This lesson explores the assumptions students have regarding job roles and gender, challenges them to examine where those ideas come from, and encourages them to move beyond narrow gender role expectations as they pursue interests and envision their own professional futures.
- Students will participate in a matching game that builds awareness about gender assumptions.
- Students will learn about stereotypes and how they relate to the job roles society assigns to each gender.
- Students will analyze job titles for gender bias and explore the power of language to shape beliefs.
- Students will broaden their ideas about jobs and pursuits open to them in the future.
National Standards (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
Other Materials: chart paper, markers, construction paper, scissors, glue, drawing implements (markers, crayons, colored pencils), magazines and assorted items for making collages; overhead projector/acetate or laptop/LCD projector and screen (optional)
- Reproduce handouts as directed above.
- Interview school staff members (see step #1).
- Prepare the “Job Fair” and “Neutralizing Job Titles” charts (see step #1).
- (Optional) Create overhead transparency of Employment Office or save to laptop and prepare to project on screen.
Part I: Exploring Assumptions about Job Roles (30 minutes) 1
- Prior to this lesson, do the following:
- Tell students they will participate in a brief matching game, in which they will explore how well they know the adults in their school community. Draw their attention to the “Job Fair” chart and challenge students to match each staff member to their former job. Allow about 10 minutes for students to take an up-close look at the chart and discuss their thoughts with peers. Instruct them to write their final decisions on a piece of scrap paper.
- Reconvene the class and discuss each of the people on the chart, one at a time. First ask for a few volunteers to share their guesses and their reasoning, and then reveal the correct answer. After you have revealed all of the answers, engage the class in a discussion using some of the following questions:
- Did any of the matches surprise you? Why?
- How did you decide who to match with each job? Were there personal traits that led you to believe a particular person worked at a certain job?
- Did you have certain ideas about people that turned out to be mistakes (e.g., “Mrs. Alvarez is small so there’s no way she was a construction worker”)?
- Did the gender of each person (whether they are a man or woman) affect the way you matched them to jobs?
- What other beliefs shaped your predictions (e.g., race, class, appearance, ethnic background, etc.)?
Part II: Analyzing Language for Gender Stereotypes (40 minutes)
- Assuming that students made some assumptions based on gender in the activity above, comment that you noticed they had some fixed ideas about what men and women are capable of and interested in doing. Point out some examples (e.g., “many of you assumed that the electrician had to be a man” or “most of you automatically assigned a woman to the flight attendant role”). Ask students if they know what it is called when people hold a belief about a whole group of people—like girls are not tough enough to be football players—that does not allow for each person’s individual differences (stereotype). Ask students why it is important to avoid stereotypes (e.g., they hurt people’s feelings, limit opportunities, lead to prejudice and discrimination, etc.)
- Ask students to articulate some of the stereotypes inherent in their responses to the “Job Fair” game and chart them (e.g., “women are not mechanical enough to fix things” or “men are not caring enough to be nannies or daycare workers”). Ask students where they think some of these stereotypes about men’s and women’s job roles come from, and add their responses to the chart (e.g., family members, TV, books, magazines, religion, video games, etc.)
- Project or distribute copies of the cartoon, Employment Office. Ask students to describe what is going on and engage them in a discussion using some of the following questions:
Comment that one way gender stereotypes get communicated is through the language we use. Post the Neutralizing Job Titles chart prepared in advance (see step #1). Explain that, like “lumberjack,” many job roles have gender written into the title, and that we are so used to these words that we don’t think about the ways in which they promote stereotypes. Write “housewife” in the first column under “female” and “fireman” in the first column under “male” as further examples. (Leave the other columns blank for now).
- What does the man behind the desk assume about the person applying for the job?
- Why does the person applying for the job correct the man behind the desk?
- Have you ever heard of a woman “lumberjack”? Can women be lumberjacks?
- What message does the job title send to people looking for jobs?
- What do you think of the term “lumberjill”? Can you think of a better title for this job?
Divide the class into small groups of 4 – 6 students and select a volunteer from each group to be the recorder. Instruct each group to come up with as many examples of “gendered” job titles as they can think of (see Neutralizing Job Titles for some examples that you can use to help groups along if needed). Tell the recorders to list the group’s examples on a sheet of scrap paper and to add them to the class chart when they are done. Ask recorders to avoid listing job titles that have already been listed by another group; instead, they can indicate that their group also identified this job title by writing a check mark (
) by the title. Allow about 10 minutes for groups to complete this task.
NOTE: If students question the idea that gendered job titles are problematic (e.g., “What’s wrong with calling someone a housewife if the person is a woman?”), emphasize that such titles send messages to all of us about what jobs are open to which people, and that these messages can limit our goals and the choices we make. For example, a boy who loves to sew but has only heard “seamstress” attached to that job might feel ashamed of his interest and believe that there will never be an opportunity for him to pursue it.
Have students remain in their small groups, but draw their attention to the chart and review all of the examples they generated. Ask students if they have additional examples to add.
Tell students that their challenge is to now rewrite as many of the job titles as they can to make them more neutral, so that they do not support gender stereotypes. Building on the examples offered in step #6, suggest that “housewife” might be changed to “homemaker” and “fireman” to “firefighter.” Write these alternatives in the blank spaces next to each of the original terms. Allow 10-15 minutes for groups to work and have the recorders add the new job titles to the class chart when they are done.
Reconvene the class and discuss the following questions:
- How do the changes in these job titles change the message that is sent to people about who these jobs are open to?
- Do any of the new titles sound “weird” or “wrong”? Do we sometimes confuse what’s familiar with what’s “right”? How can we make the new titles seem more familiar and “right”?
- Are any of the jobs on the list ones that interest you, but that you thought you could never achieve because of your gender? Have you changed your mind as a result of this activity?
- What other ways, besides changing the language we use, can we challenge gender stereotypes that we hear from friends, family, on TV, etc.?
Part III: Considering Future Options (30 minutes)
- As a follow-up to this lesson, have students (either in class or for homework) create a collage that answers the proverbial question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Have students paste a photo of themselves in the center of a sheet of construction paper. Direct them to surround the photo with magazine cut-outs, drawings, artifacts (e.g., a button to represent sewing/fashion design), etc. that reflect their different interests and the careers that they dream of pursuing some day. Encourage students to think beyond gender stereotypes and to label their collage with gender neutral terms for the jobs they depict. Allow students to share their collages with the class. Hang their art around the classroom and celebrate each individual’s aspirations.
NOTE: The purpose of this project is not to force students to consider job roles simply because they are gender non-conforming, but rather to broaden students’ notions about the choices open to them. The boy who dreams of becoming a baseball player and the boy who wants to be a ballet dancer should be equally celebrated, without judgment.
The activity in steps #2 – 3 of this lesson has been adapted with permission from Gender Stereotyping
by Mollie Reams, http://www.tolerance.org