“One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman.” – Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
We grow up in a world where we are bombarded with images of how we are supposed to behave if we belong to a particular gender –“Boys must be strong!” “Girls must be ‘graceful’!” “Boys are supposed to protect others, not the other way round!” “Boys must take responsibility of the family!” “Girls must take care of the household!” – the list goes on. And if you do not fit into these neat categories, then too bad – you must change. You must behave according to what you are supposed to be. If you can’t do that, then you are different; you don’t fit in. But what if you don’t fall into these neat categories of being a boy or a girl? What if you are a boy who loves to play with dolls? What if you are girl who wants to be a wrestler?
In our recent Leadership class with the 9th graders, the girls struggled with some similar questions and ideas. We had a lesson on gender stereotypes where they learnt to critically think about how media influences our notions about different genders and reinforces those roles in our behaviour.
We began the class with defining what the terms – ‘gender’ and ‘stereotype’ mean. After that, in groups, the girls were asked to write in boxes drawn on paper, all the possible gender stereotypes they have come across in their lives. They were asked to think about how girls and boys are supposed to behave, like or dislike, look, think, feel and be good at. They also thought about where they have learnt these ideas from. Once they finished writing, they were asked to think outside these ‘boxes’. They wrote about the different things that make a person lie outside the box. They also walked around reading what different groups had written on their charts.
This was followed by a discussion where they shared times when they have felt when they were inside the ‘box’ and outside the ‘box’. Through this, they learnt about what gender stereotypes mean and how we look at different genders. They also wrote and shared one trait they wished they had from the other box (boy).
We watched many popular TV advertisements (Surf Excel, ICICI Life Insurance, TVS Scooty Pep, Hero Honda Karizma, Maggi, Philips Epilator) and critically analysed the gender stereotypes used, consciously or subconsciously, by the ad makers to sell their products. We discussed the gender stereotypes being reinforced in these. We ended the class with reflecting and sharing about how these stereotypes affect children while growing up, and might interfere in how they develop their sense of identity.
The girls enjoyed this lesson as it enabled them to start questioning the gender roles. They learnt how not to accept everything at face value, but think deeper about what impact it might have on them. We hope that we can continue to develop the confidence in our students to accept their identities, question them, and be proud of them.