Advancing the Feminist Cause but at What/Whose Cost?

GirlThe Brazil National High School Exam (ENEM) recently made headlines for its inclusion of several controversial questions. The nationally administered exam included two questions that asked students to take a stance on women’s’ rights in Brazil. Two of the multiple choice questions included excerpts from prominent feminist scholars while the essay’s theme was the prevalence of violence against women in Brazilian society. After the test was administered, the questions caused national debate. Students and politicians alike used social media to express feelings of disdain and support.

Violence against women has been a long-standing issue facing Brazilian Women. Currently Brazil is rated 7th of 84 countries with the highest rates of femicide and just last year 47,646 rape cases were reported.

Who’s Afraid of Simone de Beauvoir? How a National Exam Had Millions of Brazilians Talking About Gender, portrayed the questions as a victory for the Brazilian feminist community. The author quoted several tweeted responses demonstrating students’ seemingly overwhelming support of the exam questions. The article made it seem as though the questions signified movements toward liberation for all Brazilian women by providing a much-needed forum to discuss a pertinent issue. However, outside of displaying the profiles of the students whose tweets were quoted, the author made no reference to the test takers demographics, a fact that drastically challenges the liberating impact of the exam. The author ignored her own privilege inherently displayed in the articles title. She presupposes all of the students taking the test have a working knowledge of Simone De Beauvoir, which is simply not the case.

“It [ENEM] cannot resolve a problem that a student has spent 12 years in schools without lessons, the teacher is poorly prepared, there’s no library” – Antonio Fretas’s

Antonio Fretas’s , director of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, statement brings up a good point. Main_Barriers_Cyan_cropThe ENEM exam has to be able to assess the abilities of students from all educational background’s not just the abilities of the privileged. ENEM is the sole university entrance exam in Brazil; it was nationalized to increase access to higher education for disadvantaged students. It is made available to low-income and public school students at no cost. This year two thirds of students who registered for the exam qualified for a fee waiver, meaning that an overwhelming majority of the test takers could be classified as disadvantaged. While they are very likely to have personal experiences with violence against women they may have had difficulty situating them with the context of Simone De Beauvoir’s work. These students may have never been exposed to her let alone taught to dissect her work. While the feminist movement may have won a victory, it was won at the possible expense of some student’s futures.

The integration of material discussing issues affecting marginalized populations is important in education especially when measuring student performace. Culturally relevant questions on standardized test are can provide relatable context for test takers, leveling the playing field for underserved or marginalized students. Yet, it is equally important that these discussions be framed from the perspective of the underprivileged. The institutional injustices Feminists aim to dismantle disproportionately affect underserved and underprivileged women, but these women are rarely represented in the movements’ proclaimed victories. While the inclusion of gender relevant questions on the ENEM should be applauded as a step towards liberation, it should also be noted for its counter productivity. It did not consider the fact that it would render otherwise capable students, incapable of demonstrating their abilities by referencing a text that students may not have had access to and possibly from attaining a college education.

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Sources:

SANT’ANNA, E. (2015, October 27). Composition on Feminism and Marxist Authors Cause Debate on Brazil’s National High School Exam. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/internacional/en/brazil/2015/10/1699033-composition-on-feminism-and-marxist-authors-cause-debate-on-brazils-national-high-school-exam.shtml

Bowater, D. (2015, December 2). Spotlight on Enem exam in Brazil after questions row. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/spotlight-enem-exam-brazil-after-questions-row

Bowater, D. (2015, December 3). Debate over essay question and role of Brazil’s admissions exam. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/12/03/debate-over-essay-question-and-role-brazils-admissions-exam

Candido, M. (2015, October 26). 4 dados sobre violência contra a mulher que provam que isso não é só ‘papo de feminista’. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from http://elastica.abril.com.br/dados-violencia-contra-a-mulher-papo-de-feminista

Canofre, F. (2015, November 19). Who’s Afraid of Simone de Beauvoir? How a National Exam Had Millions of Brazilians Talking About Gender · Global Voices. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from https://globalvoices.org/2015/11/19/whos-afraid-of-simone-de-beauvoir-how-a-national-exam-had-millions-of-brazilians-talking-about-gender/

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One thought on “Advancing the Feminist Cause but at What/Whose Cost?

  1. Daniel, This is a very interesting topic, thank you for sharing! From your post I am struggling to understand the implication that the inclusion of these particular questions were marginalizing for underprivileged students. As you say, “the institutional injustices Feminists aim to dismantle disproportionately affect underserved and underprivileged women, but these women are rarely represented in the movements’ proclaimed victories.” In this way, I absolutely agree that this is an issue within the feminist movement as a whole and it must be more widely recognized. However, in the context of the test, could you clarify the ways in which the questions were marginalizing to certain demographics of students?

    Thanks!

    Like

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