Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Premier's wife makes a stand against gender bias in VCE literature

The Premier's wife is urging principals to choose an equal mix of male and female authors from the VCE booklists.

In an unusual move, Catherine Andrews wrote to Victorian principals on Tuesday and "strongly encouraged" them to revisit their choice of VCE texts to reflect gender diversity. 

"I urge you to aim for 50 per cent representation of female writers across your school's English and Literature teaching and text selection," she said in the letter, which was leaked to Fairfax Media.

Ms Andrews is an ambassador of the Stella Prize, an Australian literary award that celebrates Australian female authors. 

The Stella Prize has been pushing for changes to the school curricula since 2014, and its advocacy has improved the gender representation in the VCE English text lists. 

Ms Andrews said female authors were less likely to be placed on curriculum lists if they did not win awards.

"This has wider ramifications in our culture: it sends messages to girls and boys about whose voices and experiences are most significant," she said. 

"The books we read at school – and who writes them – shape our ideas about who we are and can be, and what we are capable of. Gender stereotypes limit us all, male and female."

Australian Association for the Teaching of English president Monika​ Wagner said the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority selection panel already tried to ensure gender and cultural diversity was reflected on the text list.

However, this good work could be undone by the gender bias of teachers in schools and their lack of awareness of more contemporary texts. 

As someone who has read VCE English and Literature texts I can concur with Catherine Andrew's views. I wasn't a big fan of my daughters books last year but that was nothing compared to what she thought. ( ironically I think she ended up liking what We initially thought was the dreariest one of the lot.)

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