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Welcome and introduction to the course

Introduction to the course, its aims and motivation and the educators, and how the course will run..
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Welcome to Understanding Gender Inequality. This course, running over four weeks, will aim to enhance your understanding of gender equality, and inequality.

In the first week we will concentrate on setting the scene, by introducing you to the key terms and concepts, and providing a brief history of gender inequalities, how it arises, and what has been done over time to try and tackle this. We’ll also cover some of the commonplace ways in which we experience or observe gender inequality, such as everyday sexism. By the end of Week 1 you should have a good understanding of what we mean by ‘gender’ and ‘gender (in)equality’ and an appreciation of its complexity and the challenges in tackling it.

In the following two weeks we explore gender inequality in specific contexts. In Week 2, we look at gender inequality in the workplace, probably the arena of gender equality that we’re most familiar with as it’s the most readily discussed in the media. During this week we explore how certain roles become associated with a gender and gender stereotypes and assumptions. We consider the evidence to suggest there is inequality in the workplace by exploring such things as gaps in pay, representation of women on boards, and the prevalence of sexual harassment at work.

In the third week we explore gender in society more broadly, including how it is represented in the media, in politics and in the home. Of course, these divisions are somewhat arbitrary and it’s important to recognise that these various domains of our lives intersect and influence each other. The experiences of women in the workplace, for example, are heavily influenced by assumptions regarding their domestic and familial roles. To that end we’ll explore how certain spaces are gendered, which we’ll also explore from an historical perspective. Although it’s important to focus on gender inequalities of contemporary society, what has happened in the past plays a central role in shaping gender dynamics of the present day. In this week we’ll also explore why certain roles matter – and here we explore the importance of power. We’ll already have touched on this when exploring representation of women on boards. During this week we’ll give more attention to why representation in some roles, specifically those in positions of influence, are important. We’ll also explore the influence of media representations of gender on gender inequalities.

The first three weeks are largely focused on the status quo, or how we got there. In the last week we summarise what we’ve learned so far before looking to the future. In this week we’ll explore ways in which we can challenge gender equality at home, at work and more widely in society. It will address some of the actions already being undertaken and how things are changing. But during this week there will be more emphasis on your ideas and evaluation, through guided discussions.

The materials for this module have been created by a team, led by myself, Dr. Emma Jeanes, with other academic contributions from colleagues across different disciplines who bring with them their expertise on particular topics. You will be taken through many of the sections of this course by Lauren Castle and Jemma Rimmer, undergraduates at the University of Exeter, who will guide you through the material and who contributed their own research to the course. The course will involve a mixture of videos, articles, quizzes and discussions.

Throughout the course we’ll give you links to further reading, useful clips and other sources. These are not essential for the course but are useful additional resources and may be particularly valuable for someone wishing to explore the ideas raised in this course in more depth. We’ll also provide references for the material used, and some recommended further reading.

If you have any questions, please post them on the comments board.

We’ll start this week with some questions to get you thinking about gender inequality. It will also give you a basis from which to assess your progress across the course. After that we’ll get into the concepts that you’ll need to become familiar with.

I hope you find the course informative and engaging, and that the discussions provide you with an opportunity to share and enhance your learning. Many of the issues discussed in this module are complex, and there will be different understandings of the nature of the problem and potential solutions. To this end I hope to stimulate an interesting and informative discussion, but one that is conducted respectfully. The FutureLearn code of conduct can be a useful guide if needed.

But before we go any further, why not introduce yourself via the comments and say why you are taking this course?

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Understanding Gender Inequality

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