Activities will help students:
- acquire relevant vocabulary to talk about gender identity and stereotypes
- identify gender stereotypes
- 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 is gender? What are some of our ideas about how people of different genders “should” be or act?
- What is a stereotype?
- How do stereotypes affect boys and girls as they grow and live their lives?
- 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) 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 and stereotypes. Ask the students the meaning of the terms. After a brief discussion, provide working definitions but explain that you will come back to these terms over the course of the lesson or series. (Note: If students are confused about the meaning of the word stereotype, it can be helpful to provide them with examples. Stereotypes usually involve assuming that all members of a particular group have, or should have, a certain characteristic; for example, "African-Americans are good at sports." or "Rich people are snobby.")
2. 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 segregate the groups by gender. (Note: If your class is large, or if you think that the groups will be too big, 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. (Note: For preliterate students, you can either do the activity as a class and scribe for the students, assign an adult or child scribe to each group, or allow students to draw icons or pictures to represent their ideas.) 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?
3. After the students have had sufficient time to fill their responses, 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 cries easily, or a girl who loves trucks.
4. In pairs, ask students to share one time they felt like they were really inside the square for their gender, and one time they felt like they were really outside it. Emphasize that while some people seem to fit gender norms or stereotypes more than others, almost everyone sometimes feels “outside the box.”
5. Have students come together as a group to share the students’ responses. Talk about the different ideas that came up, and identify how these are gender stereotypes. This may be a good time to revisit the original student definitions of gender and stereotypes. Ask how these stereotypes might be helpful or harmful. Have a conversation about the ways these stereotypes might be unfair or limiting to children as they develop a sense of themselves.
6. To end your discussion, have your students form a circle. Go around the circle and have students share one character trait they have or wish they had from the other gender's square. Include each student. 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 from their 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 activities, give students the opportunity to 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.