Probing Educational Management as Gendered: An Examination Through Model and Metaphor

by Ernestine K. Enomoto - 2000

This paper explores the proposition that educational management is a gendered construction. The author utilizes Scott’s analytic model which distinguishes gender as sexual difference, denoted by cultural symbols, signs and representations; and gender as a signifier of power, identified by four different types of social relationships. Against this model, the author casts a gender specific metaphor (“leader as mother”) and a gender neutral one (“leader as visionary”). Applying model to metaphor offers a mechanism to expose gendered assumptions about educational management. Such an analytic device forces an examination of educational management with women at the center, rather than at the periphery, of the construction.

This paper explores the proposition that educational management is a gendered construction. The author utilizes Scott’s analytic model, which distinguishes gender as sexual difference, denoted by cultural symbols, signs, and representations; and gender as a signifier of power, identified by four different types of social relationships. Against this model, the author casts a gender-specific metaphor (“leader as mother”) and a gender-neutral one (“leader as visionary”). Applying model to metaphor offers a mechanism to expose gendered assumptions about educational management. Such an analytic device forces an examination of educational management with women at the center, rather than at the periphery, of the construction.

Historically men have dominated management and administrative positions in public education (Blount, 1998; Jones & Montenegro, 1983; Shakeshaft, 1989; Tyack & Hansot, 1982). Even recently, men sustain their dominance in the field and women remain underrepresented in school administration despite their numbers in teaching and in school leadership preparation programs (Chase, 1995; Dunlap & Schmuck, 1995; Marshall, 1995; Pence, 1995; Restine, 1993). Thus men define what it means to manage and lead schools and school systems. Their assumptions, beliefs, and values constitute that which has been held as natural and normative.

This is not to say that women have not voiced their ideas and opinions about establishing and managing educational organizations. Notable women include early feminists Mary Wollstonecraft and Catherine Beecher, school superintendent Ella Flagg Young, and human resources theorist Mary Parker Follett (Graham, 1995; Martin, 1985; Metcalf & Urwick, 1941; Shakeshaft, 1989). The voices of women, however, have been sporadic. For instance, there was a seventy-five-year span between Young’s appointment as the first woman superintendent of Chicago schools and that of her successor Ruth B. Love, the second woman in that leadership role (Shakeshaft, 1989).

With the civil rights and feminist movements begun in the 1960s through the present, women and minorities have increasingly assumed leadership positions, thus gaining greater access to previously male-dominated arenas. By integrating into school administration, women and minorities have brought alternative approaches to educational leadership, and have recast the meaning of management and leadership for all aspirants.

My aim in this paper is to support the recasting of traditionally held notions of educational management, beginning with the premise that these meanings are male-engendered constructions. The review of women’s representation in educational management that I present is brief because Shakeshaft (1989), Ortiz (1982), and other scholars have developed these ideas more thoroughly. Rather, my objective is to craft an alternative device for probing the notion of educational management as gendered.1 I utilize Joan Scott’s (1986) analytic model, which distinguishes two components, gender as sexual difference, and gender as a signifier of power. To this model I apply two different metaphors for educational management, one that is gender-specific and the other gender-neutral. I propose that the combination of model and metaphor aids in exposing gendered assumptions about the definition and practice of educational management. The analytic device dislodges a one-gender view, thus promoting alternative approaches to be considered for conceptualizing leadership in educational organizations.


To argue that management is a gendered construction is to posit that there is one gender (male or female) that defines and dominates the discourse in the field of study. In the case of American management, three lines of argument demonstrate how that gender historically has been male. First, early management theories were developed primarily by men. Theories espoused by Taylor, Fayol, Barnard, Simon, and Weber dominated the field. Taylor’s scientific management treatise established him as the “father” of industrial management (Taylor, 1911). His managerial theory emphasized standardization, economic incentives, expertise in large organizations, time motion studies, and worker productivity. Fayol (1949) concentrated on administrative management, proposing top down control through functions like planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating, and controlling. Other theorists, Barnard (1938), Simon (1957), and Weber (1947), were proponents of applying behavioral science to management. The notable female contributor to management was Mary Parker Follett, whose work in human relations challenged the bureaucratic emphasis established by Taylor and Fayol (Graham, 1995). Used in the Hawthorne studies from 1927 to 1932, Follett’s approach was substantiated by empirical evidence but interestingly, was not credited for its theoretical contributions to the historical foundations of scientific management.2

Second, men held leadership positions. For varying reasons, men dominated the field with more numbers of white males in leadership positions than women or minorities. In describing American corporations, Kanter (1977) stated, “women populate organizations, but they practically never run them” (pp. 16–17). The higher up the organization one goes, the fewer women one finds. As in business administration, gender stratification is also evident in educational administration. “Although women comprise a majority of the nation’s public school teaching force (70 percent of all elementary, middle school and secondary teachers are women according to a 1992 NCES report), most school administrators are men” (Bell & Chase, 1994, p. 142). This statistic is even more bewildering given that women make up at least half of the enrollees in educational administrator preparation programs. Women’s participation in such programs suggests that the underrepresentation of women in school administration is less related to their lack of aspiration toward positions of leadership than toward structural and cultural barriers to women’s integration, such as opportunities for advancements and appropriate “fit” for administration (Bell & Chase, 1994).

Third, because men were the incumbents of leadership positions, social science research on organizations has largely examined the male experience. Male leaders have been objects of study with male researchers directing the nature and type of study as well. Moreover, this research on and for white males has been generalized in ways that make their patterns of action the professional norm. Shakeshaft (1993) identifies this tendency as “androcentric, the practice of viewing the world and shaping reality through a male lens” (p. 94). Limited to only one gendered lens, she argues that the gender and race differences in behavior are not reflected in either empirical analyses or theoretical understandings.

Dominating management in theory, incumbency, and research, white males shaped the assumptions, beliefs, and values that have become the underpinnings of leadership in organizations, often uncritically accepted and professionally standardized. A gendered construction of management becomes particularly problematic when, according to Smith (1987), “the perspectives, concerns, interests of only one sex and one class are represented as general [and] a one-sided standpoint comes to be seen as natural [and] obvious” (pp. 19–20). Any conspicuous departure from those perspectives, concerns, and interests is viewed as deviant. In addition to being cast as deviant, women and minorities are forced “to work inside a discourse that [they] did not have a part in making [and that] expresses, describes, and provides the working concepts and vocabulary for a landscape in which women are strangers” (Smith, 1987, p. 52). Women and minorities in leadership roles are forced to operate in terrain they did not create, negotiating the tensions between their professional and personal selves.3

Correcting this conceptual imbalance is necessary for several reasons. First, a field of study that does not include the experiences of historically marginalized people is limited, and less complete, accurate, or valid than those that include them (Ochshorn, 1994). For example, psychologist Gilligan (1982) found that Kolhberg’s ethic of justice excluded moral concerns and perspectives frequently espoused by women. When measured against Kolhberg’s ethical standard, women were found to be deficient and never attained levels beyond the third stage where “goodness is equated with helping and pleasing others” (Gilligan, 1982, p. 18). By contrast, men attained the highest (fifth and sixth) stages of development because they demonstrated integrating rights with universal principles. Alternatively, Gilligan argued that women’s perspectives of care for and sensitivity to others should be constituted as an “ethic of care.” The shift from an ethic of justice to an ethic of care suggests how the conception of morality might be expanded by taking women’s perspectives into account.

A second reason for correcting the imbalance is that scrutinizing what is taken for granted in a male dominated culture can transform those assumptions, beliefs, and values. In recent years, feminist poststructuralist theories have contributed to exposing the contradictions of an androcentric culture.4 Drawing from the work of Derrida, Lacan, Kristeva, Althusser, and Foucault, this body of theories reveals socially constructed meanings through language, and suggests ways in which competing language patterns might produce current notions of gender. According to Weedon (1987), feminist poststructuralism “attempts to show that we need not take established meanings, values, and power relations for granted. It is possible to demonstrate where they come from, whose interests they support, how they maintain sovereignty and where they are susceptible to specific pressures for change” (p. 174). Scrutinizing these established meanings is key to the transformative process. Minnich (1990) posits that transforming knowledge about women involves changing our thinking, critiquing our actions, and reforming our institutions. But, she argues, the process begins with our thinking about the familiar and recasting what has been assumed in new ways.

Third, a feminist theory of administration offers useful reform and revitalization in current management practices, as Regan (1990) states:

Feminist administering . . . is an inclusive mode of leadership in schools practiced by people who understand the necessity of the both/and as well as the either/or ways of being in their work. Its inclusiveness requires that both teachers and administrators participate in the decision making in schools, and thus it conceptually overlaps with several thrusts of the current reform movement: teacher empowerment, shared decision making, school restructuring. (p. 576)

While there is rationale for understanding management as a gendered construction and for correcting a male-bias in definition, unraveling such a construction can be difficult without the support of analytic devices that partition key aspects of the phenomenon. At the same time, such devices should retain the composite nature and wholeness of the phenomenon. For this purpose, I propose a blending of two analytic devices, those of model and metaphor, to systematically partition and probe how educational management is gendered.



Historian Joan Scott (1986) proposes that the term “gender” be considered analytically to provide “a way of talking about systems of social and sexual relations” (p. 1066). She premises her argument on the limitations of current historical approaches dealing with gender issues.

The approaches used by most historians fall into two distinct categories. The first is essentially descriptive; that is, it refers to the existence of phenomena or realities without interpreting, explaining, or attributing causality. The second usage is causal; it theorizes about the nature of phenomena or realities, seeking an understanding of how and why these take the form they do. (p. 1056)

To extend theory beyond these traditional approaches, Scott posits that the term “gender” should enable scholars to understand its complexity, requiring more than an examination of the relationship between male and female experiences in the historic past but also connecting past history and current historical practice. Further, the term “gender” should be related to individuals and social organizations that are multifaceted and change over time and place. The term should facilitate exploring such questions as: “How does gender work in human social relationships? How does gender give meaning to the organization and perception of historical knowledge?” (p. 1055).5 Scott proposes a definition of gender with two interrelated but distinct components.


The first component is gender as “a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes” (p. 1067). According to Scott, the definition of gender as sexual difference incorporates what are fundamentally social and contextual distinctions based on one’s sexual identity. Used in this way, the term “gender” acknowledges relationship, considering both women and men in relation to each other. “According to this view, women and men (are) defined in terms of one another, and no understanding of either could be achieved by entirely separate study” (p. 1054).

Gender as sexual difference has four particular aspects. The first aspect considers cultural signs and symbols that evoke potentially contradictory representations. An example in Western Christianity, the Madonna, represents a dominant feminine icon evoking contradictory identification as the mother of Christ and a chaste virgin. The contemporary representation is further confounded with images of a popular provocative female rock star by the same name.

The second aspect identifies normative concepts that interpret the symbols within religious, educational, scientific, legal, and political domains. Scott uses the term “normative” to refer to that which “emerges as dominant” and appears to be the product of social consensus (pp. 1067–1068). However, she notes that interpretations are multiple, not dichotomously either/or; and much is contested, rather than consensual.

The third aspect of gender as sexual difference considers gendered representations beyond the realm of the household, family, and kinship networks, occurring in more complex socioeconomic organizations. For instance, in a given economic system, a sex-segregated labor market would be part of the process of gender construction. Similarly, in educational organizations, all-male, single-sex, or coeducational institutions would engage in gender construction differently (p. 1068).

The final aspect considers subjective identification of gender examined through biographies placing gendered identities within historically specific social contexts. Examples include Biddy Martin’s interpretation of Lou Andreas Salome, Kathryn Sklar’s depiction of Catherine Beecher, Jacqueline Hall’s life of Jessie Daniel Amers, and Mary Hill’s discussion of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (pp. 1068–1069). These biographies allow for individualized expressions of one’s gendered self as bounded by a specific place and time.

By differentiating these aspects, Scott aims to clarify and specify how to probe the effect of gender in social and institutional relationships. Although each aspect is distinctive, all are interrelated, with “no one of them operating without the others. Yet they do not operate simultaneously, with one simply reflecting the others” (p. 1069).


The second component, gender as a signifier of power, suggests how the four aspects are related to each other: “gender is a primary field within which or by means of which power is articulated” (p. 1069). While concepts of power might themselves be built on gender, these are not always literally about gender per se. For instance, to be a woman is not innately to be disempowered or disenfranchised. But in a specific society, to be a woman might mean being restricted to a limited domain of influence and access to power, thus to be disempowered. Moreover, this component allows for the intersections of class, race, ethnicity, and gender relating to issues of power within a given social-historical context. The experience of being a woman and being black in twentieth-century American society might be decidedly different than being a woman and being white (hooks, 1989). Turner (1984) states that while white middle-class women might fear power, this is not generally true of black women. “Developmentally, black women have integrated the traditional male roles of achievement, autonomy, and independence with the more traditional female caretaking and nurturing roles” (Turner, 1984, p. 3).

Scott contends that the component “gender as a signifier of power” facilitates decoding human interactions beginning with the social construction of sexual difference. When historians look for the ways in which the concept of gender legitimizes and constructs social relationships, they develop insight into the reciprocal nature of gender and society, and into the particular and contextually specific ways in which politics constructs gender and gender constructs politics (Scott, 1986, p. 1070).

However, the categorization of gender as power can be problematic for women. Raymond asserts that “many women tend to regard power ambivalently, as something to be avoided, something that corrupts, and something that is always used over and against others . . . many women having been victims of patriarchal power, have assumed uncritically that power itself corrupts” (as quoted in Adler, Laney, & Packer, 1993, p. 105). Articulating a distinction in power as men view it, one interviewee in the Adler study said, “I’m interested in power and want it, but not in replicating male power” (p. 105).

In an effort to augment Scott’s second component, gender as power, I draw from Judi Marshall (1984), who distinguishes power in four social relationships with one’s self and others. Partitioning power into relationships aids in considering the different positive as well as negative connotations of power. The first relationship is that of an individual over others, where power is often contested and conflicted in nature. The second type relates an individual’s structural or positional power within an organization or sociopolitical system, where power and authority are established by organizational arrangement, usually hierarchical in nature. While the structural power of a boss over a subordinate is similar to the first relationship of power over others, the second type is not a contested relationship. The third social relationship is an individual’s power through or with others, as enacted through collaboration, mentorship, network-building, and sponsorship. Lastly is an individual’s personal power, viewed as self-expression, self-esteem, autonomy, stamina, and expertise. By using these four classifications of power in social relationships, Scott’s model is thus enhanced as denoted by the components and their respective aspects in Figure 1. Partitioning the concept of educational management into the two components, gender as sexual difference and gender as a signifier of power, offers a potentially promising analytic device, which is made even more compelling when blended with the linguistic device of metaphor.


Assumptions and ideology are difficult to uncover especially when related to societal norms and behavior. Attempting to expose the taken-for-granted and deeply rooted beliefs and values, I employ metaphors, which according to Manning (1979), can produce “ways of seeing things as if they were something else” (p. 661). By using metaphors, the speaker presents one concept or image within the bounds of another, thus generating alternative meanings by linkages with a markedly different object. In the advertisement of the breakfast cereal Wheaties, the picture of twenty-year-old, multiethnic golf professional Tiger Woods creates an association of the cereal (an object) with the champion (a success symbol). Advertising this product with a picture of an athlete reinforces the slogan, that this cereal is the “breakfast of champions.”

Black (1993) supports the notion that a metaphor might generate new knowledge and insight by changing relationships between object and symbol. He contends that “some metaphors enable us to see aspects of reality that the metaphor’s production helps to constitute” (p. 38).


Metaphors that survive such critical examination can properly be held to convey, in indispensable fashion, insight into the systems to which they refer. In this way, they can, and sometimes do, generate insight about “how things” are in reality. (p. 39)

Similarly, Searle (1993) contends that the strength of a metaphor is not strictly in a change of meaning but rather the appropriation of meaning from one context to another. “In a genuine metaphorical utterance, it is only because the expressions have to change their meaning that there is a metaphorical utterance at all” (p. 90). The shift from one context to another forces the consideration of alternative meanings.

Metaphors have been applied to the study of educational administrators and school organizations in several investigations. Using a metaphorical perspective to examine the role of the principalship from its inception to the present, Beck and Murphy (1993) identify dominant patterns in the literature on school administrators from 1920 to 1990. Bolman and Deal (1989) characterize the culture of educational organization through the use of metaphors. Bredeson (1985) identifies three metaphors of purpose—maintenance, survival, and vision—employed by five school principals in their daily routines.

While metaphors as linguistic devices can be usefully applied in educational administration, Morgan (1986) cautions that metaphors can be both expanding and limiting. “Theories and explanations of organizational life are based upon metaphors that lead us to see and understand organizations in distinctive yet partial ways” (p. 12). Sergiovanni warns that “metaphors are as much prisons as frames. The realities they create not only guide us but hold us in bondage. Escaping requires that the undergirding value structures of metaphors used be made explicit and examined critically” (as quoted in Beck & Murphy, 1993, p. xii). By employing both metaphor and model, I proceed to examine in a holistic way the gendered nature of educational management as signified by sexual difference and power.


I deconstruct two dominant metaphors, first a gender-specific metaphor and second a gender-neutral one, using the two components of Scott’s model (1986). While not the only metaphors used in discussing educational administration, the two examples have currency in educational leadership and demonstrate the utility of blending analytic and linguistic devices in probing the gendered construction.


The identification of “leader as mother” begins early with the ancient Neolithic and Cretan societies depicting the universe as all-giving Mother and the earth as fertile Mother. Revered as Hathor and Isis in Egypt, as Astarte or Ishtar in Babylon, or as the sun Goddess of Arinna in Anatolia (Indo-Europe), the goddess Nature was thought of as mother of all creation and harmony (Eisler, 1987, pp. 30–31).

In American social history, the representation of mother can be traced to the eighteenth-century revolutionary period. Finkelstein (1989) relates how the ideal of republican motherhood was conceptualized and linked to developing patriotism and nationalism in the early American republic (1780–1830). “Mothers, through careful nurture and moral example, would prepare the rising generation of virtuous democrats capable of restraint and good judgment” (Finkelstein, 1989, p. 683). The rationale of educating women for republican motherhood would later be extended to educating women teachers for the newly founded American republic.

The two representations, Mother Earth and republican Mother, suggest a historic precedent for considering the feminine metaphor. While mother is personal, intimate, and relational, she also conjures a long-standing tradition of family, children, home, food, clothing, and shelter within every society. She is also revered and deified as Goddess of Nature, Tierra Madre, and Mother of all things. As caregiver of children, families, and all creation, mother is caretaker of the national ethic and moral conscience. The two representations suggest a global, sociopolitical context from which to consider leadership.

The many positive normative concepts of the metaphor deal with parental nurturing, love, generosity, and humanitarianism: “unconditional love, optimism, trust, compassion, and a capacity for intuition, creativity, and happiness” (Morgan, 1986, p. 212). Normative concepts that are negative include being overly protective, having no discrimination in caregiving, and “smothering” rather than mothering. Jungian analyst Neumman contrasts the Good Mother with the Terrible Mother, where the first archetype evokes the qualities of Earth Mother and giver of abundant life, while the latter is the powerful destroyer, “capable of tearing her children asunder if they displease her or depend on her too long or in too much weakness” (Noddings, 1985, p. 200).

The skills necessary for “leader as mother” involve those of managing the home, caring for the children, and feeding the family. These are skills that involve planning, budgeting, problem solving, intelligent deliberation, and abstract thinking. As Grogan (1996) reported in her study of women superintendents, administrative aspirants drew on their experiences as spouses or mothers, relating these to their administrative practice. But what serves as past experience in skill building works against woman administrators. Marital status and sexual innuendoes for women intrude on their positions as professional educators, making them more vulnerable within the professional discourse (Bloom & Munro, 1995; Grogan, 1996). Further, the domicile governed by a mother (matriarchy) is a more restricted, limited, and private domain than that of a father (patriarchy), which can extend from an individual household to a nation-state.6

In terms of subjective identities, the application of the adjective “aggressive” to the noun “mother” is negatively connoted according to Beardsley’s work on language. Beardsley reports that “traits that can be possessed by both sexes are often appraised differently in males and females” (quoted in Martin, 1985, p. 30). In her findings, interviewees described aggressive males as “masculine, dominating, successful, heroic, capable, strong, forceful and manly” while aggressive females were thought to be “harsh, pushy, bitchy, domineering, obnoxious, emasculating, uncaring” (Martin, 1985, p. 31). The person who is both a woman and an aggressive leader is thought to be a “tough bitch” or “a pushy broad,” terms that are unbecoming, negative, and sexist.7 Conversely, to be “non-aggressive” is to be weak, soft, lacking in stamina and endurance, potentially less competitive and therefore not successful. The contradiction suggests that one cannot be a woman leader and still be successful.

To further examine contradictions, the technique of opposition is used.8 The mother metaphor implies as its opposite one who is “not mother,” as for instance a father or a foster parent. The suggestion that the leader might be a “father” reinforces the positive attributes of a nurturing, caregiving parent while minimizing the negative ones of being too weak to provide authority or to assume command. It also supports a gendered construction of leader, emphasizing that leader as father transforms a feminine bias into a masculine one, deemed equally appropriate and perhaps even preferred as the predominant governing structure of patriarchy.

Another opposite for mother is someone who does not fit the cultural image of mother, as for example, a single, unwed, or lesbian parent. These images raise the issue of one’s sexual identity, a subject that does not have a place in discussions of leadership and management, because organizational management is somehow nonsexual or neutral.9 The conception of leader as “not mother” reinforces the gendered construction of leader by problematizing a leader who does not fit the mother image, who in fact might be single, unwed, or lesbian/gay.


In the relationship of power over others, mother connotes both power and relationship where mother is the caregiver to her dependent child. The social relationship is not contested because the child from its inception is totally dependent on its mother. The relationship of power over child is inherent, not to be disputed. Eisler (1987) states that “the larger, stronger adult mother is clearly, in hierarchic terms superior to the smaller, weaker child. But this does not mean we normally think of the child as inferior or less valued” (p. 28).

A similar observation may be made in discussing the individual’s structural or positional power within an organization or social system as an aspect of power. Within an organization such as the family, the authority of a mother is given and not usually contested. There is a positional relationship dictated by the organizational structure, i.e., leader as superior to followers, or boss as authority over workers. Despite an adherence to organizational structure, there are contradictions when the leadership position is held by a person considered to be subordinate, as might be the case with a woman or person of color as the leader. This situation is exemplified in the Adler study, where women leaders comment on their lack of power and influence despite holding highly paid, executive positions in education (Adler, Laney, & Packer, 1993, pp. 94–95).

The third power relationship is an individual’s power through or power with others, defined as the extent to which one might aid or influence others through activities such as mentoring, networking, and developing relationships. The mother metaphor emphasizes how mothers protect and guide their children in their relationships. Similarly in working relationships, women tend to express their power in this way within the domain of collaborative relationships, building informal networks, fostering and sustaining linkages (Marshall, 1984). Women often describe their work as managers in terms of enabling others and sharing their resources in supportive and resourceful ways (Shakeshaft, 1989).

The fourth way of examining power relationships is to consider how an individual expresses power related to one’s self by demonstrating competence, self-esteem, autonomy, stamina, and expertise; that is, defining power as one’s personal power. The metaphor of mother is somewhat confounded by this fourth power relationship because power is derived from relationship with other, rather than by self-expression and autonomy. “Personal power” may be thought of as inappropriate or selfish for mothers to exhibit. Interestingly, women leaders in the Adler study acknowledged their personal power more easily than their professional power (i.e., power over others).

Almost all the women in our study stated that they did not have professional power, recognizing that power is relative. Many found personal power easier to acknowledge and felt happy with the power they had, consciously trying to use it in different, often feminist, ways. (Adler, Laney, & Packer, 1993, p. 133).

But the contrast between personal power and professional power can be negative as well. Craft (1987) comments that women in management feel isolated from others, without mentors and role models. They “had not [a] yardstick against which to measure [their] success” and found themselves even more marginalized and unsupported, which in turn eroded their self-esteem (Craft, 1987, pp. 60–61).

In sum, while the mother metaphor offers an alternative image for women administrators, its gendered construction is a contradictory one. The representation can be seen in Figure 2. On the positive side, mother reinforces approaches to leadership that are child-centered, involve care and concern for others, and emphasize people skills. Power relationships are manifested with or through others. On the negative side, mothers are depicted in homes rather than in organizations and corporate offices. This restricted domicile suggests that a woman is out of place if she is out of the home. One’s marital status and sexuality are seen as intrusive on one’s position as an educational professional. Unfortunately these aspects of one’s self might be inescapable for a woman administrator.


A popular metaphor for leadership in the recent organizational, political, and educational literature is that of visionary (Bass, 1960; Beck & Murphy, 1993; Bennis & Nanus, 1985; Bredeson, 1985; Burns, 1978; Starratt, 1996; Tichy & Devanna, 1986). Figuratively, this leader is the dreamer, seer, mythmaker, and creator. From the ephemeral dream world, the visionary calls up possibilities for the future and leads her followers toward the likelihood that these might become realities.


In the case of educational leaders, it is the school administrator who is “expected to cultivate and communicate a ‘vision’ to teachers, students, and the community” (Beck & Murphy, 1993, p. 153). According to Starratt (1996), the essential work of the administrator involves first, constructing at least a preliminary view of the school organization, and second, engaging the community in the process of developing a common or shared vision for the future. An example of this type of leadership may be found in the account of a Canadian principal describing the process toward school improvement in a site-based management setting (McPhee, 1996).

Unlike the gender-specific mother metaphor, the visionary is perceived as gender-neutral, referring to either a male or a female. Historical antecedents are, for example, fifteenth-century visionaries like Christopher Columbus (1451–1506), the Italian navigator who envisioned a world that linked Europe to China, and Joan of Arc (1421–1431), the French military heroine whose vision was of leading a charge against evil. Twentieth-century examples of intellectual, political, and spiritual visionaries include leaders like Golda Meir, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Theresa, whose visionary leadership transcended well beyond their immediate circumstances and lifetimes.

To examine the aspect of sexual difference for the visionary, one must ask how might a woman visionary be distinguished from a man. Would it be more or less difficult to be a leader articulating a vision if one were a woman in educational leadership? Conversely, would it be more or less challenging if the individual were a man? How might positive and negative attributes be magnified if one’s gender were male or female? A gender neutral attribution of the visionary would suggest that it would be equally challenging and difficult for a visionary regardless of gender.

Such a comparative perspective between the sexes might imply a generalization about all men and all women. According to Tetreault (1976), the perspective views all men and women as discrete, homogeneous groups, and overlooks the differences in characteristics such as class, race, and ethnicity. Existing stereotypes are merely replaced with newer ones. To compensate for this shortsightedness, consideration should be extended beyond gender to different and perhaps multiple characteristics at least for discussion purposes.

Positive attributes of a visionary emphasize the sense that the leader holds an alternative, imagined view of the world for her or his followers and strives to attain that vision. Based on an examination of five principals, Bredeson (1985) articulated the following view of vision:

Broadly conceived, vision is the principal’s ability to holistically view the present, to reinterpret the mission of the school to all its constituents, and to use imagination and perceptual skills to think beyond accepted notions of what is practical and what is of immediate application in present situations to speculative ideas and to, preferably, possible futures. (pp. 43–44)

For a woman visionary, the challenge is first to be accepted as a leader, and second to move one’s followers into realms of possibility, rather than practicality. Having entered the contested terrain of administration, if a woman has successfully gained acceptance and credibility as leader, she is already a visionary. Her presence as an administrator is evidence of creating reality from a vision of possibility. She serves as a role model for other women aspirants to follow. The same would be true for an individual from an underrepresented minority group.

However, for women and minority administrators, the challenge is an ongoing struggle of retaining legitimacy as a leader. Ortiz and Ortiz (1994) illustrate this point with a comparison of two Hispanic female superintendents who each struggled to maintain an executive relationship with their respective school boards while negotiating the politics of competing social, community, and organizational forces.

The executive actions presented here are common ones in every school district, but the process is more easily politicized for Hispanic females because the interpretations of their actions can be conveniently placed in the context of gender and ethnicity. (p. 165)

The negative attributes of the visionary occur at the extremes, either too narrow and bigoted, or too much of a dreamer. The former is the moralistic visionary whose views are not inclusive but rather myopic and too narrowly conceived for effectively addressing the needs of a pluralistic organization. This leader is out of tune with the larger social and political organization. At the other extreme is the dreamer whose visions are fanciful and not attainable. A female visionary may be cited for her lack of knowledge and experience of sociopolitical dimensions as well as faulted for a vision limited to her immediate school or family community. Similarly, a male may be equally faulted for being too narrow and bigoted in his espoused values.

In examining subjectivities by considering oppositions, the metaphor implies as its opposite, one who is “not visionary.” With apprehensions around transforming schools for the new millennium and the information age, educational leaders must be visionary. To maintain the status quo will not suffice. To be without vision in an uncertain future is to be like a rudderless ship. According to Murphy (1990), those who are effective leaders provide a “clear sense of direction for their schools that they are able to clearly articulate” (p. 167).


Of the four power relationships, the visionary acts primarily from the first, power over others, and the last, personal power. It could be argued that such a leader has a solitary vision that is articulated to the whole and embraced by the collective. She or he is the voice of the collective and thus becomes the one who directs and leads. The mandate of leadership falls on the person who can most astutely articulate what is to be. The visionary is a seer, sage, and fortunate teller of the future. Power over others is claimed from this intuitive sense. Because this first aspect represents contested power, it is more commonly the avenue of men in leadership, rather than the means selected by women.

The second aspect of structural and positional power is overridden when the visionary assumes leadership. Rather than constitute power in the organization, the visionary defies the organizational hierarchy and its norms because she leads from vision, not from authority. She breaks out of the boundaries established by structure and hierarchy. Again this aspect would suggest that new avenues of leadership for women and minorities are possible with the metaphor of visionary.

Power with and through others, the third type of power relationship, is manifested in shared or collective vision. According to Starratt (1996), “the development of a collective vision of where the school should be going is fundamental to the work of an educational administrator” (p. 50). The emphasis for school leaders is to present or embody the whole of the educational community. In writing about Hamilton High School, Grant (1988) proposes the need for leaders who hold and communicate “the enduring values of character of the school community: the spirit that actuates not just manners but moral and intellectual attitudes, practices and ideals” (p. 172). These ideals that he states are at the heart of an appropriate and useful vision.

The fourth power relationship, personal power, can be exemplified in the visionary. Without a sense of self and belief in one’s vision, the leader would not be able to stand up for that view. Greenfield identifies this as “exercise of moral imagination,” which is “rooted in an awareness of and a commitment to the standards of good practice or effective schools and good teaching, that characterize membership in the normative community of educators” (as cited in Beck & Murphy, 1993, pp. 61–62). As with the first aspect of power, the visionary needs to be assertive, speaking from her sense of personal power and confidence. If self-expression and self-esteem are easily eroded for women in leadership, this power base for a visionary may be in jeopardy.

In sum, the visionary, as depicted in Figure 3, has gendered implications for women as well as men in educational management. Unlike the first metaphor, this image appears to be more gender-neutral, with both men and women assuming leadership through their exercise of moral imagination and courage. As a visionary leader, there are greater opportunities to attain positions of influence and power over others by articulating new possibilities for the educational community. A woman or a minority person can gain access into predominantly white male arenas by becoming a visionary and potentially offering alternative leadership styles and approaches. However, retaining one’s position as a leader may be an ongoing struggle, as noted in the example of the Hispanic female superintendents whose race and gender factor into their work relationships. Power relationships for a visionary emphasize power over others and personal power, two aspects more likely to be male gendered.


In “Feminist Critiques in the Professions,” Nel Noddings (1990) challenged scholars to utilize feminist theories to produce alternative models for examining education and teaching professions, thereby creating what she called a “third generation of scholarship” on women in education.

Both relational and individualist arguments contribute to the understanding of women’s condition and to recommendations for change.


Just as feminist legal theorists recognize that a choice must be made between assimilation and transformation, feminists in education need to define and debate the choice in education. (Noddings, 1990, p. 410)

With this challenge in mind, I scrutinized and probed educational management as a gendered construction. The basis for my analysis was Scott’s model, which provides an opportunity to distinguish two components that have often been confused and confounded. To be a woman does not necessarily imply that one is disempowered. At the same time, how might one understand gender as sexual difference and gender as power as separate yet interrelated factors? Scott does this by constituting the two components and designating aspects of each one. Because power can be problematic for women, I augmented the model by utilizing Marshall’s four social relationships of power with self and others. The enhanced model constitutes sexual difference and power relationships as central factors to be examined in a gendered construction of educational management.

Against this conceptual model, I applied the linguistic device of metaphor to expose what might be assumed or normative. Two dominant metaphors for leadership were examined using the model. The mother metaphor specified a female leader. Given the gendered construction of educational management, the contradictions of this alternative image of leader were not surprising. While the leader as mother highlighted a woman’s work in child care, nurturing, and caring for others, the depiction of mother in a home environment implied that she was out of place if she was out of her home. The metaphor reinforced the inappropriate nature of mothering in management and leadership. In considering the opposite for “mother,” the legitimacy of a father figure prevailed over alternatives such as a single, unwed, or lesbian parent.

The second metaphor specified a gender-neutral image, leader as visionary, with both women and men as equally likely candidates for such a position. Using the model and its component parts facilitated a closer examination of the gendered aspects that might distinguish a woman visionary from a man. For women and minorities, the metaphor suggests new possibilities for those who are not typically thought of as leaders or in leadership roles because one can become a leader by virtue of one’s vision. One can assume or claim power over others by one’s visionary direction. However, there can be an ongoing struggle to retain one’s position and sustain one’s legitimacy, especially in modes of power more commonly associated with men, such as power over others and personal power.

The combination of model and metaphor as a tool in analysis is useful because the blending of these devices forces an examination of educational management and leadership with women at the center, rather than at the periphery of the construction. This is accomplished by examining sexual difference as separate from but interrelated to power. Further, by combining model and metaphor, the user is forced to scrutinize what might be taken for granted in juxtaposing something out of the realm of leadership, as with motherhood and visionaries. In this way, the analytic device achieved by blending model and metaphor advances feminist scholarship, enabling “women to be studied on their own terms” with their activities and experiences as the foci, rather than taken as subordinate or deficient (Tetreault, 1976).

Given the importance of understanding and interpreting leadership for women, I believe we need to be attentive to the complexity of gender in at least three fundamental ways. First, using more refined analytic devices, we can begin empirical investigations on specific cases and examine how gendered biases actually occur. Scott (1986) recommends that biographies of both men and women be probed to determine how gendered constructions operate within specific cultural representations (p. 1068). One such autobiography is that of Smith College President Jill Kerr Conway (1994), which traces her career from Harvard graduate student to college president of an all-women’s institution. My work would facilitate an examination of such case studies, with gender conceptualized in multifaceted ways. In addition, by incorporating text and narrative analyses together with lived experiences, researchers would be able to explore conceptualizations of leadership and management even further. Such research would capture different aspects of leadership such as sense making, problem solving, and politicizing, as noted by Heck (1998).

Second, beyond individual case studies, we need to attend to the institutional norms and processes as established and sustained in the preparation and practice of educational administrators. A greater scrutiny is possible of the pipeline through which school administrators, women and men alike, are educated and socialized into their profession. With more discriminating analytic devices, we can examine how women and minorities enter into leadership positions and beyond that, what we expect of them, how we conceptualize their roles as educational leaders, and how we judge their performance against particular ideals. We can proceed to decipher the differences related to gender interwoven with categories of class, race, and ethnicity as well as confounded by issues of power and authority (Marshall, 1994, 1995).

Third, we need to attend to the conceptualization of gender as confounded by socioeconomic, cultural, and situational contexts. A theoretical lens provides the capacity for investigating a particular construct or concept and proposing its relationship to others. Such a lens is tested when applied to the complexity of real-life situations. Both gender and leadership manifest themselves differently and dynamically in the lives of educators in schools and school systems throughout the country. As we refine our theorizing about gender and leadership, and as we apply these analytic devices to actual situations, we will be better able to suggest and incorporate alternative styles of educational leadership and management.

This article is a revision of a paper presented at the 1995 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in San Francisco, California. I wish to thank Betty Malen, Louise Berman, Barbara Finkelstein, Jeff Mirel, and the TCR reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. Also, I wish to acknowledge funding support through the University of Maryland’s Curriculum Transformation Project in summer 1994.


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ERNESTINE K. ENOMOTO is an associate professor in educational administration at the University of Hawai’i. She is the co-author, with Mary Gardiner and Margaret Grogan, of Coloring Outside the Lines, Mentoring Women into School Leadership (SUNY, forthcoming).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 102 Number 2, 2000, p. 375-397 ID Number: 10450, Date Accessed: 1/23/2022 5:03:18 PM

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