Inaccurate Representation

Throughout educational history, the role of women in various subjects has been consistently overlooked and misrepresented. Despite apparent efforts to make high school curriculum more inclusive of the various roles and impacts of women, textbooks and lessons continue to be void of appropriate representation of women and fail to include a proper display of their differing perspectives.

The absence and misrepresentation of women can be seen in multiple subjects, predominantly history and English courses. For example, in the A.P. U.S. History course, the College Board covers the Women’s Suffrage Movement and Women’s Rights Movement in their objectives but fails to extend much further than a small insignificant portion of the year-long course. In the world history classes, the textbook which is incorporated into the lesson plans, “World History: Patterns of Interaction,” women are referenced less than ten times in its entirety.

Although each teacher has their preference, ability, and knowledge to try to incorporate multiple perspectives, many classes fail to reflect the complete historical picture including the female perspective, apart from the material that is given to them. This lack of initiative in bringing outside voices and influencers into the curriculum leaves the information taught to be incomplete and distorted. According to journalist Elizabeth Weingarten from The Atlantic, in 1971, research quantified how underrepresented women were in U.S. History high school textbooks, revealing that there was more textbook space given to the length of women’s skirts than to the suffrage movement.

    Within textbooks alone, there remains a disparity between representation of women and men. In the second-largest school district in the nation, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the authors for the language arts textbooks for eighth, ninth, and tenth grades were less than 30 percent female. Meanwhile, the LAUSD’s population is comprised of 52 percent females.

While female representation, defined purely in a quantitative sense, fairs better in assigned English texts than in history books; the problem regarding the depiction of women in literature is that they are primarily written as two dimensional supporting characters in traditional novels. And even though the amount of women mentioned in core English books is more than those in historical text books, the numbers still put them well within the minority.

Photo by Nellely Azpeitia

Even in children’s books, a study led by Janice McCabe, a professor of sociology at Florida State University, found that males are central characters in 57 percent of children’s books published each year, with just 31 percent having female central characters. Male animals are central characters in 23 percent of books per year, the study found, while female animals star in only 7.5 percent.

Although cases of writings about women’s issues are present occasionally in school curriculum, these rarities are absolutely not representative of the presence of these subjects in real life. Changes must be made so that women can have a space in literature and academic works to exhibit their unique struggles and strengths.