Exposing Gender Stereotypes

Purpose, Scope or Aim of the OER

The objective of this lesson is to encourage students to develop their own critical intelligence with regard to culturally inherited stereotypes, and to the images presented in the media – film and television, rock music, newspapers and magazines.

In this lesson students take a look at their own assumptions about what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a woman. The brainstorming and discussion sessions are meant to encourage them to ask gender-specific questions as a step in the self-reflective process. Students will begin to see how believing in stereotypes can lead to violence towards oneself and others.

Short Description of the methods or approaches used in this OER

Students will:

  • Discuss characteristics of male and female stereotypes in our society;
  • Identify ways in which their own lives have been affected by these stereotypes; and
  • Identify the aspects of these stereotypes that are related to violence.

Failing to accept ourselves for who we are can cause enormous problems. Wanting to be muscle-bound like Joey or slim like Susie could get us into trouble if our body type does not conform to this images. But stereotypes are more subtle than muscles and body weight. Masculine and feminine images that are portrayed in media also project their own psychological mystiques. As we grow up, our culture influences us through these images – usually without us realizing it.  

Today we’re going to examine what acting like a man and being ladylike means in our society. What are the gender stereotypes, and how do these stereotypes affect our relationships with others?

Ask your students:

  • How would you define “stereotype”?
  • What are some typical examples?

These beliefs are so ingrained in our consciousness that many of us think that gender roles are natural, so we don’t question them. Even if we don’t consciously subscribe to them as part of our own belief system, our culture bombards us with messages about what it means to be men and women today. In these next classes, we will begin to take a good look at these influences, to step back and see how they affect our sense of self-worth and in many cases, our behaviour and our choices. The most important thing to keep in mind as we reflect on this, is:



Step-by-step instructions for teachers to use OER

  • Using image above as an example, write “Act Like a Man” at the top of the flip chart paper and record student responses.
  • Ask your students: What does it mean to act like a man? What words or expectations come to mind?
  • Draw a box around the entire list.

We’re going to call this the “Act Like a Man” stereotype. Inside the box is a list of attitudes and behaviours that boys are expected to adopt in the process of becoming men in our society. Men and boys are not born this way; the roles are learned.

  • Write “Be Ladylike” at the top of a sheet of flip chart paper and record student responses.
  • Ask your students: What does it mean to be ladylike? What words or expectations do you think of?
  • Draw a box around this list.

This is the “Be Ladylike” Box. It’s a stereotype just like in the “Act Like a Man” Box. It’s walls of conformity are just as restrictive. Women also learn to conform to very specific role expectations as they grow up being female in our society.

Learning Gender Roles

Ask students:

  • Where do we learn these gender roles?
  • What people teach us these stereotypes? Entertainment? Sports? Media?
  • Where do women learn these messages?
  • What other people influence our learning of gender roles?
  • Where else in society do we find these messages?
  • On your flip-charts, write these responses on one side of the box. You may draw arrows to illustrate how these influences reinforce the wall of the stereotype box.

How Stereotypes are Reinforced

  • What names or put-downs are boys called when they don’t fit the box?
  • What names are women called if they step out of the stereotype box?
  • Write the names along the bottom of the appropriate box.

Ask your students:

  • How do these labels and names reinforce the stereotype box?
  • How does it feel when we are called these names?
  • What do you think the person who is using these put-downs is feeling?

These names are used in order to hurt people emotionally, and we react by retreating to the “safety” of the stereotype box.

Evaluating the Gender Stereotypes

Ask your students:

  • How many boys in the class have never cried, hands up?
  • Does this mean that those of you who didn’t put up your hands are wimps or nerds?
  • What about the girls? How many want to be passive and delicate?

In fact, we’re all real people and we can experience the full range of emotions, including happiness and sadness, love and anger. The bottom line is that stereotypes are destructive because they limit our potential! Yet how many guys do we know who try hard to act like the stereotype, without even a second thought?

What damage do we do to ourselves and others? Boys are not born to be violent, or have unhealthy attitudes towards girls. We learn these attitudes and behaviours through the stereotypes of what society thinks it means to “Act Like a Man”, and we can free ourselves from the restrictions of these boxes once we see them as unattainable ideals. Then we can start the process of change.

This is not to say that it’s wrong for guys to like sports or fix cars or for girls to enjoy cooking. Note: It is important to make this point in order to be sensitive to boys or girls who may feel defensive.

The problem is that we are told that we must perform these roles in order to fit in. it is important for all of us to make our own decisions about what we do.

A stereotype rigidly confirms the belief that if you are a woman or a man, you must perform these specific roles, and do them well.

This belief takes away our personal choices in determining our own interests and skills. It also discourages men from participating in “women’s work” and restricts women from choosing roles that are traditionally “male”.