3 Project Ideas to Help Teens Challenge Gender Stereotypes
When I was in 7th grade, I was part of a carpool, often tagging along with my neighbor. My mom couldn’t take turns driving, because as principal of an elementary school, she had to get to work pretty early.
I hadn’t thought much of it—they all had mini-vans with plenty of seats—until one of the moms made a comment about how my mom never chipped in. I explained that she had to work, and she snuffed and mentioned something about priorities.
The exchange stayed with me, not because of the embarrassment I felt, but because it was the first time I witnessed the sting of sexism. As a 12-year-old, I lacked the confidence to stand up to this woman and her thoughts about gender roles, so I just started walking to school.
I doubt that this would happen today. We’ve come so far since then, and my students are much braver than I was at their age. They call out sexism when they see it, and they’re passionate about changing the game.
That’s why this month’s Choices cover story, “Who Said It?” is such an important read. It examines both male and female gender stereotypes and sexism, and gives students the information they need to speak up for gender equality.
Here are three project ideas to help extend the conversation:
1. Have students interview someone over the age of 60.
Growing up, I did book reports on female astronauts and looked up to my working mom. I always knew I’d have a job, but I took for granted the struggles women before me experienced as they helped to pave the way.
To raise awareness and appreciation for prior pioneers, have students interview a family member, teacher, or neighbor over the age of 60. They’ll record a podcast in which they ask the person questions about inequality in school and the workplace over the last 50 years. What has shifted dramatically? What still needs to change? What are some of the ways in which sexism impacted the person personally?
2. Watch this gender labels commercial, and have students create a version of their own.
In this short Pantene ad, we see a man and a woman in the workplace eliciting the same behavior but garnering different labels simply because of their sex. This is something that happens all too often in the social hierarchy of high school, as well. To make students aware of this unintentional behavior, have them brainstorm a list of relevant labels to include in their video, and make sure they end with a positive message and a call to make a change.
3. Assign a toy store investigation.
Target made big news last year when they decided to stop separating toy sections for girls and boys, but students might be surprised to discover that the phenomenon of gender-based toys is relatively new. Have them read this lesson from The New York Times, and weigh in with thoughts. Afterward, they can check out a toy store on their own, snap some photos, and report back on their findings.
While each of these projects is adaptable, their shared goal is to OPEN the class’ gender stereotype discussion. Change and progress take place when people feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions and concerns with one another, then collaborate to brainstorm solutions. The students will take it from there.