Women are more thorough but men think ‘big’: “Gender differences” as narrated by male primary school principals

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract

It is probably true that the teaching hierarchy in primary schools in many countries remains gendered, as men still disproportionately occupy more leadership positions than women. However, in recent years, some countries, such as Hong Kong, also notice a steady growth of female head teachers in the teaching force. How can we make sense of an increased access to leadership positions of women? And more curiously, how do male head teachers in primary school make sense of the rise of female leaders? This paper attempts to explore the situation by critically examining the perspectives of male principals in primary schools – a “successful minority” who is thus far an under-researched group in the field of gender and education. By focusing on the narratives of 12 male head teachers who talked about the rise of female leaders and any possible differences between female and male principals, this qualitative study aims to problematize men’s views and illuminate the complexity of gender equity in education. As the paper unfolds, all male principals interviewed regarded the rise as “natural” not simply because there are more female teachers in the pipelines, but more importantly women have now overcome their obstacles, as they become more educated; get married later; bear fewer or no children; stay single; and are more career—minded. More importantly, it has also identified three main discourses that men used to make sense of “gender differences”: a) women and men principals communicate differently; b) women are more thorough but men think ‘big’; c) women manage and men lead. However, when those “differences” are closely examined, most men actually perceive women principals and their styles of leadership as less competent. In other words, even though some women have gained access to position of leadership, their effectiveness as leaders is being questioned by their counterparts, as “leadership” is still conceptualized as a male and masculinedominated domain. Implications of this study for further research and for leadership training will be explored.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Citation

Chan, A. K. W. (2009, March). Women are more thorough but men think ‘big’: “Gender differences” as narrated by male primary school principals. Gender and Education in Hong Kong. Symposium conducted at the 2009 Gender and Education Association Conference: Gender: Regulation and Resistance in Education, London, England.

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