Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Sexism in school and society returned by frustrated customers

In 1973, Myra Sadker and David Sadker published Sexism in School and Society, one of the first textbooks examining the harm done by sexism in schools. It analyzed sex-segregated courses, unfair teaching and counseling, and bias in books, issues that would be the subject of a vast amount of educational research for the following twenty-five years. After the release of the book, the National Association of Elementary School Principals asked Myra Sadker to speak at their convention. She was excited, hoping that if these principals became aware of the problems, a solution would be in sight.

However, as she began talking to the predominantly male crowd, a whisper started to fill the room. Some of the principals were totally disconcerted, and left the room, followed by others. They had expected a talk about sex education. Two years after the publication of the textbook, Harper and Row, the publishing house, called the authors with disturbing news. Not only people stopped buying the book, but many purchasers who have read the book returned it asking for a refund. The authors were devastated, without knowing why people disliked the book so much.

The reason was that during the first year, the main purchasers of the books were pornography stores. They put them on their shelves assuming that it was a book about sex in schools. The book had very few pictures, and nothing on sex in schools. This was why many readers, frustrated and disappointed, wanted their money back.

This anecdote illustrates that during the early 1970s, the word sexism was still unfamiliar to many people, and it did not mean bias or discrimination, as it presently does. At that time, Frazier and Sadker were describing a problem that was not yet labelled.



Sadker, Myra & Sadker, David (1994). Failing at Fairness: How America's Schools Cheat Girls. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.


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