Since the very first wave of feminism liberal feminism, influenced by the Enlightenment and the capitalist system, focused on personal effort and the ability of the individual. Thus, there was a claim for the removal of educational inequalities and the encouragement of girls for non-traditional choices of study and profession, mainly through an effort to change the perceptions and attitudes of students, parents, and teachers (Deligianni-Kouimtzi, 2008).
Considering gender inequality to be a result of ignorance or prejudice, they argued that we can gradually be driven to equality through educational projects and policies (Thompson, 2003). The liberal approach placed great emphasis on the study of the human resources of education and focused a great part of its research on the values, the beliefs, and the practices of teachers in relation to the gender of the student population. In addition, it analysed the ways in which teachers influenced the formation of the identity of children at school (Deligianni-Kouimtzi, 2008).
In the context of liberal feminism, the Theory of Socialisation and the Gender Difference Theory were developed.
Socialisation theorists have argued that the characteristics attributed to femininity are not innate, but the result of girls’ inferior education through which they learn that they are weak, decorative, and inactive. So, it is essential for girls to have the same opportunities and experiences in the classroom with boys. Thus, a gender-neutral education could remove girls’ barriers to success (Thompson, 2003). However, the theory of socialisation faces great difficulties when it comes to be applied in practice. This is because teachers need to have overcome their own perceptions and stereotypes regarding gender, prior to being engaged in a gender-neutral education themselves. As observation in the classroom has shown, the gender factor plays an important role in their interaction with children. In addition, even if teachers abide by policy of equality in their classroom, they need the support of the entire school community (Thompson,2003).
Contrary to socialisation theory, gender difference theory argues that the characteristics of femininity should be recognised and taken into account in education. Influenced by modern liberal ideology, it does not recognise rationality and action in the public sphere as a measure of a universal identity, nor does it perceive equality in terms of similarity. Rather, there is a belief that instead of girls socialising so that they acquire masculine characteristics (rational thinking, competition, consumerism, radical individualism), it is better for them that education takes into account their different characteristics and recognises the different way they understand the world. The aim is not to defend the “feminine” values but to understand that the values associated with women are ignored or underestimated. On the contrary, the values associated with men are considered universal, something which leads girls and women to the dilemma of choosing to be either educated and non-female or female and uneducated (Thompson, 2003).