How can we challenge gender stereotypes?
Even in 2017, gender stereotypes are all around us – this is a sorry state of affairs.
Most of us were brought up being told that ‘this was for girls’ and that some stuff ‘was for boys’, and that we didn’t really cross those boundaries. If you did, you grew out of them pretty quickly. Unfortunately, due to this backwards thinking that all generations – including ours have been plagued with – we are still instilling these thoughts and ideas with our children, however subconsciously.
Tips for Smashing Stereotypes
So instead of ‘that’s the way it’s always been’, let’s bring gender stereotyping to the forefront of our minds and challenge it with the children that we see every day.
1. Don’t label
One of the most primitive things to say as a teacher is ‘good girl‘ or ‘good boy‘. Now it may seem as though this is being pedantic to the point of ridiculous, but the reason for me labouring this, is that we are unconsciously reaffirming that these are two different things and it is my belief that this encourages children to believe that they are expected to behave in a particular way because of their gender.
2. Use theatre
Some teachers may shudder and curl up at the thought of using drama in the classroom, but it’s one of the most powerful tools a teacher can use. Consider assigning a male member of the class as a female character, not as a ‘dame’ but as a powerful woman. Take my Year 6 class, we studied Macbeth this year and instead of asking one of my bolshie girls to play the part of Lady Macbeth, I asked a shy boy. This timid child stood at the front of the class and embodied what it was like to feel like Lady Macbeth, convincing her husband to commit atrocities. No one laughed, yet the rest of the class were in awe.
3. Create a genderless classroom
We create divisions where they shouldn’t be created. We sit students boy, girl, boy, girl; reaffirming the belief that girls will gossip and boys will misbehave. Seat students where you know they should be seated to gain the most understanding. If you have a full table of one gender, who cares? If you don’t make a big deal out of it, then neither will they.
4. Model ideas, don’t confirm them
Children look up to us as teachers and expect us to be able to tell them everything that they need to know in life. So when modelling work – maybe a story – put your Indiana Jones style main character as a woman. Don’t mention it, just do it so that subconsciously, we are changing their minds around to the concept, that men and women are interchangeable in our modern world.
It’s so ingrained in us to think that boys are less well-behaved, when actually, if you communicate well with a ‘difficult boy’, they soon cease to be ‘difficult’, but they are still stuck with the label ‘boy’. The child may be male, however, this doesn’t have any impact on the child’s behaviour, no more than it does with what he likes for breakfast. Don’t commit yourself to believing these archaic stereotype. Treat each child as an individual, not a gender.
6. Explore the Modern World
Look at people like Theresa May and David Cameron and ask the children what the differences between them are. Does their gender define what they can and can’t do? Some children may surprise you by not even entertaining the thought that they are of different genders.
7. Talk about it
Some of these strategies can be handled discretely, changes that you can make in the way that you speak or act. Talking normalises. So, we should never avoid talking about gender stereotypes. A child still needs affirmation that it’s okay to be different, to feel different and you can be that leveller.
8. Change your mindset
These strategies will not help you if you aren’t fully invested in what they mean. We want to create a world where our children don’t feel burdened by their gender. As teachers, we need to understand the gravity of the responsibility we have when developing the minds of the next generation. Make sure that you understand what we are aiming for.
It won’t happen overnight, but it needs to, and you’ll be up there on a pedestal for making it happen for our children.