and women in the curricular material or literature to which the pupils were exposed, namely, the text books and other literature to which they had to refer. For example, the charts that were hung on the walls in the classrooms and textbooks that were used reflected traditional female dominated spheres of life. These included cooking, housekeeping, feeding babies and carrying them on the back. The charts also portrayed men and women in traditional gender-stereotyped occupations. Textbooks, work cards and pictures on wall charts tended to allocate all the prestigious careers or jobs to men while relegating those associated with housekeeping and nurturing children to girls and women. It is in this sense that the schools were viewed as having set the scene for unequal educational and career aspirations between boys and girls and their subsequent unequal access to economic sustainability. The images portrayed men as products of particular education and in specific employment or leadership positions, having access to better resources. The table below summarises these images. The data summarised above shows how language use or discourses promoted and reinforced traditional gender-role biases as embedded in the Zimbabwean social structure. Such biases and values are also reflected through issues associated with the teachers’ interactions with boys as opposed to girls in the classroom as the discussion in the ensuing section shows.

Predominant patriarchal hegemonic tendencies in the school curriculum

South Africa as one of the African states, has thus been described as one of the societies in which patriarchy is deeply embedded and in which girls and women are oppressed in their social structures (Obioma, 1998). As a result, since the year 1990, the country has been engaged in a process of fundamental reconstruction and it continues to strive to be a non-sexist and non-racist society with the feminist movements contributing enormously towards such an agenda (Dolphyne, 1997; Higgs & Smith, 2017).
Further to the above, sociological theorist Thompson (2015:12) suggests the following as some of the chief feminist educational interventions; providing pupils with affirming female role models, mandating equal treatment of girls and boys, desegregating boys and girls in particular classes or schools, changing the curriculum to emphasize values associated with the private sphere and teaching pupils to critique gendered power relations and deconstruct gendered discourses. The feminist intervention most widely discussed in this paper as capable of addressing the girls’ needs in their schools is what has become known as an ethics of caring (Higgs & Smith, 2017). According to gender-difference theorists, the schools’ focus on masculine, public-sphere values (values such as competition, individual achievement and rationality), has obscured the importance of the nurturing values connected with femininity and the private sphere (Pateman, 2008). Because difference theorists regard relational, domestic, or otherwise feminine values as indispensable both to individual flourishing and to the well-being of society as a whole, they call for an affirmation of gender difference and a revalorization of the caring work associated with women (Rollins, 2015). An ethics of caring, they believe, must be made central to teaching. Argued for by theorists, implemented by practitioners and applauded by legislators and media pundits, an ethics of caring approach has been said to offer the best and in some cases the only solution to the daunting list of problems that girls encounter in educational institutions (Raymond, 2015). Not incidentally, it is also seen as a solution to a host of other problems. Obviously, one reason for its popularity with non-educators is that an ethics of caring is a cheap solution, requiring an outlay of energy on the part of teachers rather than an outlay of cash on the part of the general populace (Thompson, 2015:13). Yet it also appeals to educators, for the caring approach described by gender-difference theorists resonates with child-centred educational commitments (Higgs & Smith, 2017). Despite its potentially unsettling insistence on feminine values, caring theory appears unthreatening insofar as it underscores the teacher’s personal response to individual student needs, rather than demanding that teachers attend to systemic forms of race, class, and gender inequity. Caring theory has attracted heavy criticism from other feminists (Ogundipe, 2015). To understand both the limitations and the contributions of gender difference theory, it is important to recognize difference theorists as responding not only to masculinist educational positions but to feminist theorizing of a particular variety. Earlier feminist educators, concerned with ensuring equal educational opportunities, equal access to desirable jobs and equal pay for equivalent work, tended to emphasize the similarities between men and women and to set aside gender differences as largely the product of an outdated ideology (Thompson, 2015). From their perspective, the more that women were allowed to act like men and to aspire to achievements and rewards in the public sphere, the more that society as a whole would progress toward true equality and democracy (Thompson, 2015).
The unfortunate implication of the socialization theorists’ orientation toward equality was that women who were not like men were inferior both to men and to women who were like men (Oakley, 1997). Although liberal feminists today are more likely to emphasize women’s informed choice in working either outside or inside the home (the private sphere), the continuing effects of the deficit stance can be seen in the hostilities still being fanned between white African middle-class mothers who work outside the home and white African homemakers who work inside the home (Thompson, 2015). Gender-difference theory, by calling attention to the feminine values ignored by supposedly universal but in fact masculinist paradigms, allowed feminists to acknowledge women’s work without losing sight of the need to challenge androcentric assumptions regarding women’s inferiority to men (Sadker & Sadker, 2012). Difference theory itself is problematic, however, insofar as it attempts to revalorize women’s work, above all, the work emanating from an ethic of caring without accounting for the role that that work plays in upholding class hierarchies, nationalism, racism, heterosexism, and patriarchy (Sadker & Sadker, 2012). Although in some cases gender difference models of caring have been invoked in support of culturally relevant schooling, critics have charged that the cultural particularity of the caring ideal embraced in gender difference theories contributes to educational assimilationism (Thompson, 2015). To come to grips with both the strengths and the limitations of the arguments for adopting an ethics of caring put forth by difference theorists, it is helpful to place the ethics of caring theory in the context of the analyses and recommendations offered by alternative feminist accounts, which are viewed below as approaches to educational intervention after which a greater detail of the theoretical analyses that undergird each of the approaches is proffered. The next section focuses on a discussion of findings from a gender study I conducted on how the school curriculum in Zimbabwe, one example of an African country orients girls and women for some gendered occupational trajectories in their life course. In fact, the subsequent discussion details how girls and women’s educational choices are a reflection of the interplay of structure and agency. It begins with an analysis of how the classroom curricular material pre-disposes girls and women to particular feminine gender roles.

The effects of hegemonic masculinities on the learners’ life chances

Thompson (2003:21) asserts that despite the disagreements between theorists espousing a gender-sensitive approach to equity and those arguing for gender insensitivity, the two positions have a great deal in common insofar as they both subscribe to the principles of liberalism on the lives of girls and boys in society. Liberal feminists argue that hegemonic masculinity is counter-productive because it seeks to empower only one gender group: the boys or men in society. As an ideology, the perspective places individual freedom and flourishing at the heart of a just social order (Jones, 2000). Seen in this light it thus holds that the purpose of democracy should be to ensure that all individuals regardless of gender, are free to pursue self-actualization provided that in doing so they do not infringe on the rights of others (Jones, 2000).
The aforementioned implies that despite social justice being understood in terms of gender sensitivity or fairness and inclusivity, people should not be faced with socially imposed obstacles that prevent them from achieving whatever their desires, talents, judgment and efforts would otherwise make possible (Joe & Miller, 2014). As a result, according to liberal feminists individuals need to be judged on the basis of achievement and not on ascribed characteristics such as sex or gender. From his view, it follows that girls or women should be treated like boys or men on the basis of their individual merit and not along the basis of gender lines (Joe & Miller, 2014). To this extent, socialization and gender-difference feminist theorists find themselves in agreement. Their disagreement stems from their understanding of femininity as ascribed (in the case of socialization theorists) or either achieved or inherent (in the case of difference theorists). Naturally, if femininity is ascribed to women and not part of their own self-definition, it cannot count toward an understanding of how they should be treated in the various social institutions (Holland & Eisenhart, 2010). If therefore femininity is a valued and distinctive expression of a woman’s way of being in the world, it cannot be dismissed. Both socialization and gender difference theories emphasize reform within the system rather than radical change of the system (Holland & Eisenhart, 2010). Trusting in educated and informed common sense as the basis for social assessment, judgment and negotiation, liberalism seeks to promote social change through modifications in educational policy and practice. But while socialization and difference theorists agree that social progress is necessary if women are to flourish, what counts as flourishing or progress is importantly different in the two cases (Thompson, 2003:22).
Socialization theorists adopt the classical liberal view that education should focus on the similarities human beings regard as rational and not their gender differences (Thompson, 2003). Although accepting the equation of femininity with irrationality, theorists such as Sadker and Sadker (2012), Hall and Sandler (2012) argue that femininity is not a natural condition but the result of the inferior education given to girls and women. Hegemonic masculinity as ideology has thus taught girls from babyhood to care about their looks and to see themselves as weak and helpless, and come to measure their worth in relation to others (Mutekwe, 2012b). Through their families, schools and society at large as gender-socialising agencies meant to predispose them to the patriarchal hegemonic ideology, girls learn self-negating behaviours and media images further reinforce the message that women are ornamental rather than active agents (Mutekwe, 2012b). Owing to the fact that they are continually interrupted and belittled when they speak, many girls and women end their statements on a deferential, questioning note or issue disclaimers like “this probably not mine.” However, if girls display passivity, hesitancy and a preoccupation with romance, these critics say, it is as a direct result of how they are treated. If parents were to expect as much from their daughters as from their sons and if their educators were to ask girls the same complex and challenging questions that they ask boys, not to mention giving them the same help in coming up with the answers, girls’ challenges to self-efficacy behaviour would disappear (Mutekwe, 2012b). Treating girls as rational and capable individuals, socialization theorists argue that girls will prove themselves just as smart, independent, confident and creative as boys (Meena, 2004).
For socialization theorists, as for liberal feminists more generally, equality requires the exercise of gender-neutral justice and the same principles that must be applied to all persons, regardless of gender (Mutekwe, 2018). The few exceptions have to do with compensating for historically entrenched sexism through affirmative action policies and acknowledging the extra demands placed on working mothers. For example, liberal feminists have pressed for childcare provisions and pregnancy or adoption leave for workers so that mothering does not derail women’s careers any more than fathering does men’s careers (Meena, 2004). Most of the focus of liberal feminism, is on equal access to education and career prospects or jobs based on merit and equal pay for comparable work (Murphy & Gipps, 2006). Mutekwe (2018) contends that with the elimination of discriminatory policies and other arbitrary obstacles to women’s growth and flourishing, liberal feminists believe, men and women will be able to flourish side by side.
In socialization theory, as in liberal feminism more generally, key equity issues include eliminating bias in media imagery, classroom dynamics, funding for extracurricular sports programmes and treatment of women and girls in textbooks and the overall school curricular material (Mutekwe, 2012a). If justice is to be served, socialization theorists argue, girls must have the same opportunities and classroom experiences as boys (Thompson, 2003). For the most part, research undertaken by socialization feminists has focused on white, middle-class girls and women, on the assumption that the experience of sexism is the same regardless of race, class or ethnicity and that it is best studied in isolation from the added complications of other forms of discrimination (Thompson, 2003). Not only in the heyday of socialization theory but years later, according to reports for the Association of American Colleges’ Project on the Status and Education of Women, research on the educational experiences of African-American and Hispanic women was almost non-existent (Thompson, 2003). Ironically, the Project’s own report on Black Women in Academia stresses that its recommendations are tailored for the needs of Black women specifically but can be adapted to address the concerns of all women across the globe. While recognizing some of the specific threats and forms of exclusion that minority women in academia have encountered, both this report and the Project’s report on Hispanic women tend to share white socialization theorists’ framing of sexism as a generic women’s problem, with discrimination as its primary expression (Thompson, 2003).
The aforementioned analyses consider the experience of women of colour largely in additive terms by assuming that the issues women of colour face come from sexism (generically conceived) plus racism or ethnocentrism, rather than from sex or culture, race, class or sexuality as interlocking oppressions (Noddings, 2014). No wonder they fail to recognize how the kind of sexism that women of colour, working-class women and/or lesbians experience differs from that experienced by the more privileged women (Noddings 2014). That analyses grounded in socialization theory seldom address differences among women is not surprising. Colour-blindness, like gender-blindness, is a hallmark of socialization theory (Thompson, 2010). Regrettably, socialization theory regards femininity and other forms of difference as artificial, and as a product of different and inherently unequal treatment; justice requires that people overlook these differences and treat each other as if they were the same (Thompson, 2010). On account of the view that the issue is unequal treatment, socialization theorists focus almost exclusively on what women lack especially in comparison to the most privileged men (Thompson, 2010). As a result, it has no framework for recognizing and building upon the strengths that women in different situations may develop (Thompson, 2003).
Hidden in the liberal feminist insistence on sameness is an implicit deficit account that women who deviate from the norm set by privileged men are seen as lesser and therefore the deficit reading of girls and women is compounded in the case of women of colour (Thompson, 2003). As Cotera (1997) points out, liberal feminism assumes that the minority women’s plight is worse than that of privileged women. Often, white analyses ascribe the problems facing girls and women of colour not to racism or poverty but to their culture (Cotera, 1997). In England, for example, Asian girls are likely to be seen as being held back by traditional cultural mores. The Asian family, rather than institutionalized racism, sexism and class bias, is constructed as the source of the problem, Cotera (1997) notes. Similarly, white liberal feminist analyses in the United States tend to construe the source of the problems facing Latinas as Latino machismo and not the intersection of sexism with racism and class oppression (Cotera, 1997). In effect, liberal feminism and socialization theory focus on women as victims, regarding each added category of oppression as a further burden to be overcome. But although, in terms of economic status and civic freedom, women of colour face greater obstacles than do white, middle-class women, they also may enjoy certain distinctive strengths (Collins, 2011).
Owing to the fact that the situation of women of colour demands exceptional survival skills and lends itself to oppositional knowledge, it may promote a type of authoritative agency incompatible with white ideals of femininity (Collins, 2011). Cannon (2018) argues that the real-lived texture of Black life requires moral agency of a kind unknown or even antithetical to dominant ideals. Moreover, in terms of personal status, contends Cotera (1997), the minority woman is usually ahead as she is more likely to be head of a household or a working woman with plenty of experience as to what is in life. In spite of the unfortunate deficit readings produced by the insistence on interpreting difference as deviance, socialization theorists offer three important advantages. First, by problematizing the naturalness of girls’ affinity for particular activities, it undermines claims that if girls and women are not interested in mathematics, science or sports, for example, then they do not need education in those areas (Cotera, 1997). Reluctance to study physics, whether it is because girls are intimidated by its masculine character or because they do not believe that as homemakers they will need to know physics, is not a reason to allow girls to opt out of a complete education, on the gender-neutral analysis. Second, policy reforms resulting from socialization arguments have helped redress longstanding institutional inequities. For example, before certain practices were passed into law in many countries, funding for extracurricular school sports had been designated as funding for boys, on the assumption that girls were not or ought not to be athletic (Cotera, 1997). Equal access and equal funding policies set in place presumably have helped to encourage more sports involvement on the part of schoolgirls and may be partly responsible for the current higher female achievement in sports (Cotera, 1997). In general, socialization theorists’ focus on issues of institutional bias including questions of inclusion and access, the availability of role models, the fostering of a supportive educational climate for girls and women and the construction of a representative curriculum, frames gender inequity as the result of something more systematic than merely individual preferences and capabilities (Cotera,1997). Finally, by insisting on gender-neutral standards, the socialization theory poses a serious challenge to sentimental treatment of women’s contributions to society. If treating women differently from men on the job, on the playing field, in the classroom, in politics, or in the literary canon is sexist by definition, then educators cannot simply put women on a pedestal and then walk off and leave them there (Barton, 2017). The next section discusses the research methodology as adopted for this paper.

The research methodology

In this section of the paper the description examines the research paradigm, design, population and sampling, data collection methods and ethical considerations adopted as well as the measures utilised to ensure trustworthiness of the research.

Paradigm and design

The research adopted an interpretivist paradigm as philosophical world view and utilised a qualitative descriptive phenomenological design genre as the strategy of enquiry owing to the researchers’ interest in generating the data that has a subjective ontology (Nieuwenhuis, 2016). Drawing from the research onion principle as propounded by Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2016) it is herein argued that the two concepts of paradigm and design form the foundation of understanding decisions such as the methodology adopted and the time horizon and procedures for the data collection processes. As can be discerned from figure 2 below, the research philosophy, herein referred to as the paradigm is the fundamental outer layer of the research onion as contended by Saunders et al., (2016). Further reasoning from this perspective, the research approach (either inductive or deductive) constitutes the second layer according to the research onion viewpoint. The research onion principle also represents a number of other layers of decisions that ought to guide researchers in the entire research process right from the paradigm, approaches, design, methodology, data collection and analysis techniques (Sounders et al., 2016). The aforesaid implies that the philosophical assumptions made at the outset of the research need to be described clearly to ensure the entire research design fits well (Holden & Lynch, 2004). The diagrammatic illustration below explains the above views fully.

Figure 1.2: The research process adopted

Philosophical assumptions

Further to the above, the implicit research assumptions indicate that while the outer layer of the onion comprises the many research paradigms or philosophical worldviews such as the interpretivist, positivist, realism, social constructivist, transformative and pragmatist, the second layer comprises the research approaches, which according to Saunders et al., (2016) are either inductive or deductive research approaches. In the third layer are virtually all of the research designs (experimental, non-experimental, survey, case study, ethnography, grounded theory and action research). The methodology, that is, whether the study adopts a qualitative, quantitative or mixed-methods approach, is found at the fourth layer according to the research onion principle while the innermost layer contains such research aspects as sampling and the data collection procedures such as observations, interviews or questionnaires (Saunders et al., 2016). For this study, the overall approach and design adopted was of an inductive qualitative phenomenological type of the lived experiences of South African secondary-school learners as boys and girls. The sampling technique adopted was non-probability or purposeful sampling to ensure that the participants who were rich in the relevant data became part and parcel of the units of analysis (Saunders et al., 2016).

The research design

As mentioned earlier on, the overall research design adopted was qualitative while the specific strategy of inquiry was a descriptive phenomenological design genre on account of the researcher’s quest to understand the participants’ lived experiences (Patton, 2015) of the patriarchal hegemony typical of boys in the South African public secondary schools. Further to this, the design genre (strategy of inquiry) was also chosen for its beneficial aspects such as its flexibility in exploring the issue of hegemonic masculinity in the South African secondary school curriculum to possibly extract the most possible and salient facets of the phenomenon in detail (Mertens 2010). To ascertain how the participants experience the patriarchal hegemony in their schools, there was certainly a need to get their perceptions and feelings on the phenomenon by talking to them through focus group discussion interviews in order to provide a detailed view of their experiences of male domination (patriarchy).

Population and sampling

The population for this research were South African public high school learners from the North West Province and it was from this target population where a sample size of 60 secondary school girls were purposefully sampled to participate in the study. The objective of involving the school girls in the study was in view of their patriarchal experiences at the hands of boys and men in their South African secondary schools.

Data collection methods and measures to ensure trustworthiness

The data collection method adopted for this research was focus group discussion interviews defined by McLafferty (2014) as a semi-structured group discussion, moderated by the researcher(s) as discussion leader(s), held in an informal setting, with the purpose of obtaining information by means of group interaction on a designated topic. Through the use of this method, we were able to explore the manifestations of hegemonic masculinity from the participants and to generate a widening of responses by activating details of perspectives and releasing inhibitions that might have otherwise discouraged some of the participants from disclosing important information (Dzvimbo, Moloi, Portgieter, Wolhuter & van der Walt, 2010). This method produced data rich in detail that is often difficult to achieve with other research methods, because participants built on each other’s ideas and comments to provide in-depth and value-added insights on the subject of the prevalence of patriarchal hegemony in the South African secondary school curriculum.
In view of the fact that a qualitative descriptive phenomenological strategy of inquiry was adopted, Merriam’s (2012) cautioning that the data collection process to be adopted needs to transcend the use of a unitary tool, we had to adopt not only a focus group interview guide but also to use a voice recorder in order to allow for later transcription of the data. The process of dividing the participants into 6 focus groups of 10 members each preceded the focus group interviews which were held with the 60 secondary school girl learners from the five schools conveniently sampled for the study. This data collection process was also preceded by the pilot study, which was first conducted to test the focus group discussion interview guide feasibility and or reliability. The inspiration for doing all this came from Hesse-Biber’s (2012) cautioning that for phenomenological studies a robust and in-depth methodological triangulation is of utmost importance in buttressing the trustworthiness of the study. To further ensure trustworthiness the measures adopted were member checking, and peer debriefing and these processes coupled with the use of a voice recorder and field were essential in helping us manage the data as well as cluster the themes emerging from the collected data into code families, as described by Nieuwenhuis (2016) as super ordinate themes.

Ethical considerations

Given Babbie and Mouton’s (2010) contention that all research studies should involve ethical principles in one way or another, this study commenced with the researcher seeking the permission of the North west Department of Education for purposes of interviewing the learners in the secondary schools within their jurisdiction. Further permission was also sought and obtained from the school principals and the parents of the girl learners who were to take part in the study. This meant that consent and assent letters were prepared by the researchers and signed by all the research participants during the research advance protocols (Bertram & Christiansen, 2014). To put the learner participants at ease prior to partaking in the focus group discussion interviews, we had to draw to the participants’ consciousness the way the research process was to take so as to allow them to be at ease during data collection process (Nieuwenhuis, 2016). In all this, the researchers took into account virtually all the principles of informed consent in order to afford the participants full knowledge of the purpose of their partaking in the study, their voluntary participation and the freedom they had to withdraw from the research at any time should they have felt the need to do so. Fortunately none withdrew prematurely. The focus group discussion interviews were carried out by both the researchers and in each case the interviews literally unfolded with the researchers clarifying the objectives and the modus operandi that the data collection process was to assume and this also helped to afford the participants not only the necessary informed consent but also helped guarantee them the principles of confidentiality, anonymity and drew their attention to the need for voluntary participation prior to their participation (Bertram & Christiansen, 2014).

Analysis of results and discussion

The results and discussion of this research paper are presented in accordance with the following predominant themes, which emerged from the analysis and interpretation of the findings; the way the South African school curriculum promotes the patriarchal ideology, the nature of patriarchal hegemony typical of the South African school curriculum and how the patriarchal hegemony affects the learners’ life chances as girls and boys. The discussion under each of these themes are as presented in the subsequent sections of this paper.

The way the South African school curriculum promotes the patriarchal ideology

It emerged from the focus group discussion interviews as held in the research that among the many and varied ways by which the South African school curriculum promotes or accentuates hegemonic ideologies is through the influence of educator attitudes and expectations of their learners’ gender and or sex role perceptions. It was also evident in the focus group discussion that the participants were quite aware of the distinction between these two concepts and asked to demonstrate their awareness of the different meanings, many of them were quick to point out that while sex refers to biological determinations of maleness of femaleness, gender describes the social or cultural aspects of being male or fame and that it is also associated with the roles that each social group is expected to play in a given society. On the way in which the South African school curriculum fosters and promotes the patriarchal hegemony, the participants noted that generally the majority of their educators always find the overall academic performance of girls not as good as that of their boy counterparts. As a result this has always caused what many of the participants regard as serious bias against their efforts in academia. Asked to explain what they attribute the so-called discrepancy in academic performance to, many of participants cited their (girls’) acceptance of the view that the feminine role is primarily domestic and the belief that a man should be the provider and head of the family as the major causes of the performance discrepancy between girls and boys in education. Probed further, fifty five of the sixty in the sample claimed that not only were their educators disseminating these stereotypical views through their teaching, but also that in their personal and family lives they were being enculturated into these gender-biased ideological values and role expectations. Further to this, many of them also claimed that they often saw it as their duty as future wives to prepare their future children for “these appropriate” gender roles in the wider society and this view is encapsulated in the following response from some of the participants:

I think it is part of my job as a female, mother or wife to my husband to prepare my girl children to also be good wives and so I try by all means to prepare them in preparation for this most socially valued gender role. Ito ensure this role is promoted, many of our educators encourage us to choose Matriculation subjects such as Hotel and Tourism or Domestic science subjects such as, Fashion and Fabrics so as to be better housekeepers and ideal wives or mothers. For boys, some educators also try to help them master the basics of some so-called feminine subjects so as to be able to temporarily look after themselves given that they will not have a wife immediately they leave school or that some of them may be far from their mothers.

These findings revealed that the gender-role ideologies, biases and stereotypes disseminated by educators coupled with their (educator) attitudes towards their girl learners as well as their beliefs about the nature of feminine emotions, abilities and aptitudes do affect their expectations and subsequent treatment of girls in school curriculum. These findings confirm Meyer’s (2008) assertion that educator attitudes and their curricular-delivery pedagogies influence learner expectations remarkably. To a great extent the academic self-concepts of the girl participants in this study reflected the ways in which their educators depicted them. Another issue that was easily discernible from the focus group discussion interviews was the influence of school and classroom curricular material in promoting the hegemonic masculinity that girls came to regard as a normal part of their everyday life. In this view, many of the participants seemed to echo the sentiments expressed in Walum’s (2008) contention that curriculum discourses tend to disseminate messages of cultural definitions of male and female roles and contribute enormously to the social construction of gender and sexual inequality in females and males as well as in promoting the patriarchal ideology that it’s a men’s world. Most of the participants claimed that the bulk of the representations or images of male and female characters in text books, articles, wall charts and pictures used as pedagogical tools seem to promote more male influential social roles than those of females. One participant cited the fact that in one of their grade 10 Life Orientation text books, most of the prestigious social roles or occupations, for example, medical doctors, police officers, school principals, university professors and aircraft engineers are all portrayed as male characters while the roles of nurse, teacher, waitress, pharmacist, air hostess, secretary and receptionists are given as predominantly for females. According to the participants’ view that the accompanying language used in the text books, images, pictures and wall charts shows that as the chief vehicle making social interaction possible the language certainly provides an ideal illustration of the cultural transmission process peddled by some aspects of the school curriculum. By this the participants were of the view that since language contains many explicit messages regarding cultural definitions of male and female gender roles, it is through this linguistic communication that much gender-based social interaction is engendered and perpetuated. This aforementioned finding is consistent with the views expressed by Nilsen (2010) in his contention that discourses have been used in the past and are still being used to allocate, define and sometimes dehumanise a people into submission. Such discourses (linguistic forms) reflect and shape the cultural contexts and definitions in which gender roles as a social construct are embedded (Pinar, 2009). Further drawing from Nilsen’s (2010) assertion about gender and sexism in the English language, it is clear that his argument that gender-biased discourses usually take three forms: ignoring, defining and deprecating as can be discerned from Nilsen as cited in Walum’s (2008) use of a chicken metaphor, which alleges that in her youth the girl child is a chick, and then she marries and begins feeling cooped up, so she goes to hen parties where she cackles with her friends. Then she has her brood and begins to henpeck her husband. Finally she turns into an old biddy.
It is in view of the following explanation that the cooping, cackling and brooding are always conveyed and reinforced by the images of men and women in the curricular material or literature to which the learners were exposed: the text books, articles and literature material used as tools of pedagogy in the school curriculum. Further examples noted by the participants of such curricular material that accentuates hegemonic masculinity or patriarchal hegemony included the wall charts and work cards that are hanged their classrooms and textbooks, which all reflect traditional male and female dominated spheres of life such as females cooking, doing housekeeping, nurturing children, feeding babies and carrying them on the back while men are portrayed in the so-called traditional masculine gender stereotyped occupations. It is in this sense that the South African school curriculum is viewed as having set the scene for unequal educational and career aspirations between boys and girls and their subsequent unequal access to economic sustainability. The curricular material in the form of text books, articles, work cards, wall charts and the gender–based images contained therein tend to allocate virtually all the prestigious careers or jobs to men while relegating those associated with housekeeping and nurturing children to girls and women.

The nature of patriarchal hegemony typical of the South African school curriculum

The bulk of the participants in the study indicated that the mere acceptance of the feminine role as primarily domestic and the belief that the men should be the providers, breadwinners and heads of the families is one way through which the patriarchal hegemony manifests itself in the South African school curriculum. It was apparent in the focus group discussion interviews that the above mentioned view as given by the participants is quite instrumental in the peddling of the patriarchal values and ideologies by many of the educators in the South African secondary schools. It was quite disheartening to note that at no time during the focus group discussion interviews did the participants indicate an awareness that they or their school curriculum may in a way influence their educational achievement and career choices as most of them tended to treat the patriarchal hegemony as the normal way within which teaching and learning should proceed. Surprising enough, they agreed that in general girls do not achieve academically as much as do their boy counterparts but in their response when asked to explain what they attribute their academic under-achievement compared to that of their boy counterparts, many of them seemed to be of the view that the under-achievement and career choices typical of many girls is due to the inadequacies of their general social structures, which do not afford girls the same study opportunities as boys. Probed further, they claimed that their parents, home backgrounds and the culture of the broader society is to blame for the plight of many girls and women. Thus the participants do not view their educators as having a professional responsibility to initiate measures to help them overcome their limited agency (Giddens, 2001; Miller & Budd, 2019). In the final analysis, the aforesaid views were considered a product of the influence of the ingrained patriarchal ideology, which to a greater extent tends to entrench the emergent hegemonic masculinity.
Further to the above, many of the participants regarded their future beyond schooling as a central influence on what they aspired to follow. Although many in the focus group discussion interviews aspired to go to university after completing their Matric, they held strong beliefs about their future lives as wives, mothers and child-minders. Many of them thought that their parents had good marriages, and as a result they aspired to marry one day, especially after completion of university or vocational studies. Those who regarded marriage highly were residing with both matrimonial parents, and only eight out of the sixty participants lived with single parents.
A notable idea in the girls’ responses during the focus group discussion interviews was their wish not to rush into marriage before accomplishing their academic ambitions. Forty five participants indicated that they would prefer to wait until they had fulfilled their ambitions, fearing that it might be very difficult to find men as in their view men did not usually wish to marry women who have accomplished so much for fear of economic challenges in the home. The patriarchal nature of most families in the South African society was also reflected in the girls’ desire to have their would-be husbands assuming the roles of family breadwinner and head of family, and to be responsible for the financial support of their wives and children. These participants believed that their role as women was to be the caretaker, responsible for looking after their husbands, children and the home.
Other patriarchal hegemonic aspects typical of the South African school curriculum include the products of gender-role socialisation, which makes girls to internalise and accept the perception that feminine and masculine gender roles are products of their family backgrounds and world of work. Such a notion was also evident in their response to the question about their beliefs and values about the hierarchy of power and authority in their families as the private sphere and the economic world of work as the public sphere to which their responses were as expressed in the extract bellow

It is my responsibility as the wife to take care of the home and children while my husband leads, wields more power and authority as well as providing for the economic needs of our family. As his wife my role should be to do jobs in the home, for example, cooking, ironing and looking after our children. Furthermore, a husband should be more educated than his wife as this enables him to be an ideal head of the family and in order for him to earn more money. Many of us grew up observing our fathers in positions of authority over our mothers and that is how we learn to be who we are to be. It is clear to most of us especially those of us who grew up with both parents that the power hierarchy starts with the man of the house and then comes down to the eldest son or mother before it goes down to the rest of the boy children and to girls. Anyone who does not recognise and follow this is often considered not only radical but also a social misfit.

The aforementioned views thus reflect the effects of gender-role socialization and the impact it has on the patriarchal hegemony on girls and boys in society. The fact that many of the participants subscribed to the gender-stereotyped perceptions of men-only and women-only tasks in the public and private spheres might also be a reflection of the resilience of socializing agents in perpetuating gender-role stereotypes acquired through years of socialization from early childhood, especially because gender-role socialization takes place in children from as early as preschool age. Although career guides and counsellors or occupational psychologists may try to deconstruct these gender-role stereotypes, their effort may not be adequate to undo the effects of years of social conditioning, particularly in the social context of African countries where collective social values as echoed in old adage sayings such as “it takes a village to educate a child” are still prevalent. According to the participants’ socializing agents, in particular parents and older siblings not only condition their young ones to gender-type certain activities as for boys or girls but also most likely influence their future career aspirations. This view resonates with Meyer’s (2008) contention that in many African societies girls are most often made parents to help their mothers with looking after their siblings. Social structures are the main determinants of destiny, so many girls in this study did not challenge what their society considered as appropriate gender roles. Their views affirmed Gottfredson’s (2002) circumscription model of career development in which he suggests that, by adolescence, the girls’ career choices have already been narrowed down to those that are gender-appropriate and that a girl’s sense of options available with reasonable effort thus becomes circumscribed over time.

How patriarchal hegemony affects the learners’ life chances as girls and boys

Among the many and varied effects of the patriarchal hegemony cited by the participants on the life chances of the learners as girls and boys were the views such as that many educators encourage boys to respond to questions during class discussions in a manner that is different from that expected of their girl counterparts. One participant had this to say in support of this view; in the Life Science lesson for example, the educator engages more boys than girls in class discussions. The same is true of our Geography educator who tends to rely more on the boys for what he calls sound discussions than from the girls. The net effect of such a patriarchal hegemony is that boys tend to contribute more during class discussions and receive more attention and feedback from the educators culminating in a much academic performance level compared to their girl counterparts. The participants also pointed out that in some situations boys end up being considered more physically interactive and academically more analytical than girls and no wonder their educators expect them to better excel compared to their girl counterparts.
The evidence presented above is interestingly consistent with the findings reported by Whyte, Deem and Cruickshank (2002) in a study of secondary school educators in Birmingham, where they discovered that, generally, both male and female educators preferred to teach boys because they were more active, outspoken and willing to exchange ideas than did their girl counterparts. Gramsci’s (1971) view on the importance of common sense might also be crucial here in so far as it helps to clarify the academic gender differentiation within the school curriculum. Drawing from his contention, one can argue that the way school educators communicate the patriarchal ideology to their learners can be explained as one of the ways through which common sense tends to manufacture popular consent. By using gender-role biases and stereotypes, educators implicitly thwart alternatives to the dominant common-sensual ideas about the girls’ abilities. Through their ways of acting, wittingly or not they contribute to what Heywood (2004) would call the social construction of gender roles through social structures. How they interact with their learners as girls and boys can thus be viewed as the hegemonic permeation of an entire system of values, attitudes, beliefs, ideologies and the ethics that have the effect of supporting the status quo. To the extent that these aspects are experienced by the learners, they are likely to become part of their natural order of things (Boggs, 2006; Gramsci, 1971). Playing the role of organic intellectuals (Gramsci, 1971), the educators deliberately further the patriarchal hegemony and although Gramsci notes everyone is an intellectual in that they all have intellectual and rational faculties, not all have the social function of intellectuals. Therefore, what the educators do resonates with Gramsci’s notion of inorganic intellectuals in that they act as practically minded directors and organisers who produce hegemony by means of classroom interaction as ideological apparatuses.
A further influence of the patriarchal hegemony is implicit in the response of thirty five of the sixty participants who indicated that both the home and school environments tend to afford boys more opportunities for studying compared to that afforded to girls. The latter are often pressed for time, especially for homework, because of having to do household chores especially after supper. These views correspond with those reported by researchers Mosley (2004) and Mwaba (1994) in Ethiopia and South Africa respectively. Explaining how in the Ethiopian society parents generally constrain the girls’ opportunities for career aspirations, Mosley reported that cooking, cleaning and fetching water are considered feminine activities while agricultural activities such as ploughing the fields are deemed masculine roles. These roles are instilled in the girls and boys from a young age, such that it becomes part of their cultural practice and part and parcel of their career ambitions. In the South African context, Mwaba (1994) found that a sample of rural secondary school boys and girls characterised house cleaning, nursing and sweeping duties as examples of predominantly women-only social roles.
In this study, the girls’ narrative accounts of their lived experiences of school culture and how it influenced their life chances clearly dovetails with those expressed by Mwaba (1994) and Sadker and Sadker (1994) who contend that despite sitting in the same classroom, reading the same textbooks, and listening to the same educators, girls and their boy counterparts receive a very different school curriculum (content) and orientations towards their destiny or future career aspirations. For Sadker and Sadker (2012), upon entering school, girls often perform equally or better than boys on most measures of achievement, but by the time they graduate from high schools they have fallen behind the boys. In this study, this view was also confirmed by both the educators and the girls through their focus group discussion interview accounts. As the participants, the girls perceived their academic performance discrepancies as stemming from gender role enculturation in the social structures, particularly their homes and schools. The girls’ own views reflected that many were marginalised by their families (parents) and educators (teachers) in their schooling because their parents and educators transmitted gendered perceptions and expectations of social roles suitable for them. Such expectations were first instilled in them during their childhood activities and later entrenched by receiving further messages about particular jobs or careers from their educators and older siblings.
Drawing on Giddens’ (2001) structuration theory, one would argue that the above views reflect the effect of structure on the girls’ agency because the social structures (schools, religions and families) in this case had a constraining effect on their choices (agency) of career aspirations and thus limited their occupational horizons. For the boys, the social structures had an enabling effect because they provided adequate time to study and motivated them to excel. For the girls with some educators expressing an annoyance with them for not completing their homework, it communicated the taken-for-granted views and expectations. It is in this sense that Gitlin (2010) asserts that the influence of hegemonic ideologies often permeate the common sense that people use to understand their social roles in the world. In addition, Althusser’s (1972) assertion that schools are components of an ideological state apparatus that use ideology to reproduce inequalities of various types in capitalist societies explains the effects of the patriarchal hegemony on girls’ positions in the schools. Danziger (2003) notes that it is because of such conflicts that adolescent girls have historically tended to aspire to lower prestige, and usually more stereotypically feminine careers than their boy counterparts. The idea was also reported by Shapiro and Crowley (2002) following their study of the proportion of males to females in what they regarded as the most prestigious occupations. Reis’s (2007) assertion that, in most occupations, men surpassed women in both professional accomplishment and financial reward supports the above views. The findings also lend credence to Wilson (2003) and Wolpe’s (2006) argument that, in order to understand the marginal position of girls and women in the school curriculum and the labour market, it is crucial to first examine its manifestations of gender ideology.


The discussion in this paper has shown that while theories of socialization extend existing masculine gender roles and standards (patriarchal hegemony) to affect the life of girls and women, the feminist theories focus on bringing gender inequalities to the lime light so as to avoid reproducing or playing into them. Further to this, there is also a gender-difference theory which is concerned with enacting a new and independent ethic in the school curriculum. Its most important contribution to educational change is its emphasis on an alternative vision that yields positive goals for learners in the South African school curriculum. The problem is that the ethic on which that vision is based is not in fact independent but predicated on the very system of values it is meant to challenge. Despite the profoundly different analyses offered by socialization and feminist theories, the objections they raise to gender-difference theory are not dissimilar. All three positions argue that the idealized feminist character claims for caring and for women’s ways of knowing are, in the final analysis, quite indistinguishable from the conventionally and contingently feminist character and values that women in many advanced-industrial societies are supposed to enact. Furthermore, if the feminist character of caring and women’s ways of knowing is simply borrowed from what patriarchy assigns to women anyway, then, however much women may try to claim and make their own, they still derive much of their character from patriarchy and they function for patriarchy. The simplest form of this analysis is offered by socialization theorists, who argue that femininity is by definition a form of second-class citizenship and therefore not something to be reclaimed. Since in all except sentimental cases femininity is subordinate to masculinity, socialization theorists favour jettisoning femininity as a value system and giving women the opportunity to rise to the same standards that have served men so well. The school curriculum thus ought to play a gender sensitive or neutral role if it is to engender equality on the basis of gender in any given social structure.


The following are among the key recommendations made following the findings reported in this paper; since the discussion in this paper has shown that a whole range of curriculum selection seems to favour the interests of South African boys or men (patriarchy), there is an urgent need for curriculum designers and educators to revisit and refine it (curriculum as content of education) and make it gender sensitive in order to empower both girls and boys as opposed to advantaging only the latter. Although generally presented as unbiased, the interpretations and/or portrayals of males and females in the school curriculum need to be robustly re-examined with a view to providing a gender-balanced perspective and deconstructing the patriarchal-hegemonic tendencies typical of the South African school curriculum. The prevalence of hegemonic masculinity as evidenced in the South African secondary school curriculum is so counter-productive to the economic, social and political development of the country that it can no longer be left to continue as such especially if one considers the taken-for-granted patriarchal ideological biases that favour boys and men as a powerful social or gender group.
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