Why do some men fear educated women?

Not every girl will wish to become an astronaut, but they should not be denied the opportunity to try, if that is what they do want.

Not every girl will wish to become an astronaut, but they should not be denied the opportunity to try, if that is what they do want.

Several years ago, Britain’s first astronaut came to a school near here, to talk to students about the experiences of going into space and orbiting the earth. After being introduced by the head teacher to the audience of enthusiastic  students, Helen Sharman turned to him and asked why he felt it necessary to  describe her as “Britain’s female astronaut”? Why, she wondered, was her sex a matter of importance? The students in the audience could clearly see that she was a woman – would the headteacher have introduced a man as a “male astronaut”? The point that Helen Sharman was making, was that in having made history when she was a member of the crew on a Soviet Soyuz TM-12 space craft in 1991, she had been selected for her abilities, not because she was a woman.

I find it interesting that in the twenty first century there are still occasions when the press and media feel it necessary to express surprise, when a woman comes to the forefront of a domain traditionally seen as being that occupied by men. I am even more taken aback when I hear individuals (usually men) questioning the ability of women to fulfil various roles.

Education has, of course, played a significant part in enabling greater equality to be achieved in society. A few years ago, when working as a local authority inspector I recall looking at a primary school log book from 1908, in which it was recorded that an inspector had visited the school and examined the boys’ reading and writing and the girls’ sewing. This was most definitely an indication of the expectation that girls should know their place, and should be prepared for a life of domestic service. Should such an approach be adopted today, there would quite rightly be an outcry against such a sexist interpretation of the world. This is of course, a matter of history, and I have no doubt that in 1908 very few people would have questioned the approach to stereotyping the roles of boys and girls. Today this would most certainly not be acceptable; or would it?

A 2013 report from Unesco indicates that there are still thirty one million girls of primary school age who are not attending school. Seventeen million of these girls are expected never to enter school. There are four million fewer boys than girls out of school. Three countries have over a million girls who do not attend school. In Nigeria there are almost five and a half million, in Pakistan, over three million, and in Ethiopia, over one million girls missing out on an education. This in itself is quite shocking, however, there are stories behind some of these figures that are even more alarming.

Bina Shah is an award-winning Pakistani journalist from Karachi, who is a regular contributor  to the International New York Times, and writes a monthly column for Dawn, Pakistan’s biggest circulation English-language newspaper. She has stated that – the right of girls to go to school is under global assault. Progress is being impeded not only because of poverty and lack of infrastructure, but also because of political and religious dogma that values girls less than boys, and believes that denial of educational opportunities will ensure that male dominance continues into the future. In Nigeria, a country that has recently seen more than its share of atrocities against school children, and particularly girls, journalist Yousaf Ajab Baloch reports: “This terrorist outfit [Boko Haram] has issued pamphlets warnings all private schools in the district to shut down girls’ education or to face the consequences”.  They do this with a claim that the education of girls is against Islamic principles, a suggestion that is most certainly disputed by most of the world’s leading Islamic scholars.

Before anyone suggests that this is a narrow perspective of the world, and the role of women within it, held only by Islamic fundamentalists, one should consider other examples of this perverse situation. In the United States of America, a  conservative Louisiana Catholic named  Raylan Alleman who fronts an organisation called ‘Fix the Family’ has issued a document outlining eight reasons why girls should not be encouraged to attend college. His arguments include the notion that educated women attract the wrong kind of men, women receiving a formal education won’t learn how to be wives and mothers, and rather bizarrely, It would be a “near-occasion of sin” for the parents to allow their daughters to be in a situation where they might become “impure”. Mr Alleman attributes much of the cause of family breakdown to the fact that we have encouraged the education of girls.

I suppose for many of us who have been brought up in societies where we value and respect equality, what we would see as the strange and extreme views expressed by these individuals and groups seem outdated and unacceptable. But perhaps we need to ask why it is that these people exhibit such a fear of educated women?  Why is it that they are in such trepidation of girls who demonstrate that they are at least as capable and intellectually able as their male peers? Is it perhaps an indication of their own inadequacy? Or possibly a fear that women may prove themselves to be more able to manage a society in which they have demonstrated their own limitations?

Wherever girls have been afforded opportunities to demonstrate their abilities in schools they have made an increasing contribution to the societies in which they live. Sadly in too many situations these opportunities continue to be denied. The levels of fear appear to be increasing in many parts of the world and it is important that teachers everywhere continue to emphasise the benefits to be gained by ensuring that every child, regardless of their sex, receives a good education.

7 thoughts on “Why do some men fear educated women?

  1. Hi Richard – the figures relating to girls and their lack of access to education in many parts of the world is indeed troubling. While of course my own country (countries) is/are not perfect I’m astounded by the level of fanaticism and cowardice shown by groups like Boko Haram. Killing, kidnapping, and maiming children for attending school, and then claiming God supports this action, is beyond disgusting, beyond shameful.
    I think what is interesting, and certainly related to this, is that once cultural or religious aspects are bought into the matter many people are scared to criticize for fear of being dubbed racist or intolerant. Even the government of Nigeria seems reticent to take action in these matters. In my opinion cultural and religious aspects are often beside the point in matters such as these. Some things, such as killing children, are wrong in all cultures and all religions.

    • Hi Tim,
      You are quite right about the fear and reticence of some governments in this situation. The horrendous bombing at a school in Nigeria a couple of days ago resulted in the temporary closure of all schools in the district. This is the kind of result that bullies and terrorists seek. They have no intellectual argument so they resort to violence. It is noticeable that a number of individuals have spoken out against this situation and shown defiance by continuing to attend school and support educational development. At the same time the government of Nigeria has often seemed to be frozen and unable to demonstrate any initiative.
      People of all religious beliefs and none should be entitled to express their opinions – even when these are as extreme as those expressed by Mr Alleman. It is when they make an effort to impose these upon others and close their minds to the views expressed by others that we begin to see an erosion of the rights of whole groups of children.

  2. Yes Richard!,Its totally heart breaking,but it is still the case in most part of our country.Why is this bias??,how are we going to do justice here?,where to begin?,are some of the questions,I am asking myself.Has Culture taken a strong hand here??,More awareness should be created,and yes!,We, as teachers as you said,should emphasis the benefits of every child regardless of their sex,to get equal and quality education.

  3. Hi Sathyasree,
    I fear that culture is often used as an excuse. As we have seen, in some parts of India it remains difficult for girls to receive an education that is equal to that provided for boys. However, throughout Indian history there has been a proud tradition of educating girls and women and this has enabled them to play a major lead in the development of Indian society. Sadly it often remains in the interest of men not to educate girls. In this way they are more easily controlled and “utilised”.
    I find it very interesting that when I am working with students of in schools in India the vast majority of teachers are women. In my experience they are thoughtful, critical and highly professional in their work. Teachers in India are most certainly leading the way in ensuring that the educational system becomes more equitable and that all children receive the education that they deserve.

  4. Hi Richard.
    I feel we should ensure that we don’t externalise this as a problem. Even in societies where we respect and value equality (such as the UK? – discuss) there is often a real hatres of educated, successful, skilled women. The ‘trolling’ on the internet and Twitter of women who dare to speak out about it (such as internet games designer Anita Sarkeesian) shows how inherent a fear (even hatred) of women seems to be in some men.

  5. Hi Richard, your post brought back memories of when I lived in Pakistan. I worked with an NGO called ‘The Galaxy of Youth’ and I vividly recall one project which involved having to get permission from the local area imam (religious leader) to build a primary school for girls in Orangi Town, one of the largest low-income settlements in Karachi. The imam at the time (who of course only met with the male members of the NGO), finally agreed on the condition that the curriculum also include sewing and cooking. Attendance at the school was low for some time, until we realised that it is not just fathers who were reluctant to let their daughters outside the house, but mothers too, feared for the safety of their vulnerable daughters. As a result, we built a small building next to the main school which consisted of just one massive room, in which companies donated old typewriters to us, and sewing machines, where we invited mothers to accompany their daughters to the school, and whilst their daughters were studying, to learn sewing and typing skills. We actually had a few success stories where, besides the girls going on to secondary education, there were a few mothers who went on to secretarial jobs around Orangi, and others in which they started their own tailoring business.

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