Sexism, Gender Discrimination

Note: The following lesson is best delivered using this online multimedia presentation.

Starter Exercise

Do not give any indication to the students about what the focus of this session will be about.

Start by asking students to raise their hands (but not shout out) when they are certain that they know the answer to the following puzzle:

There’s a man and his son in a car crash. The father’s killed, the son rushed to hospital. But the duty surgeon says: ‘I can’t treat the boy. He’s my son".
How can this be?

Wait until seven or eight students have raised their hands (or 30 seconds have passed), then pause the class. Ask one of the students with their hand up to provide the answer. If it's incorrect, ask them to put their hand down and move on to another until if and when a student gives the right answer ("the surgeon is the boy's mother"). Ask any other students still with their hands up to put them down if they didn't have the correct answer.

Discuss: What does this exercise illustrate? (Answer: that we are conditioned to unfairly associate certain jobs with certain genders, or that at the very least certain jobs are unfairly dominated by certain genders, which then makes us think that they are gender-specific).

Overview of the topic: gender stereotypes

Outline the focus of today's session: "We will be looking at gender stereotypes, and learning why they are damaging to both boys AND girls" (NOTE: it is very important that this lesson is not perceived by the boys to be all about how they have it 'easy' and that girls have it 'hard', which can come across as sanctimonious and puts them on the defensive).

Discuss: What is the difference between "sex" and "gender"? (Answer: sex is whether you are physically male or female; gender is the personality traits you have that are commonly regarded as 'masculine' or 'feminine').

Task: what are commonly regarded as 'masculine' and 'feminine' qualities?

Working alone or in a same-sex group, students should not be asked to produce a list of characteristics which are often associated with "masculinity" or "femininity".

When they have finished working in their same-sex group, students should be put into mixed-sex pairs or groups to compare and contrast their lists.

Discuss: What are the most commonly agreed 'feminine' and 'masculine' traits that we identified (teacher writes these onto the board). Did the results differ between boys and girls? Why do you think this might be?

Next, load this ClassTools Sorting Game: Gender Characteristics onto the whiteboard. How quickly can the class get all of the gender characteristics into the correct categories? 

Reference - Answers



























Question: "What we have produced here is a list of gender stereotypes. How would you define the word 'stereotype'?" (Answer: a generalisation which people mistakenly think applies to all members of a particular group).

Discuss: Can you think of any examples of stereotypes about other groups?
The teacher could help students along here by asking them to complete such statements as "All Spanish people are...All old people are...All politicians are... [etc]). Discuss after the first batch of responses how many of these are negative impressions, which says something about the prejudice which produced stereotypes; can they think of any positive ones? (e.g. they may come up with "French people are good at...Black people are good at...Asian people are good at..."). Note: we'll come back to how even 'positive' stereotypes are equally patronising later.

Discuss: Why is it always wrong to judge somebody using stereotypes?
They prevent you from seeing people as individuals, forcing them to fit to certain expectations (things you think they SHOULD BE rather than ARE). Therefore even positive stereotypes are negative really (e.g. "Black people are good at dancing" or "Jewish people are good at business" have racist implications that suggest that these things are all that they are good at or care about).

Task: Why are gender stereotypes so dangerous?

Stereotypes may sometimes be (or used to be!) true to some degree, for some members of the group (otherwise they wouldn't have become so firmly established).

However, these ideas about gender come partly from "nature" (the way our brains are wired at birth) but mainly through "nurture" (the environment in which we are brought up).

This means that it's unlikely that any boy will only have all of these masculine traits and none of the feminine ones, or that any girl will have all of the feminine traits and none of the masculine ones.

To illustrate this, look at our list of "masculine" and "feminine" qualities. If you're a boy, which of the "masculine" qualities LEAST applies to you? Which of the "feminine" qualities applies MOST to you? (girls can do the reverse exercise). Discuss / share responses in groups or as a class.

However, despite the fact that all of us are individuals, girls can feel unfairly pressured to match the "feminine" stereotype, and boys to match the "masculine" stereotype.

Discuss: Where might these pressures come from? (Answer: (social) media, family, friends, self...)

(a) How might "masculine" expectations be damaging for boys? (e.g. pressure to be in control of emotions could damage mental health)

(b) How might "feminine" expectations be damaging for girls? (e.g. pressure to be caring could push them into defining themselves only in terms of wives and mothers).

Task: How can we challenge gender stereotypes?

The previous discussion point highlights how sexism is something which affects all of us, so tackling it is in everybody's interests.

What we are now going to do is consider a variety of ways in which sexism is a problem in our society, and consider how we could tackle them.

Divide the class into eight mixed-sex groups. Give each gorup one of these Discussion Cards. They should be prepared to explain

  1. Why this is damaging to boys, girls or both;
  2. Why this inequality exists (there may be several reasons) and therefore
  3. How can it be overcome?

This activity could be developed further by asking students to write on a post-it note examples of when they personally have suffered from sexism, and then adding these into the mix to generate further discussion.

Task: Two documentaries - "Miss Representation" and "The Mask You Live In".

The following two documentaries were made by the same team of film-makers. For each one, students should consider:

  1. What is the message of the video?
  2. Do you agree or disagree with the message and why?

"Miss Representation" - How sexism and gender stereotyping affects girls and women

"The Mask You Live In" - How sexism and gender stereotyping affects boys and men


Extension Tasks / Discussion Points

Are single-sex schools a good idea?

Should we celebrate International Men's Day in the same way as International Women's Day?

What do you like and dislike about being (fe)male?

Should employers be required to ensure that half of their employees are male, and half female? (e.g. primary schools; sports teams; coal miners).

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