Book By: Barbara J. Bank & Harriet M. Yelon
Review By: Sybil L. Holloway
Center for Counseling and Human Development
Contradictions in Women’s Education presents a six-year longitudinal case study from a “non-elite women’s college in the Midwest” (back cover). As the title indicates, three tension-filled areas were examined in the study: gender traditionalism, careerism, and community. While the issues raised would appear to have relevance for students at different colleges the authors caution that the generalizability of their results is unclear.
“Despite much talk about equal opportunity in higher education, and despite the fact that many women will experience more gender equity in college than in the workplace or the home, getting a college education continues to be a different process for women than for men…But, unlike the education of their male counterparts, women’s higher education is enmeshed in a long tradition of gender-related contradictions and controversies.” (p. 1). Hence, the book.
This study is data-rich; the sheer number of facts presented can be overwhelming. Data is obtained from various research methods such as survey statistics (e.g., correlations, t-tests, factor analyses) and interview quotations, and the text also includes references throughout along with four appendices detailing research methodology and instruments used. While Bank and Yelon present their information in a clear, logical, and understandable manner, this is not light reading. Even so, I found the content to be interesting.
Gender-relevant values (i.e., traditionalism) are explored along with their connection to political conservatism, the ‘feminist’ label, and concern for appearance. These are controversial topics as society has become more progressive and many more women are questioning traditional views. The purpose of higher education, academic vs. careerist, is another area of disagreement. A liberal arts education is viewed as preparing one for life by providing broad skills in critical thinking and other domains whereas a specialized program which offers technical and professional skills prepares one for a specific job or career. Both competing tracks are legitimate. Community life is an integral part of the college experience and the authors address several aspects: the campus community, sororities, athletic teams, extracurricular activities, and friends.
Many thought-provoking issues are raised in this study. I was initially drawn to the book by my own experience of attending a women’s college. Although my alma mater represents a completely different demographic than the college in this study, I found commonalities in the topics under discussion. However, the survey results differ from what I expect would be found at other women's colleges. While these issues, to some degree, exist at any college, they tend to take on greater significance at women’s colleges due to the salience of gender and the students who choose this unique learning environment.
The book’s major strength lies in the authors’ rigorous longitudinal and multidimensional case study. Its major weakness is its limited and unclear generalizability of results to other collegiate settings. However, Contradictions in Women’s Education can help advisors increase their knowledge of gender issues that affect their students.
Contradictions in Women’s Education: Traditionalism, Careerism, and Community at a Single-Sex College
. (2003). Book by Bank, Barbara J. with Yelon, Harriet M. Review by Sybil L. Holloway. New York: Teachers College Press. 198 pp. $27.95. ISBN 0-8077-4363-1