The ‘Anomie Theory’ examines the sociology of education has looked at examination differences between girls and boys to illustrate various outcomes of the hidden curriculum. However, over the past few years, both males and females seem to perform equally well in both GCSEs and A-level examinations. The focus has moved away from educational performance to a less apparent manifestation of the hidden curriculum – gendered curriculum.


The idea exists that males and females are encouraged to study different subjects. Some subjects becoming seen as male subjects and vice versa, also some which are seen as neutral subjects. Over the past 100 years explicit curriculum differences have been progressively eliminated – as Taylor et al noted: “The 1902 Education Act made domestic subjects such as cookery and needlework compulsory for girls but not for boys … During the 20th century… the tradition of girls doing home economics and boys woodwork and metalwork has been largely replaced by technology for all pupils”


Girls perform as well as boys academically but tend to avoid certain subjects, this is argued to be because when girls enter education they have a problem:


Using the secondary socialisation process – they are taught that they are equal to boys and that eventual achievement will be on merit (Girls are not directly discriminated against but passively in the form of gender discrimination). Their primary socialisation has taught them that there are some areas of the social world that are not considered to be feminine.


This situation creates a problem of anomie – conflict over role expectations and the ideology that surrounds male and female roles. Examples of this are: As a school girl, a girl is expected to try her best to achieve academically.


As a female, girls are not expected to try to enter areas of the curriculum associated with masculine gender characteristics (leading to the idea of placement in the workforce).


Thus, girls are secondary socialised into ideological assumptions about competing and succeeding at school. Primary socialisation teaches them that some areas of work are off-limits – if they choose to study in those areas they then run the risk of being labelled in an unattractive manner (unfeminine).


Girls resolve this problem by avoiding certain subjects classified as masculine – they opt for subjects classified as feminine or socially neutral (for males it is largely reversed).


The significance of gendered curriculum is that boys and girls become segregated within the school in a way that channels girls into a relatively narrow range of future occupations – examples of affective roles: teaching, nursing and social work). Although this theory explains why so many boys and girls take certain types of subject – the theory cannot fully explain the gendered curriculum because not all girls and boys stick to gender appropriate subjects.


At GCSE level and below in the National Curriculum pupils are expected to follow the same basic curriculum, therefore blatant forms of gender association are no longer as evident.


Sociology and psychology are generally female gendered subjects although it is not known why – possibly as they are seen as easier. Alternatively the association with social science and social work, teaching, nursing and so forth might explain the gendering of these subjects – such careers are still highly gendered in our society


To conclude: the ‘Anomie Theory’ does not seem to offer a general explanation as to the process of the curriculum becoming gendered, especially in the higher levels of the education system where students are free to pick the subjects they want to study.


One of the strengths of the theory is that it relates events in the wider world – work, general socialisation of males and females – to individual choices and shows how wider social structures influence such choices – anomie theory can be used to explain why patterns of gendered subjects develop.

Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex