Activities will help students:
- acquire and activate vocabulary for talking about gender identity and stereotypes
- identify gender stereotypes, including how they develop/where they come from
- participate in a classroom community where it is safe to talk about identity
- understand how stereotypes can result in unfair or even harmful situations
- What are gender and gender identity? What are some of our ideas about how people of different genders “should” be or act?
- What is a stereotype? Where do stereotypes come from?
- How do stereotypes affect boys and girls as they grow and live their lives? How can they be helpful? How can they be harmful or limiting?
- What does someone who does not conform to gender expectations feel?
(noun) refers to the social roles, behaviors and traits that a society may assign to men (masculine) or to women (feminine)
(Note: There are many different ideas about how to define the term gender. We provide a working definition, but one of the goals of Teaching Tolerance’s work is for students to come to individual and collective understandings and criticisms of the term that make sense to them and their personal and developmental needs.)
(noun) the sense a person has of herself, who she is and what she thinks is most important and defining of herself
gender expression [jen-dur eks-PRESH-uhn]
(noun) the way a person chooses to show his gender to others
(noun) an overly simple picture or opinion of a person, group or thing
(verb) to fit in with a group or a group’s expectations
- chart paper
(Note: Before beginning this lesson, prepare two pieces of chart paper with a large square drawn in the middle. At the top of them, write "Girl" and "Boy." Leave them to the side at the beginning of the lesson.)
1. Explain that today you will be talking about gender. Ask students to help define the term. Chart their responses without comment. After a brief discussion, provide a working definition. Explain that you will be amending this definition together as you learn more. (Note: If you plan multiple lessons, save students' initial ideas to reflection on as their understanding develops.)
2. Now, ask students to define the word stereotype. Allow them to share a few examples of stereotypes they know. Emphasize that talking about a stereotype does not mean you actually believe it’s true. (Note: If students are confused about the meaning of the word stereotype, provide examples. Stereotypes usually involve assuming that something is true about a group of people and will be true for any individual in that group. For example, "African Americans are good at sports so a particular African must be." or "Rich people are snobby.”)
3. Divide students into two groups and explain that they will be talking about gender stereotypes, i.e., ideas about how boys and girls "should" be. It is important not to segregated the groups by gender. (Note: If your class is large, or if you think that the groups will be too big to effectively work together, you may want to create four groups and have two of each poster.) Give one group the chart paper marked “Girl” and the other group the paper marked “Boy,” along with several markers. Explain that they should think of as many gender stereotypes as possible to put inside each square. Some examples to get them started might be "love pink" for girls or "hate pink" for boys. Circulate among the groups as they work, and make sure their ideas address a variety of questions: How are girls/boys “supposed” to behave? What are they supposed to like/dislike? How are they supposed to look, think and feel? What are they supposed to be good at? As the groups work, challenge students to think about where these stereotypes come from, and explain that you will talk about this more later in the lesson or series.
4. After the students have had sufficient time to work on filling the squares, explain that now they should write or draw some ideas outside of their square. What makes a girl or boy outside of the box? An example might be a boy who is very sensitive, or a girl who is very competitive. (Note: students' examples are likely to focus on matters of dress or taste, which is important and valid; however, it is helpful to direct their thinking to issues of personality and behavior expectations as well.)
5. Ask student partners to share one time they felt like they were really inside the box for their gender, and one time they felt like they were really outside the box. Emphasize that while some people seem to fit into gender norms or stereotypes more than others, almost everyone has times or parts of themselves that are outside the box.
6. Have students come together as a group to look at and share the students’ responses. Talk about the different ideas shared, and explain to students that these are gender stereotypes. This may be a good time to revisit the original student definitions of gender and stereotypes. Help students begin considering where some of these stereotypes come from. Ask them what might be helpful and harmful about these stereotypes. Have a conversation about the ways these stereotypes might be unfair or limiting to children as they develop a sense of themselves.
7. To end your discussion, have your students form a circle. Go around the circle and have each student share one character trait they feel they have or wish they could have from the square of the other gender. It is fine for students to repeat, but make sure they are listening to and honoring one another's feelings.
ELL Extension (Optional)
Different countries, cultures and even languages can have both similar and different ideas about gender stereotypes. After completing the gender activity, have students work with a partner to do a similar activity in their home languages, but this time have them focus on stereotypes and ideas that come their your home country or culture. Students can discuss similarities and differences with their partners.
Extension Assignment (Optional)
Explain that it can take a lot of bravery to be “outside the gender box?” After completing the gender stereotypes activities, give students the opportunity draw and label a portrait of a girl or a boy who lives outside the gender box. Be sure that they label or represent inner qualities and traits as well as appearance and style of dress. Have students share their portraits with classmates and create a gallery of “outside the box” boys and girls. Ask students to reflect on how different they would feel if everyone were free to be “outside the box.”
APPLYING WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED
Over the next few days, pay close attention to gender stereotypes in TV shows and books that you read or watch frequently. Talk about the stereotypes that you notice with adults in your life, and bring your observations to share with your class.