Gender Stereotyping

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Overview: 

As a school counselor on a K-8 campus, I prepare classroom guidance lessons for all students on topics of tolerance. At the beginning of a new school year, I like to introduce students to the adults on campus. I have created a lesson plan to go along with this that gets at stereotyping as well.

I do a brief interview with the adults to find out what careers they've had prior to arriving on campus. I make sure to interview a wide variety of adults: nurse, custodian, principal, teachers, librarian and attendance clerk. Careers prior to coming to our school include everything from newspaper carrier to deputy sheriff. Be sure that you can explain whatever career is identified.

In front of the students, I write two lists on the board. On the left hand side I list the adults they know in our school. On the right hand side I list the various jobs and careers these adults have held in their past.

I explain that their task is to match the job or former career with the person; once they think they have a guess, they can raise their hands and share their speculation. Students can talk to each other, make predictions and share their assumptions openly. With me facilitating, it usually takes 10 to 15 minutes to get all the adults and jobs matched correctly. Here the lesson really begins.

I ask the students if any of the outcomes surprised them and why. Without fail, I will get a stereotype pertaining to gender or a prejudicial statement regarding appearance. For instance, one of my former jobs was working as an umpire. Statements made by students about my former job typically include, "But you're a girl," or, "But you wear skirts!" Our principal's former job was working as a gas station attendant, and students make declarations like, "She doesn't look like someone who'd work where she'd get dirty."

There are many directions this lesson can go. I like to show students that everyone has a work history and that they began in unusual places. Students can see that most adults work up a career ladder and are working towards a goal. Most importantly, for me, we can examine stereotypes around gender, class and the way people look or are perceived.

Mollie Reams
Pendergast School District
Avondale, Ariz.