Gender representation in four SADC high school Business Studies textbooks.
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This study assumes that text – the printed word and visual representations – is never neutral; it is always embedded with ideological representations. Textbooks, which are the dominant defining authorities of the curriculum in schools, can therefore be regarded as a key contributor to the curriculum as a site of ideological struggle. Significantly, there may be limited understanding among educators and educational authorities of the ideological nature of the contents of textbooks. As instruments of socialisation, textbooks are important vehicles in the construction of beliefs and attitudes about gender that may not be immediately apparent to the untrained eye. The purpose of this study is to understand the way in which gender is represented in four Business Studies textbooks selected from countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and to theorise their particular representation. More specifically, the focus of this study is to understand how gender is represented in the four SADC textbooks and to develop a theoretical explanation for how the phenomenon presents. This qualitative study is located in the critical paradigm and engages the tenets of feminist critical discourse analysis as the key analytical frame. The purposive sample comprised four contemporary Business Studies textbooks from the last phase of schooling preceding tertiary education. Feminist poststructuralist theory was used in order to examine gender representation in the selected textbooks. Both semiotic and textual representations were examined. The findings reveal that the representations of women and men in these textbooks are indeed ideologically invested and contribute to the perpetuation of patriarchal constructions. At a semantic level, the mention of the male pronoun first in sentences and conversation and not the female pronoun endorses the principle of the firstness and superiority of the masculine. In terms of representation, intersectionality of race, gender and disability is pervasive in the four textbooks. This reinforces the ideology of the able-bodied, heterosexually masculine and white person as the norm for entrepreneurial success. Management, leadership and entrepreneurial knowledge are scripted almost exclusively in favour of the male gender. Representations related to sexual diversity are also absent, thereby endorsing a construct of the idealised businessperson as a white, heterosexual, able-bodied male, excluding females, those of another race or gender, and the disabled. In terms of ‘ideal’ business personality traits, women and others are constructed as relatively incompetent and dependant, while men are portrayed as assertive and forthright. Gender and race bias in occupational roles and careers is also evident in the texts, with women and ‘others’ shown in low-paid occupations or domestic settings, whereas white men are shown in high-paying, high-status, technological occupations, and are mostly absent from domestic settings. The four textbooks promoted Western ideals in which the Western male white canons were reinforced as the norm for business success. These Western ideals are responsible for the different manifestations of marginalisation stereotyping, silencing and limited representation of women and minorities in exceptional roles. This may not be done intentionally – textbook knowledge appears to be constructed ‘unconsciously’ or in ways that reflect oblivion to institutionalised prejudice. The implication of these findings is that development of a more gender-inclusive curriculum is needed, where there is not only representation of the idealised businessperson as a white, heterosexual male. This research suggests that teachers, pre-service teachers and learners may need to engage with the textbooks critically and examine how particular texts are written and why they are written in particular ways. Teachers, pre-service teachers and learners are encouraged to interrogate textbook content. There is also a need for textbook writers to question their own ideological assumptions of gender. This demands a robust introspection of possible stereotypes and uncritical assimilation of regressive gender ideologies that may be perpetuated. It is only by reflecting on and reworking oppressive gender norms, that a gender-inclusive curriculum might be contemplated.