Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Parity in Religious Education at Brigham Young University

One of the oft-touted doctrinal foundations in the gospel of Jesus Christ is the emphasis on equality. Jesus Christ espoused salvation and its temporal implications to all who would listen. Likewise, he commissioned all who would listen to go forth and teach to the world. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ have an injunction to represent their faith to the world in all situations and to do their best to bring the benefits of the gospel to all they meet. With this rhetorical basis I approached the gender representation among the institution of religious education at Brigham Young University.
Statistically speaking, in the fall semester of 2012 there were 385 undergraduate religion classes taught between BYU and the Salt Lake Center (by class, I measured individual sections for each offered course). Of those 385 classes, only 60 were taught by women. This equates roughly to a 15% rate of parity for actual class time. 

Additionally, whether by University policy or practice or, perhaps, by coincidence, there was a significant statistical divergence in the rate in which individual faculty members taught classes. Of the 53 classes taught by an instructor who only taught one class, 43 of those classes were taught by males. The reason I use the single class criteria is because BYU has a relatively large standing faculty within the Religious Education Dept. On the whole, the majority of the instructors teaching religion classes come from the Religious Education Dept.: 80 instructors out of 128 instructors are listed as being either full-time, part-time, or visiting faculty of the Religious Education Dept. Interestingly enough, the total composition of the Religious Education Dept., in terms of gender, is 75 male faculty members and 17 females (92 faculty members total). The composition of the instructors for the fall of 2012 in terms of those representing the Religious Education Dept. is 63 male religion faculty members and 17 female religion faculty members (80 faculty members from Religious Education total). Five of the female religious education faculty members taught only one class. Six of the male religious education faculty members taught only one class. Something additional to notice is that all of the female faculty members of the Religious Education Dept. are represented in the fall 2012 class composition. Of those 17 faculty members, 12 teach more than one class. On the other hand, 69 of the 75 male religion faculty members taught more than one class. The composition of non-Religious Education instructors for males was 42 instructors, versus the six for females. Non-religion male instructors teaching only one class for the semester numbered 37. Non-religion female instructors teaching only one class for the semester numbered five.

With the data presented, I posit that the religious education experience (which includes the Religious Education Dept. and other faculty members) suffers from a significant lack of parity. Besides the sheer statistical difference between female and male instructors, the issue of resource utilization is critical. Those who belong to the Religious Education Dept. and who are male are more likely to teach multiple classes than their female counter-parts. Likewise, the number of non-Religious Education Dept. faculty used for only one class is distinctly male. The majority of these single-class instructors are teaching introduction-level classes for Book of Mormon and New Testament. This indicates that for the courses in which far more classes need to be taught, where the demand on the Religious Education Dept. faculty is too high, the University fills positions by pulling predominantly male faculty members from across the campus, representing a wide-array of departments and disciplines. The female faculty utilized outside of the Religious Education Dept. are predominantly from the Humanities. The current composition indicates that the standard to be considered for a position teaching a religion class at BYU is simply that you are male. If you are female, you are more likely to be utilized if you are in the Religious Education Dept. 

This is an issue because class time is a form of conditioning. The less class time students spend with a female instructor acting as authority on spiritual subject matter, the less students are going to consider women valid instructors on spiritual subject matter. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the number of female role-models leading the entirety of the church is slim, despite doctrinal criteria which does not stipulate that females should not act as role-models. As an organ of the church, BYU reinforces the idea that to be a religious authority, one must be male, regardless of discipline of training or current field of research. Women are few and far between, and the message implicit in a predominantly male-staffed religious education experience is that a course taught by a female is an anomaly or is deviant.

A simple way to rectify this problem would be to evenly distribute the number of one class positions per semester among all of the education departments. Or, perhaps, to limit the number of one class positions to only certain departments. Another very simple way to rectify this problem would be to hire more female instructors. The flip-side of this is to reduce or dismantle the religious education requirement at BYU. Any one of these solutions would be a good start to closing the gender gap in religious education at BYU.

by Alex Christman

The Institution of Education

Our first experiences with the society outside of our family is when we are given the opportunity to attend school. These experiences are how we are socialized for the world around us, learning what is expected and the rules that we must adhere to. This institution of education has great influence on how we represent ourselves according to our sex, from our earliest years. Many of us probably still remember our early experiences with school, how we play at recess and with whom, these early years will be the focus to show how education is an institution for influencing gender. In his paper of the effects of the educational institution, John W. Meyer states that schools are “organized networks...which prepare individuals to act in society,” this statement shows that we, as humans, are meant to be influenced by our education. I wish to show how this network that has developed in education has heavy influences on gender and how we see it presented in society.
An institution is a society or organization founded for a particular purpose, an established law, practice, or custom according to the Oxford Dictionary. Education today is an institution because it provides a necessary function to teach children the rules of society and what their part is in that society. Through our early education, most especially kindergarten through around 6th grade, we are socialized to understand both from teachers and other students what we do according to sex, gender, social class, and race. The rules of society we learn cover not only criminal acts but also civil acts, such things as who we are expected to marry, what we should be when we grow up, and how we should act toward other human beings. These rules of society are continually fluctuating but the principle of education as an institution that is forming our thoughts and actions through socialization has always been a constant.
I can still remember my very first days of school as a 5-year old, in our class room we had a play kitchen area, a building blocks station, a reading corner and tubs full of all kinds of toys. In kindergarten it seems as if the walls of gender have not fully formed, I have witnessed and experienced many times both boys and girls playing house or playing with cars and trucks, and yet there are subtle undertones of gender separation, such as boys being the dads that leave for work when playing house and the girls “staying home” to take care of the babies. Slowly as children mature these lines, defining gender and separating male and female, thicken and solidify. Children start out with many of the same goals not realizing that the expectations for girls and boys are different, however as they attend school many of them are socialized to think that there are manly things, such as football and wood shop, and then there are womanly things, such as home ec, and cheerleading. Did our teachers really teach us this, that we can only become what is okay for our gender? Or is it the context of education that teaches us these things? In looking at the socialization of education it seems that perhaps it is more teachings of other students that lead us to believe that there are these boundaries for males and females. It is the expectations of their peers that drive most children to do the things that they do, from chorus to student government, this is the way we are socialized to believe in the differences between males and females. In watching and interacting with school aged children today, we can still here the effects of gendered differences, such as the little girl that told me she could not be friends with a little boy because he was a boy and her friends would think she was weird.
How do we show this little girl that it does not matter that he is a little boy, she can still be friends with him? This is a problem that many social scientist have addressed in recent years, how to help the institution of education treat both males and females equally. While schools are making changes in regards to the treatment of everyone, such as requirements of shop and home ec for everyone, there is still much that needs to be done. Perhaps starting in the early years of school to express that an individual may do anything as long as they put their minds to it. Another option might be a more equal focus of male and female historical figures, maybe a study of the women's movement and the thoughts and feelings behind it. We often hear discussions about George Washington in regards to the Revolution and about Abraham Lincoln in regards to the abolitionist movement, and then a little bit spent of the women of these times and maybe touch on the 19th amendment. These small modifications might help to show both girls and boys that they are both able to do whatever they wish.  
Through the education systems we are taught the important social skills to become successful individuals. However, often times the institution of education may express that we must specialize in certain skills based on our sex or gender. As children we are influenced in this setting by both our teachers and more specifically our peers, we tend to place much stock in the opinions of others. Improving education is not an easy thing to do because it must be universal and able to be enforced in schools of all classes and in all places, possibly starting with some small things such as a slight change in curriculum could aid in this endeavor. There is no simple or immediate fix that will take out the gendered issues associated with education but continuing on this path of equality will help individuals realize their abilities to become or to do anything they wish as long as they are willing to work for it. 


Meyer, John W. 1977. The effects of education as an institution. American Journal of Sociology 83, no. 1 (July).

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Gendered Perspective of the US military

Is the US military gendered? In theory, no. But looking at the military in practice, a resounding YES. Legally, there are no restrictions to women who wish to serve in the military and they are supposed to be treated as equals to their male comrades. However, women only make up about 15 percent of the 1.4 million Americans on active military status.[1] So why do men significantly outnumber women? Any other institution depicting this much of a statistical gap between men and women would probably raise a great deal of concern among legislatures, but no one seems to feel that waging a battle against gender socialization in the military is worth the time. This leads me to pose two questions: Why is our military gendered? And more importantly, should it be gendered?

Women have been serving in the US military since the Revolutionary War—whether as nurses, cooks, laundresses, spies, or even as soldiers in direct combat (when they could get away with disguising themselves as men).[2] During World War II, female pilots began to be organized into the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) and the Army also began to include women among the ranks of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). It wasn’t until after the Vietnam war that the need for a separate women’s corps began to fade and after the disestablishment of the WAC in 1978, enlistment qualification were made equal for men and women to enter the same basic training.[3] Since then, women’s participation in the military has increased to 15.2% as of 2003, up from 9.8% in 1983.[4] Looks good so far, but numbers and facts alone can’t answer the question of why our military is gendered.

The vast research on gender roles in the US military shows that gendered attitudes and stereotypes towards women exist. One study examining the increase in risk of suicide among military servicemen found that the military is still dominated by masculinity norms that permeate across every ranking.[5] Another study of the perceptions of men and women in military training at the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets produced strong evidence of gender stereotyping. “For both stereotypes and evaluations of individual cadets enrolled in the training program, men more than women were believed to possess the motivation and leadership qualities necessary for effective military performance, whereas women were believed to possess more feminine attributes that impair effective military performance. Because men and women did not differ on objective measures of military performance, the sex-differentiate devaluations of cadets enrolled in training most plausibly reflect the influence of gender stereotypes rather than performance differences between the sexes.”[6]

Other studies make an argument for the gender gap in service that is more biologically oriented rather than socially constructed. The requirements for many units require a level of physical capability that many men cannot even reach. This is a possible explanation for why many women (in addition to some men) can’t advance as far as they would like in the military—their bodies physically can’t handle it. Laura Miller produces an argument that feminist activists opposing the combat exclusion policy represent a minority of Army women. She claims that most women just aren’t interested in serving in the army and roughly half believe that they wouldn’t be physically capable of doing what would be required of them.[7]

A new documentary called “The Invisible War” uncovers a battle of sexual harassment and abuse inside the military that is going downhill, and fast. This could possibly explain not only why women’s numbers in service are so low but also how gendered perspectives of the military (and the people in it) are perpetuated within it’s own ranks. According to the documentary, about 500,000 women serving in the US military have been sexually assaulted, making it more likely for a woman to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.[8]

Can the military be changed to eliminate gender socialization? The answer is yes, the military could potentially open up all positions to women who can meet all the same physical requirements that men have to meet. The bigger question that makes this a sensitive issue is whether the military should change to eliminate gender socialization. Earlier this year, the Pentagon announced that it would open up more combat positions to women in the US Military. “These 14,000 positions include tank mechanics and frontline intelligence officers. However, about one-fifth of active-duty military positions, including infantry, combat tank units, and Special Operations commando units, will remain off-limits.”[9] This sparked significant debate in the political sphere over the role of women in the military and just how extensive that role should be. For Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps captain and California Representative Loretta Sanchez, the move was not enough and they expressed disappointment that more positions were not opened up.[10] On the other hand, former senator Rick Santorum expressed the opinion that women in combat could actually compromise missions if their male comrades instinctively attempt to protect their female comrades in danger, losing sight of the mission objective.[11] Is this a socialized construction of gender speaking, or is there some truth to Santorum’s words? It’s clear that there is a gendered perspective of the military, but whether or not this is a valid perspective is hard to say.

Is it possible to make changes within the military to enhance women’s career opportunities while still respecting a gendered perspective? Perhaps it’s already being done. Also earlier this year, the military tried out a new culturally oriented strategy in its efforts in Afghanistan—female engagement teams. These four to five member units will “accompany men on patrols in Helmand Province to try to win over the rural Afghan women who are culturally off limits to outside men. The teams, which are to meet with the Afghan women in their homes, assess their need for aid and gather intelligence, are part of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s campaign for Afghan hearts and minds. His officers say that you cannot gain the trust of the Afghan population if you only talk to half of it.”[12] This is hopeful news not just for the women seeking career advancement within the military, but for Afghan women and men as well. Perhaps the military has caught on to something crucial here—if there are some tasks that men perform in the military that women can’t, then are there some things women can do for military operations that men can’t? As the most powerful military operations in the world, this is probably something we can’t afford to overlook.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/04/opinion/women-in-combat.html
[2] http://www.army.mil/women/history.html
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Burns, Shaun Michael and James R Mahalik. 2011. “Suicide and Dominant Masculinity Norms Among Current and United States Military Servicemen.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol. 42, No. 5, pp. 347-353.
[6] Boldry, Jennifer; Wendy Wood and Deborah A. Kashy. 2001. “Gender Stereotypes and the Evaluation of Men and Women in Military Training.” Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 57, No. 4, pp. 689-705.
[7] Miller, Laura L. 1998. “Feminism and the Exclusion of Army Women from Combat.” Gender Issues. Pp. 33-64.
[8] Dick, Kirby. 2012. “The Invisible War.”
[9] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/02/10/where_a_womans_place_is_on_the_ front_lines?page=0,0
[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/us/pentagon-to-loosen-restrictions-on-women-in-combat.html?_r=0
[11] http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/46340313/ns/today-today_people/#.UGDXd9B2gug
[12] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/07/world/asia/07women.html