Writing in 1981, Jane Roland Martin takes R.S. Peters and Paul Hirst to task for perpetuating a male perspective in the philosophy of education. Martin says that feminist scholarship must be integrated into the mainstream if we are to change this perspective to be more inclusive and accurate. Furthermore, Martin argues that beyond the male-dominated content issues, education is guilty of gender bias in terms of what we would now call the exit profile. Martin sees Peters’ “educated person” as not only one who has “grasped the basic structure” (Martin, ‘The Ideal of the Educated Person’, 101) of his respective domain, but also one who is “objective, analytic [and] rational” (102), all traits that Martin identifies as stereotypically male. The complementary stereotype, of course, is the feminine ideal of compassion, intuition and emotion.
In an essay entitled ‘If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All,’ author Margaret Atwood discusses many of the concepts raised by Martin, specifically in the context of women writers.
Atwood, like Martin, looks at the history (which, as Martin says, is “past politics”) and sees a definite gender divide, a “double bind,” a term which both Martin and Atwood employ:
The double bind: if women said nice things, they were being female, therefore weak, and therefore bad writers. If they didn’t say nice things they weren’t proper women. Much better not to say anything at all. (Atwood, IV)
As Martin says, in the context of education, the Peters model
puts women in a double bind. To be educated they must give up their own way of experiencing and looking at the world, thus alienating themselves from themselves. To be unalienated they must remain uneducated. Furthermore, to be an educated person a female must acquire traits which are appraised negatively when she possesses them. (104)
Martin further posits that not only is the female perspective missing from the Peters model, but also that the stereotypically female traits, which once may have been acquired “just by living” (106) are not just undervalued by the Peters model, they are in fact increasingly disappearing from our society. Education, therefore, must step up to the plate and include the reproductive agenda in curricula, apparently to correct this social trend. Until it does, Martin sees education as initiation not only to the forms of knowledge, but to the implicit male bias inherent in the disciplines as they exist.
Martin has similar issues with the Hirst model of education, which she claims “excludes … the development of artistic performance, the acquisition of language skills…, and education for effective moral action” (‘A New Paradigm for Liberal Education’, 42). While Martin’s critique of Peters suggests that his educated person does not take action, her attack of Hirst goes one step further, claiming that the Hirstian scholar “has no desire to solve real problems in the world” (44). To counter the two models, in which Martin argues ‘the person’ is defined strictly in terms of the intellect, she proposes a mind-body-morality person who is bound to others and “the natural environment” (56) and whose sense of self is as a “dependent, contributing” member of society (57).
Given that Martin’s attempt to redefine the educated person is now 26 years old, we need to ask ourselves whether or not her politics are, perhaps, history. While her critiques of Peters and Hirst fit into the 1970s and 1980s feminist platform, the issues of gender politics in 2007 are, some would argue, radically different – and as a result, Martin’s proposed reconception of the educated person no longer fits.
Yesterday, I attended my first Women’s Studies meeting at Vanier. I have been invited to participate in Women’s Studies because many of my courses reflect the aims of the program, and I was happy to accept. As a second-generation feminist, I am in the privileged position of having never been obliged to fight for my rights, as it were; I am, I have to say, unspeakably grateful to the women who have come before – women like Martin, and Atwood, and de Beauvoir and Friedan, not to mention my mother and her sisters, and the teachers I encountered during the first stages of my own education.
As a teacher, I am frequently dismayed at my students’ concept of the F-word: a feminist, to many minds, is a raving, hairy, man-hating lesbian who cannot be an objective teacher because her politics overwhelm all other aspects of her personality. I hope that through my material and presentation, I can at least enlighten some students and show them that for me, feminism is inclusive, not exclusive. I know, however, that in some cases, I have no hope; furthermore, in the eyes of some more ardent feminists, I should really not be discussing feminist issues, since regardless of my physical attributes, I am a white, Christian, middle-class, well-educated wife and mother, and therefore I have essentially bought into the male paradigm.
Well, it takes more than that to shut me up, as you know – and thanks to the efforts of, among others, the white, middle-class women who came before, I don’t have to shut up.
My point, though, is that one of the issues raised at yesterday’s meeting was whether Women’s Studies is, essentially, an anachronism. Like Martin’s new paradigm, the aim of Women’s Studies has been not only to provide content, but also to shift the political value system toward a more balanced, inclusive one. The problem with the “new” paradigm a quarter-century on, however, is that we’re now coming to the realization that gender cannot be a simple male-female concept. To think of education – and thus society – in terms of productive/reproductive processes is to dismiss increasingly significant groups within society who do not necessarily define themselves by the traditional man/woman characteristics.
If history is past politics, we may well be at the stage where we can think of Martin’s paradigm as history. This is not to say that her conceptual analysis is of little or no value; like other feminist efforts of the ‘Second Wave,’ her attempts to redefine education and knowledge are invaluable to those who must take up the torch. As was said more than once at yesterday’s meeting, the current trends in gender politics would not be possible without the progress made in the past few decades.