Understanding gender stereotypes

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Important: This 35 to 45 minute activity is designed for use with one or more small groups. Some of the content is sensitive in nature. We ask you to look carefully at the notes and activity materials to ensure it is appropriate for the young people you are working with, given factors like their age and stage of development.

Aim

The aim of the session is to highlight that gender stereotypes are socially-constructed and limit opportunities for everyone.

Learning outcomes

At the conclusion of this activity, participants should be able to understand that:

  • we are taught that girls and boys are different and have different roles, interests and aspirations
  • gender stereotypes are made up and can change
  • rigid gender stereotypes and roles limit our choices and aren’t fair
  • everyone should feel comfortable to be who they are and do what they like, regardless of their gender.

Preparation

  • Download and print the Gender Cards – cut along the lines of the table to create the cards.
  • You can add your own gender stereotypes and roles on the blank cards.
  • Distribute one set of cards to each group.

Time required

35 to 45 minutes.

Materials

You will need:

  • Butcher’s paper
  • Markers
  • Gender Cards (see download below)

Part 1: Gender Cards

Duration: 20-30 minutes

1. Explain that a stereotype is an over-simplified or over-generalised description of something. A stereotype cannot describe everyone in that category, because people are complex and different. Foreshadow that you are going to be doing an activity to learn more about gender stereotypes, specifically.

2. Explain that you want to look at what society tells us girls and women, and boys and men, like. Explain that you are going to use these two gender categories to look at the impacts gender stereotypes have on all people, but that you want to acknowledge there are many more genders.

3. Divide participants up into small groups.

4. Give each group three pieces of butcher’s paper, markers and a set of the Gender Cards.

5. Ask participants to write ‘girls’ on the top of one piece of butcher’s paper and ‘boys’ on top of the other. They will not be using the third piece of butcher’s paper for this part of the activity.

6. Ask participants to work with their group to place the Gender Cards on either the ‘girls’ or ‘boys’ piece of butcher’s paper, depending on what society tells them about what boys and girls do/are like. Tell participants that if they feel a card could be placed under both ‘girls’ and ‘boys’, they need to pick the one that best represents what they see as the dominant stereotype in society. Stress this is not about what they personally think – but what they think society tells them.

7. Encourage participants to spend time discussing where a card sits, particularly when there is a disagreement – this is a key part of the learning. Participants can continue to move cards based on these discussions.

8. Once most groups seem to have had adequate time for discussion, facilitate a discussion with all of the participants. Acknowledge (again) that where participants have placed the cards illustrates what ‘society tells us’ about gender and that you understand this is not necessarily what they may think. Consider making key points in the following ways:

    • Ask participants how they ‘knew’ that a card belonged in the ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ category? Ask participants where they think they learn these ideas about gender? Answers may include the Internet, social media, Netflix, music, school, family and friends.
    • Acknowledge that groups found most of the cards easy to place in either category. This shows how gender stereotypes, or the things that society tells us about boys and girls, are often deeply engrained and automatic – because we have received these messages since birth.
    • Ask participants to share whether there were card/s that they found hard to agree on and to talk about this. Acknowledge that gender stereotypes do not stay the same and can change over time. Things that were considered unacceptable for women to do decades ago – such as wearing pants – are now considered quite normal.
    • Ask participants whether they notice anything about the ‘value’ of the cards placed in the ‘boys’ category and the ‘value’ of the cards placed in the ‘girls’ category. Are there things in the ‘boys’ category seen as ‘cooler’ or ‘better than’ the things in the ‘girls’ category? Highlight that, in society, the things typically associated with being a boy or man are often given greater social status or value than those things associated with being a girl or woman. For example, being strong, tough or powerful (associated with masculinity) is often seen as more desirable than being caring and sensitive (traits associated with femininity).

    9. Ask participants: What happens when people do not stick to these categories and follow what society tells us that ‘boys’ and girls’ like? Draw out the key points:

    • People may be ridiculed, bullied, discriminated against or subjected to verbal or physical abuse. For example, several of the AFL Women players have been told to ‘get back to the kitchen’ by members of the public on social media.
    • People are also ‘rewarded’ for sticking to what society tells them about how they should be and what they should like. For example, boys are often applauded for their athletic ability, while girls tend to be prized for how conventionally ‘attractive’ they are.
    • Gender stereotypes are restrictive. They confine people to two categories and limit their freedom to be who they want to be.

    10. Lead a further discussion about how the exercise made participants feel. Questions to guide this discussion include:

    • Who felt uncomfortable when they had to place a card in either the girl or boy box?
    • Who felt that it was unfair that girls or boys were either expected to do, or excluded from doing, certain things?

    Part 2: Thinking outside the ‘gender box’

    Duration: 15-25 minutes

    1. Ask participants to break up into the same small groups. Ask them to write “Everyone” on the top of the third piece of butcher’s paper.

    2. Ask participants to review where they put the Gender Cards. If they think the card should apply to ‘everyone’, then they should move the card to the ‘everyone’ category. Encourage participants to discuss and explain why they think a card should be moved (or not) in their group.

    3. Once most groups seem to have had adequate time for discussion, facilitate a discussion with all of the participants. Ask whether any groups had cards that are still in the ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ categories. If so, ask these groups to share why they thought the card isn’t for everyone. Questions to guide this discussion include:

    • Did you decide to leave the card in the ‘boy/girl’ category because you don’t think that boys/girls should do these things? Why do you think that?
    • Do you know people who do things that society would say aren’t meant for them?
    • What are the impacts on people who do things society says isn’t meant for them? Is this fair?

    4. Conclude the session by emphasising:

    • Society tells us that ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ are different, have different roles and interests.
    • These are known as gender stereotypes. They are made up and they can change – what was expected of girls and boys a few decades ago is different to what is expected now. Similarly, what is expected of girls and boys in some countries is different to what is expected in other countries.
    • Gender stereotypes are problematic when they are rigid, outdated and they stop us from doing what we want to do/being who we want to be. For example, if a girl likes playing with dolls, that’s great – it’s her choice. But if it means she is not allowed to also play with cars, then that's not fair.
    • Gender stereotypes mean people who don’t conform can sometimes be treated badly by those who strongly believe that everyone ought to conform to the ‘rules’.
    • Everyone should feel comfortable and safe to be who they are and do what they like, regardless of their gender.

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