Incentivized Students: How Neutralized Gender Rationalizes Academic Success

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Student Presentation

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Faculty Sponsor

Sergio Romero


Neoliberalism assumes persons are the foci of self-invention and -transformation in order to survive within social, economic and political systems (Phoenix, 2003). Therefore, the individual is presumed to be efficient to maximize opportunities and identify shortcomings or deprivations rather than in socio-economic structures. The individual is rendered an entrepreneur seeking returns on their human capital situated in a market logic of rational decision-making and competition (Francis, 2006). Higher education’s adoption of neoliberalism renders success as contingent on the student’s participation in the marketplace of ideas, competition, and outcomes. Thus, the function of social structures at the micro-level is neutralized as persons are reduced to incentivized actors (Phoenix, 2003).

By elevating the incentivized individual, neoliberalism rationalizes oppression and inequality enabling the state and its institutions to abscond itself from those who seemingly don’t thrive. Thus, failure is perceived to be personal rather than systemic or social in origin (Francis, 2006). Research suggests that neoliberalism is regressive for gender, albeit in distinct ways (Phoenix, 2003). Why neutralization of gender is regressive, especially in education, must be examined sociologically. Gender is a reinforced process integrated with other social structures (Lahelma, 2014). Neoliberalism obscures gender by emphasizing the governing individual rather than the role of social structures (Dardot and Laval, 2013). This research examines how individualization genders student satisfaction in higher education.

Research on gender in higher education primarily focuses on essentialized gender identities. For example, some studies suggest that women’s measurable academic performance, on average, is better when compared to men’s (Lahelma, 2014). Other studies find that the demands of men’s masculinity compromise educational success because social relationships are deemed more important than measurable academic performance (Phenoix, 2003). Research is needed to examine how gender performance intermingles with academic success.

In this project, academic success is conceptualized as forms of interactions that renders opportunities. The purpose of this paper is to examine how gender performance influences academic success. These variables are applied because 1) gender performance points to the socially constructed nature of gender thus problematizing neoliberalism’s neutralization of gender and 2) academic success is an indicator of student satisfaction. Society has many regulatory mechanisms that dictate and encourage normative gender performances. This suggests the instability of gender since, if it were innate, they would require no regulation to maintain (Happel, 2013). The fact of its instability points to the channeling influence of neoliberal’s self-governing rationality.

To complete this research, semi-structured interviews were conducted at Boise State University, a public institution, to determine the ways in which students negotiated their gender performance vis-a-vis their academic success. We know essentialized identity has consequences as women and men often negotiate their gender (Tredway, 2014). Therefore, research is needed to examine the forms and functions of gender construction in the neoliberalized university. This paper delves further into gender performance and how masculinity and femininity impacts college students’ satisfaction as measured by their academic success.

Works Cited

Francis, B. (2006). Heroes or zeroes? The discursive positioning of ‘underachieving boys’ in English neo‐liberal education policy. Journal of Education Policy, 21(2), 187-200. DOI: 10.1080/02680930500500278

Dardot, P. and Laval, C. (2013). The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society. Verso: New York.

Happel, A. (2013). Ritualized girling: School uniforms and the compulsory performance of gender. Journal of Gender Studies, 22(1), 92-96, DOI: 10.1080/09589236.2012.745680

Lahelma, E. (2014) Troubling discourses on gender and education. Educational Research, 56(2), 171-183. DOI: 10.1080/00131881.2014.898913

Phoenix, A. (2003). Neoliberalism and masculinity: Racialization and the contradictions of schooling for 11-to 14-year-olds. Youth Society, 36(2), 227-246. DOI: 10.1177/0044118X04268377

Tredway, K. (2014). Judith Butler redux – The heterosexual matrix and the out lesbian athlete: Amélie Mauresmo, gender performance, and women’s professional tennis. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 41(2), 163-176, DOI: 10.1080/00948705.2013.785420

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