From Finishing School to Feminist Academy: The Impact of Changing Social Constructions of Gender in a Private Girls' School in Western Australia 1945-1997

Ms Karen Lois Marais
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The main focus question of the study is: How did social constructions of gender impact on the type of education offered to girls in a private elite Independent girls' school from 1945-1990?. This case-study of the school in Perth will provide a rich source of data to deconstruct in terms of gender stereotypes and expectations. Significant understandings about the school and the social values it embodied will be gleaned from a study of documents, archival material and semi-structured interviews to determine changing gendered expectations of school and life beyond school. In this way it will be possible to track inter-generational perspectives on and changes in notions of femininity and the ways in which these gendered practices were reflected in both policy and practice. Thus an intergenerational, multi-vocal narrative will be constructed creating a sense of values and attitudes based on 'lived' experience and will take into consideration social class, rural or urban home settings, age, occupation of parents etc.

It is envisaged that the study will make a theoretical contribution to the body of knowledge related to education and gender in Australia with a particular emphasis on elite private girls' school education which purports to challenge patriarchal norms and to offer models of considerable success in the academic, professional and business worlds. The single-site qualitative, retrospective case-study will make an effort to determine, for example, the extent of 'slippage' between the 'content'and formal policy level of the curriculum offered to girls in this school and gendered expectations linked to social roles beyond secondary education. A postmodern critical framework is particularly suited to a case-study within an historical framework where the meanings attached to the notions of masculinity and femininity have changed considerably over time. An interdisciplinary postmodern framework invites multiple critical perspectives such as feminism, social semiotics and discourse analysis.

Keywords: Social Construction of Gender, Notions of Femininity, Female Educational Experience in Private Elite Christian Schools, Intergenerational Perspectives, Models of Education
Stream: Research Methodologies, Quantitative and Qualitative Methods, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: From Finishing School to Feminist Academy

Ms Karen Lois Marais

Doctoral Student/Sessional teacher, The Graduate School of Education, The University of Western Australia
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Karen has worked in Secondary and Tertiary levels of education in South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Most of her studies were completed at the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg)where she worked in the English Department. She also held a Senior Lectureship at the Johannesburg College of Education and was Senior Literature coordinator and teacher at St. Hilda's Anglican School for Girls in Perth. At present Karen teaches in the Graduate School of Education and holds a Bachelor of Arts(Honours) degree; Diploma of Education and Master of Arts (English Language and Literature). Her research areas have included gender issues,cultural identity,post-colonial texts and discourse analysis with a particular emphasis on secondary education for girls. Her Doctoral thesis focusses on the impact of changing social constructions of gender on education in a private girls' school in Western Australia. This case study is set against a background of significant change in Western Australian education where changes in gender constructions have shaped the models of education offered to girls and boys in state and private schools.

Ref: I06P0078