The PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group Response to the Department for Education’s A-Level Politics Consultation
While the PSA Women and Politics Group welcomes the inclusion of ‘Political Ideas’ as a compulsory topic within the DfE’s draft AS and A-Level Politics subject content, we are deeply troubled by the exclusion of feminism as a political ideology and the inclusion of only one woman political thinker across the entire curriculum.
The proposed new curriculum omits both the greatly important social changes that have resulted from women’s movement activism in the past century, and a hugely significant body of literature dealing with gender, politics and political change. Indeed, there is only one mention of women or gender in the entire draft content – with the suffragettes awkwardly shoehorned in under the banner of ‘pressure groups’. With Mary Wollstonecraft the only female ‘key thinker’ named, the document also overlooks a number of extremely influential women thinkers, such as Hannah Arendt, Rosa Luxemburg, Catherine MacKinnon, Nancy Fraser, Simone de Beauvoir, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Anne Phillips, Audre Lorde, Hanna Pitkin, Martha Nussbaum, Carole Pateman, and Susan Moller Okin – to name just a handful. This exclusion of women – both as key thinkers and as political actors in their own right – sends the erroneous message that women do not and have not made significant achievements in politics and political thought.
The inclusion of feminism in the Political Ideas section is extremely important in its own right, as is the inclusion of more women thinkers. It is not enough, however, to simply ‘add women in and stir’ – including a handful of women thinkers will not be sufficient to address the gaps in the proposed curriculum. Rather, we urge the DfE to mainstream women, gender and feminism across the curriculum – not only in the study of political ideas, but also in the sections on democracy and participation, elections and referendums, political parties, global politics, and so on.
Women and gender equality issues are not optional add-ons in the study of politics – they are central to political life and the nature of ‘the political’ as we know it. Feedback we have sought from both A-Level and undergraduate students suggests that feminism is one of the most engaging parts of the existing curriculum, particularly as it highlights the connections between politics, power and our day-to-day lives. In an environment in which there is widespread concern about political disaffection and disengagement, feminist perspectives foster students’ awareness of how politics is implicated in one’s everyday experience and encourage them to think about politics in more expansive, rather than narrow, ways.
To omit women, gender and feminism from the A-level curriculum is a political act. It is a conscious decision to exclude a substantial body of political thought, to overlook women’s contributions to political life, and to reaffirm gender biases that treat men and their interests as the norm and women and their interests as optional extras. It therefore runs counter to the consultation document’s stated aims and objectives, which stress the need to ‘develop knowledge and an informed understanding of contemporary political structures and issues in their historical context, both within the United Kingdom and globally’.
Politics cannot be properly understood while women are excluded from the curriculum.
The PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group provides a focus for members of the UK Politics Studies Association whose research focuses on women or gender, and is also a resource for women in the PSA. The group has a commitment to ensure the visibility of women in the PSA and the discipline, while combating sexism.
Read the Political Studies Association’s statement on the lack of female thinkers in the draft A-Level subject content here
Listen to PSA Women and Politics members discussing the exclusion of feminism from the draft curriculum on BBC Woman’s Hour here (29 minutes in).