In most of the literacy discourse "illiterates" are not differentiated by gender, but the reader can usually infer that "people" are actually men. In this way women become "other" in relation to men as the norm. There are many feminist critiques which argue the need, not simply to "add on" a female perspective, but for a revision of the world (Callaway, 1981). There are an increasing number of accounts that seek to enter women's experience into the account of illiteracy and to re-consider the issue of illiteracy from a feminist perspective. (e.g. Bhasin, 1984; De Coito, 1984; Ellis, 1984; Hale, 1986; Kazemak, 1988; MacKeracher, 1987; MacKeracher et al., n.d.; McCaffery, 1985; Ramdas, 1985; Rockhill, 1987a, 1987b; Thompson, 1983a, 1983b).
Much of women's writing on the subject of illiteracy is a critique of the material which leaves women invisible. It is not only the academic literature which leaves women out but, as McCaffery (1985) has observed, it is also the publicity for literacy programming which often focuses on images of illiterate men and their situations. Thompson (1983b) speaking of adult education in England generally sums up the issue:
So long as the opinion leaders and policy makers in adult education continue to describe the world as though women don't exist, or to associate women simply with domesticity and child rearing, adult education will continue to reinforce inequality between the sexes to the long term detriment of both men and women (p.151).
When women are visible as the objects of literacy programming they are portrayed as helpless and incompetent Bhasin (1984) and Ramdas (1985) have drawn attention to the blame-the-victim problem which focuses on the "illiterate" rather than on the need for structural change. Bhasin argues that illiteracy is not a disease that needs to be eradicated, but a symptom of the disease of poverty and inequality (p. 42). She argues that many of the slogans and arguments about the "problem" of illiteracy are insulting and offensive to illiterate women. She is critical of the inclusion of women as targets of literacy programs especially when they are described in the same less than human way that men are often portrayed.
Throughout the literature, whether women are writing about the situation in India, the Caribbean, Ethiopia or England Bhasin, 1984; Ellis, 1984; Junge and Tegegne, 1985; Ramdas, 1985; Thompson, 1983a, 1983b), they all draw attention to the problem that when women are included and considered as participants or potential participants in programs, it is always in relation to their roles IS mother, and wife that they are deemed "need" literacy. No-one speaks of men leading literacy because they are fathers and need to be literate for the sake of the next generation, but many writers observe that this is frequently the case for women. Thompson for example (1983a) says:
When the attention of providers is directed at working-class women "in the community", in "outreach work" or in "adult basic education" schemes, a further element becomes seemingly obligatory: child development and parent craft. For those who are "isolated", "unable to cope", "bad managers" and pejoratively described as "single parents", relevance and the development of skills is regularly defined in terms of being "better mothers". So that despite claims about "individuality", "personal development" and "educational self fulfillment" so beloved by adult educators, where women are concerned, it is as appendages of homes, husbands and children that they are usually assessed and catered for (pp. 84-85).