Igor Ahedo, University of the Basque Country, and Iraide Alvarez , University of the Basque Country
Gender blindness pervades political science classrooms, especially with group work. We know this from our different positions—a faculty member with practical and extensive experience teaching, and a pre-doctoral researcher specializing in feminist studies. Because of this experience and our consciousness of gender issues, we decided to collaborate in educational innovation projects. We sought to challenge gender blindness in university classrooms by showing the importance of making visible the invisible processes and structures of gender, and to bring about a more equitable classroom and teaching practice. This essay highlights some of those findings and the concern at the core of our research.
Gender Equality Practitioners
Political Science measures the power relationships present in all aspects of society. The practice of teaching reflects the teacher-student power dynamic. Practicing a knowledge-transmission model of pedagogy reinforces those asymmetries that individuals incorporate through the hegemony of the sex/gender system in western society, especially in evaluating student work.
Nevertheless, as our experience shows, gender permeates evaluation. If evaluation is gendered in the formal mechanisms (Moss-Racusin et al. 2012) through the set of criteria and norms by the teacher in the classroom according to the rules of the university institution, it is more gendered in those group work dynamics and thus overloads students with reproductive and invisible work (Ahedo, Alvarez and Gómez-Etxegoien 2022). Faculty, consequently, devalue and evaluate unfairly this work, despite being essential to the development of each task.
To address these issues with greater clarity, we discuss our research that develops tools for the identification and the treatment of gender inequalities through cooperative learning in the next section. An example of this is the preparation by the female students of the layout of the group work, the spelling correction of the work and/or the power point presentation of the work. Paradoxically, although these tasks are essential for the proper development of the work, nowadays the assessment rubrics recognized none of them.
Women’s Struggle for Recognition
Our concern with gender blindness in university classrooms comes from our own social locations, experiences, and professional interests: in one case, a teacher concerned about integrating gender sensitive practices into his teaching; In the other, a student sick and tired of seeing female work turned into invisible work before her teachers’ eyes when she and her female classmates put many hours of work into tasks that the evaluation rubrics do not recognize in anyway.
Both faculty and students knew that sex/gender system in the family, organizations, classrooms, or everyday life marked and transversed our bodies with dichotomous gendered identities (Martínez-Palacios, Ahedo and Rodríguez 2016). Norms of behavior socially construct the dichotomous model of sexuality by socializing each sex to maintain gender inequality.
Specifically, we refer to those norms in educational space connected to values of discreetness and perfectionism. The production of these norms explains the tendency for female students to avoid oral participation in large student groups and they provide bodily responses such as stomach pain or blushing when called on directly by the teacher so that potential bright students go unnoticed (Ahedo, Martínez and Aguado 2022).
Likewise, the gender norms associated with organization, empathy, dedication, responsibility and perfectionism explain how female students assume an overload of reproductive work in groups within class, taking a special responsibility for all non-visible aspects that guarantee collective progress that materialize in a mental in the body through migraines, stress, or depression (Ahedo, Alvarez, and Gómez-Etxegoien 2022). These students not only go without recognition, but also work more than their male classmates work in many instances.
When we realize that gender norms reproduce patriarchal cognitive schemes in the classroom, we can reformulate the process of evaluation. For example, we might consider the biases in measurement in models that students use when applying a theory (taking advantage of the working methods implemented by the teacher in his subject). Then, we might implement new participation assessment criteria that lack public participation (through the creation and implementation of evaluation rubrics with the female students), and create other intervention mechanisms (such as blogs or forums, since they allow us to see who has done what). We can address gender inequalities through group work with an extensive rubric that productively makes visible all work that is visible and not visible, rational and relational that takes place in class groups.
The recognition of invisible work requires not only that a male teacher and a female researcher investigate and provide tools to reduce inequalities at the university, but also that we pay continuous attention to power from an intersectional perspective (Collins 2016). This perspective delves into the material consequences of inequality that are likely to cause regulatory hegemonies (Butler 1990) that go through and organize both social life and human relations, such that the gender, social class, race, sexual orientation, functional diversity, age, language, among others. It means setting up the agreement, the negotiation, the trust, and the permanent interrogation between teacher and student as a way of managing these relationships in which power tends to become invisible (Miller and Lucal 2009). Revealing these power relations makes possible an effective collaboration, essential in contemporary times for teaching responsibility, justice, and inclusion (Ahedo, Martínez and Aguado 2022).
 An example of this is the preparation by the female students of the layout of the group work, the spelling correction of the work and/or the power point presentation of the work. Paradoxically, although these tasks are essential for the proper development of the work, nowadays the assessment rubrics recognized none of them.
 The project to which we refer consists of an investigation that began in 2018 and continues to this day. It is part of the research agenda of the corresponding author and the Departments of Political Science and Sociology of the University of the Basque Country pilot it. Since then, we have implemented the Participatory action research approach through participant observation in the classroom, participatory working methods, focus groups with students and training for university teachers, with the purpose of creating a basket of tools aimed at breaking the doxa of gender that is still reproduced in the classroom today.
 For a detailed analysis, see Ahedo, Alvarez & Gómez-Etxegoien, 2022.
Ahedo, Igor, Iraide Alvarez, and Cata Gómez-Etxegoien. 2022. “Gender Really Matters in Group Work: A Visibilization and Politicization Teaching Sequence.” Journal of Political Science Education, Advance online publication, DOI: 10.1080/15512169.2022.2121214
Ahedo, Igor, Patricia Martínez, Delicia Aguado, Iraide Alvarez and Cata Gómez-Etxegoien. 2022. “Adressing gender inequalities in higher education: Activating student´s agency.” Prisma Social, 37: 235-264.
Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.
Hill Collins, Patricia H. and Sirma Bilge. 2016. Intersectionality. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Martínez-Palacios, Jone, Igor Ahedo, and Zuriñe Rodríguez. 2016. “Women’s Participation in Democratic Innovation Apparatuses: The Case of the Autonomous Region of the Basque Country.” Journal of Public Affairs, 16(1): 384-393. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/pa.1600
Miller, Andrea and Betsy Lucal. 2009. “The Pedagogy of (In)Visibility: Two Accounts of Teaching About Sex, Gender, and Sexuality.” Teaching Sociology, 37(3): 257-268. DOI: 10.1177/0092055X0903700304
Moss-Racusin, Corinne A.; John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Brescoll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman. 2012. “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(41): 16474- 16479. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1211286109
Igor Ahedo is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at University of the Basque Country.
Iraide Alvarez is Predoctoral Researcher at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of the Basque Country.
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