In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Critical Approaches to Gender in Higher Education

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • National and International Reports on Gender and Higher Education
  • Journals
  • Gender and Higher Education Leadership
  • Gender and the Academic Career
  • Gender and students in Higher Education
  • Gender and Higher Education Policy

Education Critical Approaches to Gender in Higher Education
Tehmina Khwaja
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0304


Throughout most of its history, higher education has been the exclusive domain of men. Women and other historically underrepresented groups, such as persons with disabilities, racialized people, and gender and sexual minorities, have made inroads into academia only in the last century. Still, higher education structures—built around affluent, able-bodied, heterosexual cisgender men—continue to create barriers for participants who do not fall within those narrow identity dimensions. Even though women and gender-diverse individuals have made immense progress in carving out their place in the academy—women constitute the majority of college students in many countries—challenges remain in reaching parity. Women’s concentration in lower faculty and management positions and overrepresentation in fields with limited financial rewards, such as arts and humanities—as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields continue to be chilly to women—is quite troubling. Trans individuals and people with nonbinary gender identities also face massive obstacles to participation and advancement in academia. Obstacles to participation are further compounded for people with intersectional marginalized identities. Top leadership at universities remains dominated by mostly cisgender male, white, and affluent individuals, while inclusion of the full spectrum of gender identities in data collection has only begun recently and remains scarce and uneven across institutions. The sole focus on cisgender women when considering gender in higher education has (rightly) become obsolete. However, since cisgender women outnumber men in most areas of higher education, arguments are made that systemic barriers for women are no longer an issue in higher education. A majority of contemporary feminist scholars push back on this argument while continuing to expand the notion of gender itself to be more inclusive and paying particular attention to intersectionalities of gender identities. Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in some Western universities have contributed to making the academy more democratic and inclusive of historically marginalized identities, however a critical examination of gender in higher education indicates that much remains to be done. Since the author received her doctorate in the United States and is employed at a university in Canada, this bibliographic collection is skewed in favor of resources originating from and focusing on gender and higher education in the United States; however, the author has taken care to include influential cross-national works available in the English language. For the purpose of this collection, the term “critical” is firmly grounded in critical race theory and critical feminist perspectives (again with origins in primarily North American scholarship) that posit that higher education structures are inherently racist and gendered, to underscore higher education’s contested relationship with gender and resistance to gender equality. Hence, works included in this bibliography provide a critical examination of the historical and current challenges for an in-depth understanding of the origins and status of gender disparity in higher education.

General Overviews

Scholarship in the English language on gender and higher education has expanded considerably since the turn of the century, providing a wide range of historical and contemporary perspectives. Solomon 1985 provides a comprehensive history of women and higher education in the United States beginning from colonial times. Glazer-Raymo 2001 extends this history to the early 21st century. MacDonald 2021 offers a critical history of women in the Canadian academy. Two of the most significant and influential works for a fundamental understanding of the gender challenge in United States higher education are Glazer-Raymo 2008 and the edited volume Ropers-Huilman 2003. Eddy, et al. 2017 offer a comprehensive examination of contemporary issues of gender in higher education from a critical perspective, covering the points of view of students, administrators, staff, and faculty. International and cross-cultural scholarship continues to expose ongoing systemic challenges for women and gender-diverse participants in higher education across the globe (as in Morley 1999, Niemi and Weaver-Hightower 2020, O’Connor and White 2021, and Sagaria 2007).

  • Eddy, Pamela Lynn, Kelly Ward, and Tehmina Khwaja, eds. 2017. Critical approaches to women and gender in higher education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    This edited volume provides a critical examination of women and gender in higher education from the perspectives of all major stakeholder groups: students, staff, administrators, and faculty. The contributors argue for structural change to make higher education more inclusive of women and gender-diverse participants.

  • Glazer-Raymo, Judith. 2001. Shattering the myths: Women in academe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Drawing upon data on a range of indicators such as women’s rank, salary, employment status, and education, as well as the experience of women faculty and administrators, this influential book uses a critical feminist perspective to examine women’s progress in United States higher education over three decades, beginning in the 1970s.

  • Glazer-Raymo, Judith, ed. 2008. Unfinished agendas: New and continuing gender challenges in higher education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    A follow-up to Glazer-Raymo’s 2001 book, this influential edited volume brings together renowned scholars and administrators in the field to critically examine the role and status of women in higher education and suggest recommendations for the future. The volume covers a range of issues faced by women as new academics, faculty members, and academic leaders.

  • MacDonald, Sara Z. 2021. University women: A history of women and higher education in Canada. Carleton Library Series 257. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP.

    DOI: 10.1515/9780228009900

    This book provides a comprehensive critical review of the participation of women across Canadian universities from 1870 to 1930. The author concludes that the hopes tied to women’s entry into higher education have not come to fruition because systemic intersecting inequities of gender, race, and class are embedded in Canadian higher education and continue to impede progress in making universities more equitable spaces.

  • Morley, Louise. 1999. Organising feminisms: The micropolitics of the academy. Basingstoke, UK: MacMillan.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780333984239

    This book explores the intersections of feminism, equity, and change in higher education. Morley draws upon interviews with forty feminist students and academics in the UK, Greece, and Sweden to offer a feminist critique of the everyday micropolitics of academia to expose its gendered messaging and power systems.

  • Niemi, Nancy S., and Marcus B. Weaver-Hightower, eds. 2020. The Wiley handbook of gender equity in higher education. Newark, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

    This volume provides an in-depth examination of international higher education, its accountability in continuing gender inequity, and its role in the pursuit of gender equity. This handbook offers global feminist perspectives on gender inequities in STEM, the concentration of women in less lucrative fields, and the role of men in higher education. It provides pathways to creating a more just academy.

  • O’Connor, Pat, and Kate White, eds. 2021. Gender, power and higher education in a globalised world. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

    This collection critically examines the causes for the persistence of gender inequity, pinpointing gendered higher education organizational structures as the source of resistance to change. The resistant structures are reflected in dominant discourses such as distorted definitions of academic excellence, and women’s concentration in low-paying fields as a purported function of choice and essentialism. Includes international research to critique these harmful discourses, and empower feminist voices in dismantling gendered structures.

  • Ropers-Huilman, Becky, ed. 2003. Gendered futures in higher education: Critical perspectives for change. Albany: SUNY Press.

    This influential edited volume provides diverse historical and contemporary examination of the relationship between gender and higher education. The contributors use critical perspectives to identify problematic gendered higher education structures and provide recommendations for change. Contributors address topics impacting students, faculty, and leaders that range from the experiences of early women administrators to gendered violence on campuses.

  • Sagaria, M., ed. 2007. Women, universities, and change: Gender equality in the European Union and the United States. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    This collection brings together international scholars to offer a comparative analysis of gender inequality in American and European higher education. The contributors expose the implicit and explicit gendered higher education structures that create barriers for women students and employees, and offer best practices in implementing gender equality policies in higher education.

  • Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.

    This widely cited work traces the social, cultural, and economic history of women’s participation in American academia from colonial times to the 1980s. The book emphasizes themes of struggle for access, how access impacted American women’s personal and professional lives, and the evolving definitions of women’s achievement from feminist perspectives.

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