Feminist theory focuses on equality for all.  How does this theory relate to how poverty affects Hispanics and families with respect to the inequalites of educational attainment?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Feminist theory, as the student notes, is involved in fundamental questions regarding distinctions between genders and how those distinctions have historically advantaged one at the expense of the other.  Feminist theory is grounded in the assertion that opportunities for advancement in society should be entirely equal and should not discriminate on the basis of gender.  Its natural extension into all forms of discrimination, whether race, class, or age-based, provides the basis upon which to address the question of whether a history of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity – specifically, with respect to Hispanics – has disadvantaged this particular category of individual.  The long history in the United States of discrimination on the basis of gender and race constitutes perhaps the single greatest blemish on America’s character.  A country founded upon notions of freedom and equality yet which systematically and culturally disadvantaged entire categories of citizenry made simple the application of feminist theory to educational opportunities and equality in general with regard to certain ethnicities.  The situation with respect to the nation’s African American population is fairly simple, as the issues of slavery and segregation were at the center of our most divisive and protracted disputes.  The situation involving Hispanics, however, has never been so conclusively addressed.  There was no Civil War waged over the issue migrant farm laborers.  While Cesar Chavez’s legacy of representing the interests of those laborers remains well-respected, it is also little known relative to the attention properly focused on the African American-oriented civil rights movement. 

Feminism, as noted, seeks absolute equality between the genders with respect to all facets of life, from educational opportunities (for example, the fight over Title IX) to equality in the workplace (in effect, elimination of the so-called “glass ceiling” that historically limited upward mobility for female executives), to equal opportunities in the Armed Forces, including in military occupational specialties that remain restricted to men only, such as special operations forces and, until very recently, submarine duty.  Because the centuries-long struggle for equal rights for women – the suffragette movement, for instance – occurred parallel to the civil rights movement for blacks, feminist theory views the issue of opportunities for Hispanics along the same lines as it did for blacks.  The Latin American experience in the United States involved considerable racial discrimination.  Not only were Americans of Mexican heritage routinely and broadly targeted for discrimination and, more subtly, discriminated against on the basis of deep-seated theories of racial inferiority, they faced many of the same struggles as blacks in their efforts at receiving full recognition as Americans.   Additionally, because many had entered the country illegally, they were denied educational opportunities that could have facilitated their advancement in society with the rise up the socioeconomic ladder that generally represents.  Even those who were established U.S. citizens confronted prejudicial attitudes that severely limited their opportunities. 

Because Hispanics, as with African Americans, were overrepresented along the lower echelons of the socioeconomic spectrum, many were mired in the same cycle of poverty that many blacks experienced.  Unlike most blacks, however, Hispanics often confronted a language barrier that made their assimilation into American society more difficult.  Greatly overrepresented among unskilled and minimally-skilled occupations, and underrepresented on the upper end of the socioeconomic spectrum, Hispanics have had a difficult time breaking the aforementioned cycle of poverty.  Public school educations in predominately Hispanic communities have hardly presented the avenues to higher education the attainment of which is necessary to break out of that cycle.  Feminist theory, therefore, argues for what some might call preferential treatment for Latin American students when applying for college admittance and for the financial aid without which a college education is an impossibility for most.  Not unlike Affirmative Action programs designed to facilitate the entrance of black students into centers of higher learning, the feminist perspective would argue that such programs or treatment should be available to all categories of student that have historically suffered from discriminatory perspectives and policies.  Only through such policies can the legacy of the history of discrimination be eliminated.  The irony, as with Affirmative Action, is that, because of limitations on the number of applicants that can be accepted for admission to many universities, such preferential treatment comes at the expense of other applicants equally or more-deserving of admittance, but whose ethnicity happens to be Caucasian.