The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

Gender bias runs rampant at LM

Edge explores the gender bias pervading LM classrooms.

Let’s address an instance we all are rather familiar with: the fairly young woman teacher in her early twenties, paired with the self-willed teenage boy that lacks any respect for her. “They always got away with it.” This is exactly what just one student at LM had to say about young male students who would always push their female teachers boundaries. They added, “She would never let the girls get away with not doing their work.” Now take that same self-willed student’s persona, and observe them walking into the classroom of a male teacher, perhaps a sports coach as well. See them quietly get into their seat, take their materials out, have their homework completed, only talking when called on. Can this merely be a coincidence? Gender psychology says not. Feminine qualities based in the sociocultural realm refer to a nurturing, reserved, and amenable nature. Contrary to that, masculinity, according to this psychology, is defined by strength and forwardness. In the classroom, students expect these stereotypes to hold true in their educators, influencing their behavior. This is to say, gender bias exists in every facet of education.

Examining this topic through the lens of two traditional gender binaries allows for an understanding of how systems often force the topic of gender into those very traditional binaries. With that being said, it is essential to acknowledge that non-binary and transgender students face gender bias in the everyday classroom as well, in many forms both similar and dissimilar to those being examined in this article. For the purpose of examining preconceived stereotypes and gender bias in relation to the common binaries often pushed in society, I will be examining two typical gender structures that exist through those same binaries.

Preconceived notions about academic performance in different subjects can similarly lead educators to treat students unfairly as a result of gender bias. When talking to numerous students about this issue, many girls raised frustrations about feeling insufficient in their male teachers’ eyes, especially in classes pertaining to STEM. While male students talk to these teachers about formulas and robotics, the female minority—scared of being seen as distracted by things like gossip and Taylor Swift—keep questions to themselves, careful to not portray women as incapable of logical problem solving. A female student that I interviewed revealed her experience in her own classroom. “There are twenty four kids in my compsci class, two of them are girls. The jokes that the teacher makes are all catered towards boys. He makes the class feel like if you need help in the class, you’re the problem. I never ask him for help, he doesn’t have a welcoming environment, and I just go to my friends if I need help.”

Math teacher and advocate for inclusivity Michael Bomze provided some insight: “I think one thing STEM teachers can do in order to increase the overall comfortability in a wider variety of students is to make more of a concerted effort to encourage class participation. Making it a priority to manage the classroom in such a way that promotes contributions from female students (whose voices historically have been drowned out by male peers) is something any teacher can do.”

Graphic by Eliza Liebo ’25/Staff

This is not solely a concern for women, though, as many men have expressed feelings of deficiency in classes more humanities-based, denoting that many teachers may expect female students to have a greater capacity to produce a creative and organized literary effort. I spoke with a male peer on this topic, and he brought up an anecdote about a comment a female teacher made to him during an English discussion. He said, “We were discussing a book with a mix of different classes, talking about AI learning, and I said that I preferred STEM classes because it has more real world applications. A teacher walking around overheard, and frustratingly said that I only preferred STEM because those classes are more male-dominated and I just don’t like to get taught by female teachers, which is just not true at all.” This is simply an assumption based on gender. A common theme seems to be appearing here—the male to STEM correlation and the woman to humanities correlation. If both of these subject areas are deeply rooted in society’s gender expectations, internal misconceptions can be made inevitably and even unknowingly.

This kind of compartmentalization affects teaching and learning at LM. If a teacher believes that a student will go further, they may be more motivated to push them further and give them the best opportunities to thrive. Similarly, if a student knows that their teacher believes in them, they are more likely to ask more questions and accept help. The National Institutes of Health finds that “motivation is the first condition for completing a learning task and the driving force behind the educational mobile process.”

While gender bias might seem like an unsolvable issue, there are actions that LM teachers can take in response. Psychology teacher Carla Rehak, for instance, actively recognizes gender biases and implements methods to try and eliminate them in her classroom. “One thing I do in my classroom is to make sure I take turns calling on an equal number of boys and girls to ensure they get equal time to participate. I try to use inclusive language so I avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes. And I diversify my teaching method to try and appeal to different learning styles and preferences, avoiding methods that may unintentionally favor one gender.” The solution seems to start with recognizing the problem, and if we can get more educators to acknowledge the internal stereotypes, the school can do a better job of eradicating them. 

While inquiring for quotes, a male teacher overheard and started asking me questions about my article. I explained that even though LM is very inclusive and provides opportunities for all people to thrive, women still feel marginalized because of preconceived notions. In response, he said that those feelings are not justified and as a male teacher who has been here for a while, he believes it is best to just “suck it up buttercup.” He communicated that he had never even thought about this as being an issue before. When a male peer and I brought up the gender gap in higher-level STEM classes and STEM clubs, he explained that the gap is not a systemic issue, implying that it comes from an inherent capacity of certain individuals. I’ll admit, it was very difficult to hear all of my ideas being shot down by someone who even claims himself that he has never even thought about the topic before. As someone who has had to think about this their whole life, starting when the boys in elementary school would tell me that they were better at math than me because I am a girl, I’m happy for him that he holds this privilege and hopeful that his perspectives widen.

LM remains frequently commended for their inclusion of feminist ideals into their education, and is without a doubt a highly liberal school. With that in mind, it remains possible that subconscious gets the better of some individuals. It is crucial for our community at LM to not internalize gender stereotypes and, instead, see humans in general, teachers and students alike, as more than just their gender. Women can excel in STEM, men can absolutely flourish in the humanities, and all teachers should be respected at the same level, regardless of their gender.

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