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Page last edited: 02/04/2013

Gender and Hidden Curriculum


Sociologists would argue that although there are clear biological differences between the male and female sexes gender roles are heavily influenced by processes of socialisation operating in the family, the school, the mass media etc. With regard to the formal education system it is necessary to distinguish between the formal curriculum of the individual academic subjects and the Hidden Curriculum which is a set of values, attitudes and norms that is implicitly conveyed to pupils by teachers' actions and by the organisational processes operating inside schools. When the Hidden Curriculum operates in a gender specific fashion and is combined with other points mentioned toward the end of these notes, it is sometimes said that a school is operating according to a gendered regime.

You should note that the hidden curriculum may be analysed from competing sociological perspectives.

  •  Functionalist sociologists who approve of males and females adopting traditional "instrumental " and "expressive roles" respectively would approve if the hidden curriculum reinforces traditional gender roles since these gender roles are assumed to be "functional" society as a whole.
  • Marxists would argue that the hidden curriculum helps to reproduce an exploitative, unequal, unjust capitalist class structure in  a capitalist system which must be overthrown by revolutionary means .
  • Feminists would oppose the hidden curriculum insofar as it contributes to the perpetuation of gender inequality. However liberal feminists might tend to argue that educational reforms are gradually eroding some of the most discriminatory aspects of the hidden curriculum whereas radical and Marxist feminists would argue that despite some reform the hidden curriculum still contributes to the continuation of patriarchy and/or class inequality.
  • In social action perspectives it is argued that the overall structural power of the socialisation process to influence individual behaviour is rather less than is suggested in more structural theories which suggests that even if a hidden curriculum does exist its actual influence on human behaviour may be relatively limited.

In this document I concentrate on describing some elements of the hidden curriculum. Differing sociological perspectives on the hidden curriculum will be considered in more detail in a separate document.'

  • New Link April 2013 : Click here for BBC item on increasingly sexualised culture

The Hidden Curriculum may reinforce traditional gender roles in the following ways.

[Additionally these final points do not relate to the Hidden Curriculum but they do have a bearing on girls' experiences of school. Firstly there are arguments  that in the past girls did show some fear of academic success on the grounds that it might reduce there attractiveness to boys preferring in some cases to "play dumb". Also problems arise as a result of  double standards in relation to sexual activity whereby this is encouraged and admired in men but frowned upon in women. Thus sexually active men might be described as "studs" etc whereby sexually active women might be insulted in any number of ways.]


The position of female students in schools and in society generally  is changing and it may be necessary to  modify some of the above points.

Also in relation to the bracketed points it may   that double standards in relation to sexual activity are on the decline and that high female academic ability is not a barrier to relationships with boys many of whom would respect girls' achievements.


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