Teaching About Gender Stereotypes

Introduction

A gender stereotype is a “generalized view or preconception about attributes or characteristics, or the roles are or ought to be possessed by, or performed by, women and men” (OHCHR). Our society has a set of ideas about gender roles and how we expect men and women to dress and behave. Most often, women are expected to be submissive and take care of their children and home rather than become strong and independent leaders and workers. On the other hand, men are expected to take charge and be in control rather than be “weak” or vulnerable. Gender stereotypes are harmful because they limit women and men from developing their own abilities, pursuing professional careers, and making significant choices about their lives. Teaching about gender stereotypes is important because students should be given the opportunity to recognize the gender biased perceptions and ideas that will prevent them from becoming their true selves and reaching their full potential if they do not combat them.

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching about gender stereotypes. The topic is not as difficult to teach as one may think and if taught effectively, students will leave the classroom with the understanding that they can be more than what society expects them to be or tells them they should be. In addition, for educators who want to teach their students further about topics related to gender, U4SC has created Teaching About Gender Inequality and Teaching About Gender Identity.

Lesson Plans

  1. What are Gender Stereotypes?: Learning For Justice provides a lesson on gender stereotypes. In this lesson, students will consider the characteristics they attribute to either boys or girls. They will learn about the idea of gender stereotypes and consider whether they are fair or unfair. Lastly, students will discuss how it feels not to conform to socially defined gender norms. This lesson contains objectives, essential questions, materials, vocabulary, an overview, a procedure, additional resources, and an extension activity.
  2. Exploring Gender Stereotypes in Stories: Another lesson plan from Learning For Justice explores gender stereotypes in stories. In this lesson, young students will first look at picture books that counter gender stereotypes. Students will go on to participate in a discussion of the book and engage in a creative writing activity that will encourage them to foster individual identity and resist socially defined gender norms. (For this lesson, teachers will need to find at least one children’s book in which a character does not conform to gender norms, such as Tomie De Paola’s Oliver Button is a Sissy, Rafe Martin’s Rough-Face Girl, Cheryl Kilodavis’ My Princess Boy, and Robert Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess.)
  3. That’s A (Gender) Stereotype!: GLSEN has created a lesson on gender stereotypes geared towards elementary school students. Students will play the “Stereotype Game,” challenging gender stereotypes and brainstorming ways that people can either fit into them or break them. There is a list of common gender stereotypes for boys and girls for the activity, and the young students can use it to reflect on their own gender in relation to stereotypes, deciding for themselves what they like and what they want to be in the future.
  4. Exposing Gender Stereotypes: MediaSmarts offers a lesson on exposing gender stereotypes for students in grades 8 to 9. This lesson has students discuss the characteristics of male and female stereotypes in our society, consider ways in which their own lives have been affected by these stereotypes in culture and in media, and identify the aspects of these stereotypes that are related to violence towards ourselves and in relationships. For educators who want students to spend time evaluating how gender stereotypes have impacted themselves and others in society, this lesson will be very helpful!
  5. Gender Stereotypes Online: Common Sense Media has put together a lesson that examines gender stereotypes and how they can shape our experiences online. The lesson will first introduce the idea of gender stereotypes to students, in both an online and offline context. Students will have a discussion about female and male stereotypes, focusing specifically on where they come from, how we learn them, and why they can be restrictive. Then, students will analyze the gender messages in virtual words using the “Dress Up Your Avatar” feature. Educators who are looking for their students to learn about gender stereotypes in a context that may be more applicable to them (i.e. online or in video games) should check out this lesson!
  6. What “Draw-A-Scientist” Reveals about Gender Stereotypes: The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has created a lesson plan in response to social scientist David Chambers’ 1983 “draw-a-scientist” research study. When asked to draw a scientist, 78% of children drew male scientists, and though this percentage declined since the initial study, the majority of students continue to draw men. In this lesson, young students will explore gender norms and stereotypes by reflecting on their own scientist drawings, learning more about the history of these studies, and creating their own characters that challenge gender norms.
  7. He Said/She Said – Analyzing Gender Roles Through Dialogue: Read Write Think provides a lesson that has students brainstorm some gender stereotypes, find examples in popular culture, and discuss how the stereotypes affect their lives. Students will choose two stereotypes from a class novel and analyze the message the author is sending about gender roles through dialogue. This lesson contains a preview, standards, resources and preparation, an instructional plan, and related resources. Though this lesson focuses on Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, any book that the entire class has read can be used for this activity.

Articles

  1. Age-Appropriate Tips for Addressing Gender Stereotypes in the Classroom: Common Sense Education provides age-appropriate tips for addressing gender stereotypes in the classroom. For each age group, which includes grades pre-K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12, there are several “teachable moments” for teachers to learn from regarding how to address gender stereotypes. For educators who are unsure of how to approach this topic with the specific age group they are teaching, this article does a great job of breaking it down!
  2. Gender Stereotypes Are Destroying Girls, and They’re Killing Boys: USA Today offers an article discussing how gender stereotypes are destroying girls and killing boys. This article breaks down the results of a recent study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, explaining that the ideas girls and boys have about gender are ingrained at a very early age and consequences that occur when girls or boys conform to gender stereotypes. 
  3. The Future of Masculinity – Overcoming Stereotypes: Forbes offers an article on the future of masculinity and overcoming stereotypes. Though most of the time, people focus on the gender stereotypes that harm women, this article focuses on the bias and stereotypes that constrict men.
  4. How Gender Stereotypes Kill a Woman’s Self-Confidence: Harvard Business School has published an article discussing how gender stereotypes kill a woman’s self-confidence. Researchers believe gender stereotypes hold women back in the workplace, but new research shows that they can even cause women to question their own abilities. This article gives an overview of the findings from three of Katherine Coffman’s research studies. It describes how women are less confident than men in certain subjects, women discount positive feedback about their abilities,  and women hold back on expressing ideas on ‘male topics.’
  5. Busting Gender Stereotypes – The Pink Versus Blue Phenomenon: Forbes offers an article on busting gender stereotypes and the “pink versus blue phenomenon.” The article explains the types of stereotypes that are holding both men and women back from becoming their true, authentic selves and reaching their full potential.
  6. Gender Stereotypes Keep Boys From Reading As Well As Girls: CNN provides an article that talks about how gender stereotypes not only keep girls from reading but also boys. This brief article explains the longitudinal study conducted in 5th and 6th grade classrooms throughout Germany that investigated how students’ stereotypical beliefs about the reading ability of boys affect the boys’ reading outcomes. It then goes on to discuss the very real cost of stereotypes in our world.
  7. Why Do We Still Have ‘Girl Stuff’ and ‘Boy Stuff’?: The New York Times has published an article discussing why we still have “girl stuff” and “boy stuff.” Lisa Selin Davis, who is the author of “Tomboy,” examines the complicated history of the tomboy and the gendering that occurs in childhood in a conversation with In Her Words, which is transcribed in this article.
  8. New Toolkit Empowers Teachers to Challenge Gender Stereotypes: The Brookings Institution discusses a new toolkit created by the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) and VVOB-education for development to empower early childhood teachers to challenge gender stereotypes. This article explains why preschool teachers are well-placed to challenge gender stereotypes and how all-around capacity development creates conditions for change.

Informational Sites

  1. What Are Gender Roles and Stereotypes?: Planned Parenthood provides a brief article of information on gender roles and stereotypes. The article explains what gender roles are, how gender stereotypes affect people, and how we can fight gender stereotypes.
  2. The Gender Equality Law Center – Gender Stereotyping: The Gender Equality Law Center offers information on gender stereotyping and examples of gender stereotypes.
  3. Gender Stereotypes and Their Effect on Young People: The Institute of Physics (IOP) has put together a packet of information on gender stereotypes and their effect on young people. It includes information on what gender stereotypes are, where gender stereotypes come from, what the negative impacts of gender stereotypes are, stereotypes and unconscious bias, unconscious bias in the classroom, and tackling common misconceptions.
  4. OHCHR – Gender Stereotyping: The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) (OHCHR) offers information on gender stereotyping and the prohibition of gender stereotypes and gender stereotyping.

Conclusion

Teaching about gender stereotypes and doing it effectively are necessary jobs for an educator. While teaching about this topic, it is important that educators emphasize how gender stereotypes harm men and women alike. Oftentimes, people tend to focus on how women are constricted by gender stereotypes and gender roles, which is understandable considering the gender inequality that is present in our society, but men are also constrained by these harmful notions. 

As always, it is also important that educators provide a safe environment for students to share their thoughts about gender stereotypes and how they have been affected by them if they want to do so. The classroom is a common place for gender stereotypes to occur, so it may be beneficial for educators to spend some time evaluating their own behavior to ensure that they are not unconsciously (or consciously) treating their students differently based on socially defined gender norms.

Additional Resources

  1. Classroom Activities on Gender Stereotypes and Equality: This lesson, which was adapted from Robert Gordon University Challenging Gender Stereotypes Lesson Plan, offers four classroom activities related to gender stereotypes and equality: It’s a Girl Thing or a Boy Thing?, Where Do You Stand, Gender Lens Exercise and Subject Choices, and Gender Lightbulb Exercise.
  2. Toys and Gender: The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) provides a lesson examining toys and gender. Students will learn about and reflect on how toys are influenced by gender stereotypes, understand the impact these messages have on children and families, and ultimately re-create packaging for their favorite toys to make them gender-neutral.
  3. Talking to Kids About Gender Stereotypes: MediaSmarts has put together a tip sheet for talking to kids about gender stereotypes. These tips include starting to talk about gender stereotyping early on, looking at how boys and girls are stereotyped in advertisements and in movies and TV programs, asking kids to think about how realistically males and females are portrayed in the media, and more.

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