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Teacher Professionalization and Gender Analysis

by Geoffrey Tabakin & Kathleen Densmore - 1986

This article presents an overview of theories of teacher professionalization, a discussion of feminist theories and the definition of gender analysis, and an argument for the appropriateness of gender analysis of teacher professionalization. (Source: ERIC)

Both the history and present practice of teaching necessitate an awareness that teaching has been dominated by a gendered definition of appropriate roles. That is, the early struggle for womens participation in education was fought and won on the premise of the appropriateness of expanding womens sphere into the schools; and the present distribution of work roles in schooling shows that women, particularly in elementary and preschool education, are front-line teachers rather than in administration or other positions of higher status and pay.1 Coterminous with the general expansion of schooling and the participation of women as teachers in the schools has been the professionalization of teaching and the development of a hierarchical structure of the education process. While the history of womens participation in schooling indicates a sequential continuity of the gendered distribution of work, it would be incorrect to assume a deterministic appraisal of the present situation of gender roles in education. Rather, we need to appreciate the material conditions that form the basis of this distribution today. Failing this, we run the risk of ascribing a historic determinancy that too easily becomes a rationalization or justification of the status quo. It is our contention in this article that the gendered distribution of work among teachers can best be understood through analysis of teacher professionalism that is integrated with an analysis of gender. We will pursue this argument by presenting, first, an overview of theories of teacher professionalization; next, a discussion of feminist theories and the definition of gender analysis; and finally, an argument for the appropriateness of gender analysis of teacher professionalization.


There is a continuing debate among academic scholars as to whether teaching should be regarded as a profession and whether teachers should be regarded as professionals. Different theoretical orientations and varied levels of analysis are used in attempts to both define and understand professional work. Typically, a framework of a general sociology of the professions provides the background against which studies and analyses are constructed. While there is no universal agreement about the precise definition of a profession, professions have commonly been acknowledged as possessing unique characteristics that distinguish them from other occupations and have been used to explain social and job-related privileges. The literature on the sociology of the professions and on the sociology of work conventionally employs a set of traits against which occupations are measured to assess the nature of the work involved and thereby determine the degree to which an occupation constitutes a profession.2 For example, that teachers aspire to be professionals is a pervasive assumption in relevant literature.3 These aspirations are rooted in the nonroutine character of teachers work, given the variation among pupils and hence their different needs, and the varying organizational systems of self-contained classrooms. These same two factors are offered as explanations for the individualistic approach inherent in professionalism, including teacher professionalism. This reasoning reflects the conventional belief that professionalism directly refers to the objective nature of the work itself. Possibilities for becoming professionalized are assessed as well. The assumption is that of stasis, an objective state of full professionalization that occupations may or may not achieve. Common elements of the ideal-typical professional include: a claim to a broad theoretical knowledge base and related technical-intellectual expertise; a service or altruistic motivation; a long period of formal preparation; and control over ones work and work situation. From this perspective, teachers are described as semi-professional and teaching as a semi-profession.

Conventional literature tends to be favorably disposed toward professionalism. One common, though implicit, assumption about professionals is that they are worthy of higher status than other workers, based, for example, on their service orientation. This reflects a functional relationship between the professions and the larger society.4 Generally, the idea has been that in exchange for their important contributions to society, professionals are allowed certain social and economic privileges. The sociology of the professions has also paid considerable attention to the relationships between professional roles and organizational requirements.5 More specifically, the concern has been with the ability to maintain professional status within bureaucratic organizations.

That schools are bureaucratic institutions has been well documented,6 although the extent of bureaucratization varies among schools. Many scholars are divided on the degree to which and the precise mechanisms through which a bureaucratic organizational structure affects teachers practices. Schools, by being bureaucratic, have certain characteristics, such as operating according to procedural rules that limit the discretionary actions of teachersmost clearly by specifying goals and the means by which those goals are to be pursued. The bureaucratic rationalization of educative activities is essentially twofold: (1) Given the dimensions and complexity of the task of socializing students, coordination among activities is necessary; and (2) outcomes must be uniform.7 Theoretically, then, there exists a tension among accountability, measurability, and other provisions for professional discretion for teachers.

Research on teaching frequently employs a sociological perspective in that much of what a teacher does is viewed not primarily as a product of individual choice based on pedagogical expertise, but in terms of contextual limitations. Accordingly, one level of analysis for mainstream (as well as radical) scholars has been the structure of the school. Organizational analyses often counter the impact of bureaucratic principles of organization on teachers practices with the influence of professional principles. Both modes of organization conceptualize teachers primarily as organizational or bureaucratic professionals as opposed to independent professionals. While the question of the subordination of professional autonomy to bureaucratic authority remains unresolved, the dominant view in the literature upholds the notion that bureaucratization of a school does not necessarily interfere with a teachers classroom activities.8 It is argued that measures are invoked so that bureaucratic interventions do not occur as long as teachers, given their training and calling, are treated and respected as professionals.9 Bidwell argues that the physical structure of individual classrooms within school buildings protects teachers from the impact of organizational controls (e.g., accountability to the principal).10 Thus, as professionals, teachers are commonly assumed to be accorded classroom autonomy even though they work within bureaucratic settings. Interestingly, Meyer and Rowan argue that the fact that teachers wield considerable discretion does not necessarily signify that on the basis of their university preparation, teachers are equipped to function effectively within their schools.11 While teachers have autonomy on the job, this autonomy is not necessarily of a professional nature.

Professionalism commonly connotes autonomy, expertise, pride in ones work, and resistance to a lowering of work standards and responsibility. Mainstream educational research typically assumes that teachers possess basic pedagogical expertise (knowledge and skills) and significant autonomy in the classroom, though both the degree of skill and type of autonomy are disputed. Given a lack of empirical studies and definitional consensus on these matters, it is difficult to assess either the expertise teachers actually possess or the degree and nature of autonomy they can and do wield. One reason for this difficulty is a lack of research in the area; another is that surface appearances of teachers work processes and work conditions lend themselves to a number of different assumptions. Self-contained classrooms, for example, readily suggest substantial freedom for teachers. University degrees presuppose pedagogical expertise. New patterns of administrative management and organizational forms have emerged that ostensibly allow for a greater degree of teacher participation in school affairs and for significant classroom autonomy. Yet we suggest that teachers control over both curricula and classroom operations suffers severe limitations that are not readily apparent.

New critical approaches to the analysis of the professions have turned their attention to social, historical, and political conditions and processes that have affected professionalization and professionalism. In this way, radical theorists have influenced both the types of problems identified for study and particular approaches to study.12

Recent critical scholarship has argued that the fundamental parameters of teachers work are of a structural nature.13 Particular tendencies, it is argued, affect the nature of teaching itself as well as teachers, perceptions of their experiences. The pedagogical options available to teachers are viewed as being conditioned by the cultural, ideological, and economic context within which schools are embedded. Teaching, then, can be best understood when viewed as both a social phenomenon and an internal,, act; that is, the minutiae of day-to-day school activities have a broader social significance than is often recognized. The complexity of teaching becomes clear once we recognize the need to understand teachers practices in relation to immediate circumstances as well as to wider social pressures.

From a Marxian perspective, changes in the organization of work are, in large part, an outgrowth of the process of capital accumulation.14 Long-term trends in the accumulation process are viewed in relation to trends in the labor process. Two such trends are the development of new forms of control and the concomitant process of deskilling. The argument is that autonomy on the job is lessened as skill is increasingly removed from the worka process referred to as a tendency toward proletarianization. This thesis states that there is a long-term tendency for both jobs and employees to become deskilled and for workers to lose control over the work process through rationalization, fragmentation, and mechanization/technology. The tendency toward proletarianization is said to extend to an increasing number of occupations, in part through the states role of mediation in the process. This is clearly a different view from that of sociologists who argue that an increasing number of jobs require sophisticated skills and knowledge and more autonomy and responsibility for individual workers. The implications for teaching are critical, especially given the changing role of teachers over recent years and the increased demands on both schools and teachers.

The opposite of proletarianized work is professional work. In the ideal-typical sense, professional work connotes work that requires individual judgment, making standardization and fragmentation unlikely and necessitating some independence in order to make job decisions. The professional generally determines the pace of work, working conditions, and the means of the work at hand. This professional has had some sort of formal preparation, most often a university education. Proletarianized work, on the other hand, implies a greater social and technical division of labor. Work is routinized, as essential skills have been removed from work. The argument is that instead of initiating and carrying out work as the worker deems necessary, employees execute prefigured tasks and do not determine work conditions, pacing, nature of the product or services to be rendered, or uses to which the work will be put. Some have argued that a process of proletarianization or deprofessionalization is currently under way whereby professional working conditions no longer conform to ideal-typical conditions but are becoming more routinized and standardized. Derber, for example, argues that

traditional forms of professional autonomy are slowly disappearing among professional employees, supplanted by a new professional work process consistent with the logic of large-scale capitalist and state enterprise. Professionals, like other workers, now have jobs, consisting of tasks within a complex division of labor planned and administered by top management. If they frequently command privileged incomes, are often conspiculously exempted from such indignities as punching in, and experience little direct supervision, they nonetheless are increasingly proletarianized in the sense that management or administration sets the terms of their employment, largely defines the nature of their tasks or projects and the clients they will serve, and ensures that they work according to predefined standard operating procedures consistent with the technology, productivity requirements, and policy interests of the enterprise.15

This theory has had little influence on the research on teachers practices or on schools as places of work. Assumptions of self-directed work by teachers, present in much educational research, however, have been called into question by scholarship that demonstrates how the organization of work activities for an increasing number of employees is essentially coercive, in that workers are presented with what appear to be real choices but such choices are actually insignificant in substance and narrowly confined. Michael Burawoy shows how participating in such choices generates consent to the existing principles underlying the organization of work.16 While it can be argued that consensus is necessary for the effective functioning of all social organizations, here critical reflection is actively discouraged and employees are given relatively insignificant responsibilities in the work place. Similarly, in a discussion of managements role in the development of the capitalist mode of production, Andrew Friedman identifies two basic managerial strategies that are utilized to secure identification with and loyalty to ones job: responsible autonomy and direct control.17 The former is a strategy whereby workers are given status, authority, and responsibility in an attempt to win their loyalty  (to the firm). With the latter, workers are given nominal responsibilities and are under close supervision. This strategy is more likely to be used with white-collar workers who expect some creativity and flexibility in their work. The goal of this strategy is to channel creative impulses and to structure employee responsibility and autonomy so that the firm benefits, or so that at least the existing organization of work is not threatened. While this analysis (as most analyses that have been done on the labor process) concerns industrial workers, the concept of responsible autonomy may be useful for looking at the various forms of and calls for teacher input in the operations of our schools (e.g., teacher participation on school committees).

Marxist scholars differ in their positions on just how necessary it is for the technical skill to be removed from work in capitalist labor process organization. While Braverman argued that job autonomy over skill threatens managements interests,18 other theorists, notably Edwards and Burawoy,19 have challenged this theoretical formulation. In addressing different systems of work organization, their writing suggests the importance of ideological considerations as a major factor shaping systems of labor process control.

Rejecting static conceptions of profession, professionalism, and professionalization, radical scholars forcefully argue for locating them within specific sociohistorical contexts.20 The concepts are not accepted as objective descriptions of reality, but as terms that have developed and changed over time in conjunction with social change.

Both T. Johnson and M. Larson argue for conceptualizing professionalism in relation to existing class structure.21 Larson argues that the older professions (medicine, law, religion) were founded on specific structural linkages that no longer exist (e.g., between formal education preparation and consequent jobs). Today, most professionals are salaried employees of bureaucratic organizations that create qualitatively different working conditions. Professional qualities fostered in earlier historical periods have persisted, despite the fact that circumstances have changed. From here, Larson argued that the significance of professionalism today lies in the extent to which it has become an ideologyan image to which occupational groups and individuals aspire and that obscures real social structures and relations."22 Examples of such residual elements of the ideology of professionalism are ideas of altruism and a work ethic where one works for the intrinsic value of the work itself. Larson discusses the contradictions inherent in these qualities given a class society and suggests that the qualities themselves may be a professions or a professionals response to these contradictions. Larsons critical argument is that the ideology either denies the existence of class relations or sees them as natural; she thus shows the interconnections of this professional ideology with the dominant ideology of democratic liberalism. A central point of intersection is individualism, where, for example, individual solutions are commonly sought to structurally induced problems. This is one way in which the ideology of professionalism tends to support existing institutional arrangements.

Larson thus establishes the argument that in its contemporary usages, professional refers more to status and privileges vis-à-vis other workers than to work practices and functions. Professionals may believe that they have the autonomy that professionals used to have, but in fact they exercise only powerless discretion.23 Most importantly, professionals concern with status obscures their real lack of power and their subordination, as well as their commonalities with other employees.

While Larson has concerned herself with the general ideology of professionalism, Ozga and Lawn have called for an examination of specific professional ideologies. Through this examination, they argue, we can see the multiplicity of meanings of the concept of professionalism and the different usages to which it has been put depending on the specific issues and circumstances at hand. For example, they challenge the conventionally described dichotomous relationship between teacher professionalism and unionism. This encourages analysis that investigates the way in which professionalism could both operate as a strategy for control of teachers manipulated by the State, while also being used by teachers to protect themselves against dilution.24

A review of critical research suggests that the way in which teaching is organized can be examined for the possible relevance of the proletarianization thesis and that the notion of professionalism can be best explored as an ideological construct. The process of proletarianization can be viewed as altering the basis of professional characteristics such as job autonomy, and as raising such questions as how is it that teachers retain a professional identity and why teaching is considered to be a profession or semi-profession. It may well be that professionalism is the ideological counterpart to the proletarianization of the labor process in teaching. In other words, embracing the ideology of professionalism may represent teachers defensive response to alienating work processes and conditions. At the same time, the meaning of the concept of professionalism requires an investigation of the specific context within which it is being employed.


The discussion of the development of professionalism theories as laid out in the previous section does not directly address the question of gender. As Shakeshaft and Nowell suggest, part of this absence reflects the androcentric bias of the theories and the failure to recognize that attention to gender differentiation may require a reconceptualization of the theories themselves.  Indeed, Shakeshaft and Nowell argue in the context of organizational theories, these critiques ignore an important quality of school environmentstheir character as predominantly female workplaces and the effects of such environments on the quality of theoretical arguments derived from male-based theories."25 We need to recognize that schools cannot be adequately analyzed unless there is an awareness of the influences and repercussions of gender differentiation in the work place. That such recognition has begun can be noted in Shakeshaft and Nowells work as well as in that of Apple, Grumet, Wolpe, Deem, and MacDonald (Arnot).26 For the most part, however, where the consideration of gender has been made, it has been as an appendage to the existing androcentric conditions of theory found in the analysis of schools and the educational work place. As Dale Spender notes:

Whether it be educational theory or practice which is analysed it can generally be claimed that it is a product of male experience and remains firmly within male control. Patriarchy is the educational paradigm.

Educational theories from student disaffection to curriculum innovation usually render women invisible (as subjects and as theorists); educational practices from the organization of institutions, to classroom interaction usually help to exclude women.27

While there is a growing acknowledgement that the absence of womens perspectives warrants some consideration, there is still a failure to consider the nature of gender analysis and the debates within feminist theory that could be used to address this question. The tendency has been, rather, to reduce analysis to an inclusion of womens perspective within the given institutional setting. Such revised analysis seeks to restore the adequacy of the dominant theories by adding a womens perspective but without addressing the epistemological contradictions of using gender analysis as an appendage to an androcentric theoretical perspective.

What follows is an account of the various stances taken in feminist theory and the implications of these positions for the analysis of gender. The categories commonly used in differentiating feminist theories are liberal feminism, Marxist feminism, radical feminism, and socialist feminism.28 The analyses and theoretical constructs used in each of these positions are significantly different as are the ramifications for the analysis of gender. Presenting gender analysis as unproblematic, as simply an introduction of an unexamined womens perspective, necessarily limits the potential for adequate theoretical and analytic understanding of schools.

Starting with the liberal feminist position, we will present a consideration of the differences among the four positions that will later be used to argue for the importance of an adequate theoretical conception of gender analysis in the study of teacher professionalism.


Liberal feminism, as distinguished from radical, socialist, or Marxist feminism, is structured on the theory of individualism. That is, the primary concern of liberal feminism is that everyone, and particularly women, be allowed to succeed and participate within the given economic and social system. Insofar as the system discriminates against women by denying any individual woman access to full participation, either that system needs to be modified and adapted to permit access, or every woman needs to have the opportunity to acquire the needed skills and attributes that will allow her to participate.

Alison Jagger, in her discussion of the varying feminist theories, sums up the position of liberal feminism succinctly:

Unlike other versions of feminism, liberal feminism makes a sharp distinction between what it takes to be normative and the empirical aspects of the theory. It does not rest on mystical notions of womens special relation to nature, nor does it rely on concepts such as alienation whose logical status, from the neo-positivist point of view, are quite unclear. In stating the nonempirical or normative aspects of its theory, moreover, liberal feminism relies on values that are claimed to be universal human values and which in consequence, liberal feminism assumes, cannot reflect only the special interest of a particular group. Most notably, liberal feminists insist that they seek no special privileges for women; they claim to demand only equal rights and equal opportunities for all. Their basic demand is that everyone should receive equal consideration with no discrimination on the basis of sex.29

Issues of gender in this way are concerned with sexual discrimination against individual women. Gender is defined in terms of sexthat is, rather than a category of sociologically, culturally, and economically developed interactions and roles, gender is presented as a biological given that forms the basis for discrimination and denial of access.


This theory stands in almost diametric opposition to liberal feminism: The liberal emphasis on the individual is confounded by the Marxist insistence on class differentiation. The liberal affiliation with positivist science and the structure of an objective reality contrasts with the Marxist recognition of class interests and false consciousness as constitutive of what is known and the distribution of power. Central to the Marxist analysis are the relationship of production, defined in terms of economic production, and the material specificity of class interests.

Roberta Hamilton, in The Liberation of Women: A Study of Patriarchy and Capitalism, points out that the Marxist analysis insists that the position of women can only be properly explained through an analysis of the modes of production and, therefore, through an examination of those differences among women which result from their place in the class structure.30 She goes on to suggest that this is a limitation on the adequacy with which Marxism can address feminism, for, as she notes, a Marxist analysis did not generate questions about the differences between men and women, about the different ideas a society holds with respect to women and men, about how ideas change; questions that deal specifically with female oppression.31

In calling attention to these limitations, Hamilton indicates concerns that are central to the socialist and radical (rather than Marxist) feminist analyses. The implications are that Marxist feminism structures its analysis on the relationship of women to the production process and the question of class position. Questions of gender are considered in terms of the place women hold in the economic order, and form part of the wider critique of a class structured society. Eleanor Leacock, in her introduction to Engelss The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, reinforces the Marxist feminist insistence on the economic basis for womens oppression when she emphasizes that

it is crucial to the organization of women for their liberation to understand that it is the monogamous family as an economic unit, at the heart of class society, that is basic to their sub junction. Such understanding makes clear that child-bearing itself is not responsible for the low status of women, as has been the contention of some radical womens groups.32

The emphasis in Marxist feminist analysis on the production process establishes a gender analysis in which womens experience is viewed not as unique but rather as pertinent to the class position in which it occurs. That the definition of class fails to address sex and gender differences ensures that the questions of gender and womens experiences in the social structure are, at best, secondary.


Socialist feminism has its roots in the tradition of Marxism and Marxist feminism but seeks to further the theoretical underpinnings by insisting on the unique epistemological position of women in the society. Rather than being an aspect of the relationship of production, the particular experience of women, according to socialist feminists, can be understood only through an awareness of the patriarchal and hierarchical structure of, in this case, Western industrialized society. Zillah Eisenstein explains this use of the term patriarchy when she says:

I choose this phrase, capitalist patriarchy, to emphasize the mutually reinforcing dialectical relationship between capitalist class structure and hierarchical sexual structuring. Although patriarchy (as male supremacy) existed before capitalism, and continues in post-capitalist societies, it is their present relationship that must be understood if the structure of oppression is to be changed. In this sense socialist feminism moves beyond singular Marxist analysis and isolated radical feminist theory.33

Patriarchy is a form borrowed from Marxism in its recognition of a class structured society and from radical feminism in its insistence on a sexual basis for the development of hierarchical relations of domination and submission.

Linking the concepts of hierarchy and class under patriarchy modifies both. Class becomes more than a description of place within the economic relations of production. It implies, according to Christine Delphy, that each group (men and women) cannot be considered separately from the other, because they are bound together by a relationship of domination; nor can they (men and women) even be considered together but independently of this relationship.34 Furthermore, Characterizing this relationship as one of economic exploitation, the concept of class additionally puts social domination at the heart of the explanation of hierarchy.35 For socialist feminists, the issue is one of domination and the question of gender seeks to address the sociological ramifications of relationships between men and women.


Unlike socialist feminism, which is an amalgam of Marxist class analysis and radical feminist constructs of patriarchy, radical feminism is based directly on the consciousness and social experience of women, and rejects extant phallocentric social theories. The rejection of the Marxist and socialist analyses has its roots in the experience of the antiwar, civil rights, and student movements of the fifties and sixties. (At the extreme the position of the generic Left toward women may be summed up in Stokely Carmichaels response to the question of womens place in the struggle: On their backs.) Perhaps the most lucid critique of Marxist and socialist feminism and statement of the radical feminist position is found in Catherine McKinnons Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory. On the relationship of feminism to the Left, she writes:

Although a unified theory of social inequality is presaged in these strategies of subordination, staged progression, and assimilation of womens concerns to left concerns, at most an uneven combination is accomplished. However sympathetically, the women question is always reduced to some other question, instead of being seen as the question calling for analysis on its own terms.36

Her analysis goes beyond this assertion as to the secondary nature of womens concerns on the Left, to a powerful support for the practice of consciousness-raising and the recognition of the personal as political, which forms the basis for the radical feminist social critique:

The personal as political is not a simile, not a metaphor, and not an analogy. It does not mean that what occurs in personal life is similar to, or comparable with, what occurs in the public arena. . . . It means that womens distinctive experience as women occurs within that sphere that has been socially lived as the personalprivate, emotional, interiorized, particular, individuated, intimateso that what it is to know the politics of womens situation is to know womens personal lives.

The substantive principle governing the authentic politics of womens personal lives is a pervasive powerlessness to men, expressed and reconstituted daily as sexuality. To say that the personal is political means that gender as a division of power is discoverable and verifiable through womens intimate experience of sexual objectification, which is definitive of and synonymous with womens lives as gender female.37

The radical feminist position, in this view, insists on the validity of the personal in direct contradiction to the liberal feminist search for objective and unbiased truths:

Feminism does not see its view as subjective, partial, or undetermined but as a critique of the purported generability, disinterestedness and universality of prior accounts. These have not been half right but have invoked the wrong whole. Feminism not only challenges masculine partiality but questions the universality imperative itself. Aperspectivity is revealed as a strategy of male hegemony.38

The radical perspective calls into question the stance of objectivity precisely because such a stance is used to mask the male imperative that has dominated theoretical discourse. A gender analysis from the radical position insists on the valorization of the subjective experience of women that has been defined by sexuality. That such experience is established and maintained in the interpersonal relations of home and work of the private and the public spheres requires an analysis of how sexuality has been used to define women and their social roles.

Sexuality, then, is a form of power. Gender, as socially constructed, embodies it, not the reverse. Women and men are divided by gender, made into the sexes as we know them, by the social requirements of heterosexuality, which institutionalizes male sexual dominance and female sexual submission. If this is true, sexuality is the linchpin of gender inequality.39

Gender analysis requires that we recognize the validity of womens experience and addresses the institutional and personal structures that are established and maintained through the imposition of a sexual identity on women.


In the first section of this article we presented several relevant approaches to the analysis of teacher professionalization. These approaches can be considered in terms of two broad divisions: (1) those that may be called the traditional or classic assessment; and (2) approaches characterized as part of a proletarianization thesis. Whereas the traditional view assesses teacher professionalization and an entitlement to higher status and pay in terms of such categories as relative autonomy, the existence of a body of professional knowledge and expertise, a degree of control over the work place, and a long period of formal training, the proletarianization thesis calls for a recognition of the changing nature of work that is defined as professional but may in fact more closely resemble proletarian workwork over which the worker has limited control. While the traditional view is directed to a static assessment of work, the proletarianization thesis looks to the dynamics of work and an evaluation of how such changes are achieved through the ideology of professionalism.

The second section of the article, feminist theory, argued that there are four categories of feminist theory that have distinct implications for gender analysis. In this last section we will link the approaches to teacher professionalism with the theories of gender analysis.


Where teachers have been viewed in terms of the classic assessments of professionalism they are found to be not quite as professional as lawyers and doctors, and yet not definable as workers. Hence they are defined as semiprofessionals.40 The categories of assessment concern questions of autonomy, training, decision making, and affiliation with a definition of the work as professional. In these classic assessments there is little recognition of the anomalous situation in education where women are a majority and yet have a lower professional status. There is also scant attention to the status accorded women and the semi-professional status of teaching.

The importance of recognizing the link between the social status of women and the professional status of teaching was wonderfully and pithily summed up by Susan B. Anthony in 1853. Tyack and Hansot recount this confrontation:

Rare were the women who openly protested male dominance of professional associations and public leadership of the educational crusades. One such outspoken feminist was the Quaker teacher, Susan B. Anthony. In a teachers convention in 1853 she listened with rising anger as men debated for three days about why teachers lacked the respect accorded doctors, lawyers, and ministers. Finally she asked to speak. The men argued for half an hour about whether to hear her and then, while she stood waiting, reluctantly gave her permission. It seems to me, gentlemen, she said, that none of you quite comprehend the cause of the disrespect of which you complain. Do you not see that as long as society says a woman is incompetent to be a lawyer, minister, or doctor, but has ample ability to be a teacher, that every man of you who chooses that profession tacitly acknowledges that he has no more brains than a woman? . . . Would you exalt your profession, exalt those who labor with you."41

The concept of teacher professionalism in the traditional view is static and measurable in terms of the degree to which teachers meet the definitions of professionalism. There is a circularity here that becomes clearer as the necessity for analyzing gender emerges. From the liberal feminist view, the question of gender asks that teachers positions be evaluated in terms of access for women, and that women and men as teachers be-measured by the same criteria. The nature of teaching as a profession or semi-profession is not in question, while the fact that there are high percentages of women in education is seen as reflecting the open access for women to teaching positions. From the liberal feminist point of view on teacher professionalism, gender analysis is necessary as the unequal distribution of power and status between men and women in the educational establishment is recognized. The issue remains only one of access and equity for women, however. The professional nature of teaching as it relates to gendered distribution of roles is left unexamined.

The Marxist feminist analysis of gender in terms of teacher professionalization would require an assessment of the place of the teaching profession in the process of capital accumulation and an examination of women in education as part of the economic conditions of the society. Professionalism in society is viewed in terms of stratification theory and class analysishow economically productive work determines ones class position, status, and remunerations. This view accepts the hierarchical structure of teaching and seeks to establish the place of women in that hierarchy. However, from both a Marxist and a Marxist feminist position, the approach to professionalism offered by the traditional view is inadequate for understanding the dynamics of professionalism and class analysis. Furthermore, stratification theory does not address the particular experience of women since women are, for the most part, assigned class position based on the occupations of their husbands or fathers.42 In order for a Marxist feminist gender analysis to be applicable, a different analysis of teacher professionalism would be required.. This is found in the proletarianization thesis as applied to teachers and teaching. Before addressing that, however, we need to consider the application of socialist and radical feminist gender analysis to the classic assessment of teacher professionalism.

Neither socialist nor radical gender analysis can be applied to the traditional analysis of teacher professionalism. The socialist feminist view is inapplicable in that the traditional position does not address the ideological ramifications of patriarchy as evidenced in the male-dominant hierarchical structure of teaching. The radical feminist position, which requires that we look at the interpersonal gender dynamics within the institution, is also excluded from the traditional view since there is no attempt to examine such dynamics in the assessment of teacher professionalism. Since the traditional view cannot be used in conjunction with radical or socialist gender analyses, and since these analyses are the only feminist perspectives that have the experience of women as central to their positions, it becomes necessary to turn to the alternative basis for considering teacher professionalism if we are to recognize the particular experience of women in the educational hierarchy.


The traditional assessment of teaching professionalism has served to lay out the ideal-typical parameters of the teaching profession and has defined teaching as a semi-profession. The proletarianization thesis, on the other hand, has dwelt on the discrepancy between the actual conditions of work and this ideal of the professional. These theorists are concerned to show how the needs of capital accumulation and control over the work place have led to the deskilling and deprofessionalization of those heretofore considered professionals. Charles Derber, in a discussion of the proletarianization of the professional, argues that

while professionals command special resources, including certified knowledge and powerful professional associations that permit them to maintain special privileges of status and pay, proletarianization theorists suggest that the transformation of the professional stratum from a self-employed to a salaried status fundamentally undermines the conditions for professional autonomy and leads to the subjugation of professional labor to management design and control.43

Teachers have not been considered professional in the sense defined by Derber, but the analysis of the proletarianization process by these theorists offers fruitful grounds for the analysis of teaching. Our concern here is to suggest the ways in which gender analysis pertains to the proletarianization thesis.

The issue raised by proletarianization theorists concerns the ideological nature of professionalism, the structural constraints of the job, the bureaucratization of the work place, the problem of expectations arising from an overeducated workforce, and the isolation of the workers from each other that is used to encourage animosity and competition for scarce rewards. In conjunction with gender analysis, these issues offer analytic tools for the examination of teacher professionalization.

Looking at the proletarianization thesis from the point of view of liberal feminism, we find that ideological considerationsthe masking of the exploitative nature of the workare not considered. Liberal feminism does not question the hierarchical or bureaucratic structure of the work place, but accepts this arrangement as a natural order. Concern with womens relative status and rank in that hierarchy, from the liberal perspective, revolves around issues relating to womens equity and access. In terms of teaching, the issue is one of degree of discrimination in denying women access to higher levels within the teaching hierarchy. Similarly, the structural constraints of teaching are not questioned in regard to the economic and social situation, but are accepted as natural conditions of the work. The liberal feminist concern here is with adaptation to the established structure insofar as it treats men and women equally. Where inequality of treatment is recognized, the analysis moves to an examination of institutionalthat is, structuralways of ensuring equity.

Questions of education or over education are of particular concern for liberal feminists in that access to and achievement in educational endeavors has been seen as a critical entry point for women. Liberal feminists accept educational credentials as a screening device to career and professional opportunities and have encouraged women to demand access through educational excellence. That the work itself may require far less ability than the educational credential demanded for entrance to a given profession is not analyzed in terms of gender differentiation. That is, liberal feminists may consider the frustration and job dissatisfaction inherent in such a position, but insofar as this is experienced equally for men and women, it is not within the purview of liberal gender analysis. Equal exploitation, like equal opportunity, is fair if both genders are treated the same. When qualified (or overqualified) women are denied access, this is seen as an equity problem for the individual rather than as a structured constraint applying to all women.

Since liberal feminism stresses individual success, the proletarianization concern with the isolation and competition of the professional worker is not addressed. Rather, liberal feminism posits the professional ethic of breaking in and making it in the (mans) world. This may be analogous to the perfume commercial portraying a successful professional woman who can bring home the bacon/Fry it up in a pan/And, never, never let him forget/Hes a man/cause Im a woooman. . . . One might, at this point, wish to cry Foul! Not all liberal feminists agree with such a constricting view of their position, nor would they all accept such theoretical constraints. But if one were to limit oneself to a traditionally liberal feminist viewpoint in applying gender analysis, one would be forced to focus primarily, if not exclusively, on the issues of equity as a concern for equal treatment with men, and access as it is available in the existing professional and institutional organizations and structures. Our intention here, however, is to present the range of gender analysis as it pertains to the various theoretical positions so that one may approach an examination of the real conditions of teaching with an understanding that the specific perspectives on gender brought to the study of teaching will affect the theoretical constructs and hence the findings of any one analysis. We will now consider Marxist feminist gender analysis in relation to the proletarianization thesis and teaching.

The proletarianization view of the professional is founded in the analysis of capital accumulation and the analysis of the creation of new relationships of production. The thesis essentially presents the way in which work in a capitalist economy is increasingly controlled by management directives with a consequent and growing alienation of the worker from work. For the professional, this has meant a lack of control over work and limitations on what have been accepted as professional prerogativesindependent judgments; control over conditions, tools, and materials of work; expectations of challenging, self-fulfilling work; self-supervision; and nonbureaucratic, nonhierarchical working arrangements. From the Marxist feminist perspective, the issues concern the ways in which women have been affected and how this in turn relates to the overall stratification of class and class relations.

The ideological question for Marxist feminism is less a consideration of the ideology of gender, and more a consideration of the ideology of job stratification and control. How is it that bureaucratic forms of organization and interaction come to dominate the work place? The arguments here suggest that the bureaucratic and hierarchical structures of work are presented as a rational and efficient and therefore natural organization of work. That there are alternative work arrangements that are less alienating to the worker (although diminishing the hierarchical order of control) is the argument put forward in the Marxist analysis. That this particular arrangement may speak to the patriarchal structure of society is the issue picked up by socialist feminism but side-stepped in the purely Marxist analysis.

There is a sense, then, where the Marxist feminist analysis is similar to the liberal feminist analysis. Both recognize gender differentiation in institutional structures and both situate the causes and ramification of this differentiation outside the particular experience of womenliberal feminism in the call for individual equality, Marxist feminism in the analysis of class relationships. When applying either a Marxist feminist or a liberal feminist gender analysis to the study of professionalism in teaching, there is an uncomfortable sense that either analysis yields the same resultsthat gender analysis is secondary to the issue of equal treatment, on the one hand, or secondary to the issue of capital accumulation through the stratification and control of work on the other. Both place gender analysis as adjuncts to the dominant theory. It is when we look to radical and socialist feminist theories that we find the analysis profoundly altering the theories of professionalism by insisting on the experience of gender relationships as defining the nature of work.

In considering the place of women in education and in the work force generally, socialist and radical feminist theory argues that we need to adopt a stance that will allow us to address the nature of the situation in which

from early childhood, the life plans of men and women are shaped by their expectations of adult roles to be enacted within the constraints of the nuclear family system. Increasing trends toward female employment and the lower birth rates (in the United States) have changed the supporting structure of the system, in that often women are no longer literally in the home. But they are psychologically in the home just as surely as if they were physically present. They see themselves and are seen by others as wives and mothers first, workers second. This secondary definition of work in the female life plan helps determine the choice of work in lower-level occupations that do not require much training or commitment. Women go into such jobs because they are not pushed to do otherwise as men are. At an early formative age, they perceive work as a secondary option, less important than family goals in their life plans, and therefore do not prepare themselves for serious careers. Of course, real-world discrimination and difficulties also stand in the way of such achievement.44

When we consider the dominance of women in the teaching profession, we need the analytic means and approaches to understand the particular experience of women in the work place and how, as Weitz suggests, the nature of this experience is found in the domestic sphere. Both socialist and radical feminism offer the analytic means for such an approach.

The essential feature of socialist feminism for the analysis of gender lies in the development of the concept of patriarchy. This concept speaks to the independent nature of the class structure, hierarchal organizations, and the relationships of power engendered in the development of sexual identity. It calls for an analysis that recognizes the experience of women and the gender division in society as critical to the class structure and an understanding of hierarchical work relationships. Whereas the proletarianization thesis brings attention to the ideological underpinnings of deprofessionalization, socialist feminist gender analysis grounds this ideology not only in the acceptance of bureaucracies and hierarchies as natural, but more specifically in the power relationships and sexual identity established in the domestic sphere. That is, an understanding of hierarchies requires an understanding of patriarchy and its links to the economic order.

In considering the situation of women in the United States, Zillah Eisenstein points out that

the United States is as patriarchal as it is capitalist. This means that the politics of society is as self-consciously directed to maintaining the hierarchical male-dominated sexual system as to upholding its economic class structure. The forms of order in both systems remain mutually supportive until changes in one system begin to erode the hierarchical basis of the other. For example, such erosion in the patriarchal system began to occur when structural changes in the marketplace, changes in the wage structure and inflation required white married women to enter the labor force.45

Teaching, with its majority of women, needs to be examined in terms of the way in which the patriarchal structure has been maintained. For, unlike Eisensteins example and suggested outcome, the hierarchical structure of teaching has not been eroded despite the number of women employed. In further linking socialist feminist gender analysis to the proletarianization thesis as applied to teaching, it may well be that a study of gender relationships as they serve to maintain the patriarchal structures of teaching reflects the real nature of teaching conditions more accurately than the study of bureaucratization and the maintenance of the hierarchy.

In addressing patriarchal structures, socialist feminism is still essentially concerned to show its relationship to the economic order. Socialist feminism aims at the transformation of the modes of production, of which male dominance is an integral part. The question remains whether such a transformation will change the relationships of gender if, at the same time, the nature of the family and interpersonal relationships is not also changed. This is the point of contention between socialist feminism and radical feminism that Isaac Balbus indicates in his discussion of theories of patriarchy. He suggests that from this socialist feminist standpoint,

the radical feminist insistence on the immediate transformation of the existing mode of child rearing and the male-female relationships that flow from it fails to appreciate the prerequisite of this very transformation. Thus the radical feminist must abandon her direct approach and recognize that the broader socialist movement is the only possible vehicle through which she will ultimately get what she wants.46

It is the focus on the family and the creation of sexual identity as the primary concern for analysis and action that distinguishes radical feminism from socialist feminisms emphasis on the relationship of patriarchy to the modes of production. Radical feminism does not offer a theory in support of another theoryliberalism or Marxismbut calls for a theory based on the experience of women that is applicable to an analysis of the whole social structure. McKinnons challenge for radical feminism is that it demonstrates that feminism systematically converges upon a central explanation of sex inequality through an approach distinctive to its subject yet applicable to the whole of social life, including class.47 The call is for nothing less than a reappraisal of sociological theory en masse so as to bring in the consciousness of the personal as political and the recognition that the structure of sexuality and gender identity is co-equal and perhaps prior to constructs of society based on theories of individualism and property (liberalism) or class and the modes of production (Marxism).

A radical feminist perspective on teaching would recognize the extension of the domestic sphere into teaching as an extension of the patriarchal relationships of sexual domination. Womans role in teaching and the so-called feminization of the profession reflect the arrangements of what Delphy calls the domestic [as opposed to the capitalist] mode of production:

Here consumption is of primary importance and has the power to discriminate, for one of the essential differences between the two modes of production lies in the fact that those exploited by the domestic mode are not paid but rather maintained. In this mode, therefore, consumption is not separate from production, and the unequal sharing of goods is not mediated by money.48

In teaching, the low pay and status of the work are well in keeping with arrangements of domesticity and the patriarchal rules of interaction. The low pay of teachers recreates dependency on a system of maintenance that is not always material (intrinsic rewards, dedication, job satisfaction) or self-selected (the perks of the job, summers free, etc.), which is analogous to the gifts to a wife that, while perhaps valuable (fur coats, jewelry), are given at the discretion of the husband and are perhaps not what the wife wants or needs. In this case a radical feminist perspective on teaching (and other professions and job and social/economic relationships) calls for an analysis that is based on the experience of women in the family. It is in the belief of the need for reevaluation of theoretical perspective and the insistence of the validity of womens particular point of view that radical feminist gender analysis is distinguished.

The dominant theoretical analyses of professionalism and teacher professionalism lend themselves to a close affiliation with either liberal feminism, at one extreme, or Marxist feminism at the other: liberal feminism because of its focus on the autonomous individual acting to achieve status in the given social order; Marxist feminism because of its analysis in terms of class position and economic production/reproduction, rather than an analysis of the particular standpoint of women as an insight into the gendered distribution of status and power associated with professionalism. Gender itselfthe sociological construct of relationships based on ideologically determined roles, rather than biological differencesis at best peripheral and secondary to the liberal and Marxist traditions, or at worst totally subsumed in an overriding critique based on class relationships or atomistic individualism.

This article has attempted to offer in broad strokes an assessment of the various positions on professionalism and the basic theories of feminism as they pertain to gender analysis. Our purpose is to make known the range of analytic viewpoints available to the study of teacher professionalization and gender, and to indicate some of the implications of taking any one of these stances.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 88 Number 2, 1986, p. 257-279
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 611, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 1:11:26 AM

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