Evaluating the Impacts of Gender Stereotypes in Educational Settings
In the course of educational progress, the one issue that does not get enough attention is the most deep-rooted type of discrimination; gender stereotyping. Gender discriminatory actions are intensely embedded in society. This event should give teachers even more reasons to put effort into demolishing such behaviors in the classroom. Teachers are responsible for shaping the future generations, not only do they teach knowledge but also provide life lessons through value and respect. To stop gender stereotyping, it must be attacked and handled from the very beginning of human life. These concepts do not come from within, they are learned. Thus, teachers must take it into account and make adjustments to their teaching methods to provide an equitable education for every student, no matter their gender, background or ability.
It is important to understand the differences between sex and gender before understanding the impacts of these misconceptions. Sex was determined in the early 1960s by science such as anatomy, biology, hormones, and physiology. The categorization of male or female was made by the evaluation of their genitalia and hormones; XX for female and XY for male. Gender is a concept entrenched in society through social interactions and behaviors (West & Zimmerman, 1987). It is a social construct, which has created roles, behaviors, expressions, and identities belonging to a specific sex (Canadian Institutes of Health and Reseach, 2014).
Sociologists Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman used the terms “doing gender” in their publication about how society treats one another based on their gender. Doing gender means judging people based on their biological sex and putting them into categories, men, and women. This separation imposes gender-specific and socially approved interests, behaviors, and ways of interaction (West & Zimmerman, 1987). To be accepted in society, people conform to this concept through gender roles and gender displays; behaving according to socially accepted demeanors for men or women (West & Zimmerman, 1987).
Impacts of gender discrimination in education
Children are taught to act according to their gender from a young age; little girls are thought to play with dolls and care about their appearance, little boys are encouraged to play with trucks and participate in sports teams (Frawley, 2005). They get negative feedback or criticism when they do otherwise. Therefore since infancy, they need to constantly monitor their behaviors and act appropriately.
The children who do not conform to societal beliefs of behavior and interactions feel like failures and shameful for not being competitive, tough or autonomous (Frawley, 2005). Boys who have feelings and emotions or who like arts and theatre are labeled as “feminine” and made fun of by others. Girls who like to play sports and dislike shopping or playing with dolls are labeled as “tomboys” and excluded by other groups of girls. This is where the fear of rejection comes into place. Children know that if they do not act a certain way they can risk not being accepted by peers.
One of the main reasons children comply with societal norms is because of the fear of rejection. Self-esteem is the perception that others have on the individual, this increases and decreases many times during a child’s life and affects the child’s development in overwhelming ways. Self-esteem had a direct correlation with peers and classmates. Children tend to have the need to be accepted and liked by others to build self-esteem. Research shows that they would do anything possible to be included and avoid rejection. Therefore, they will act according to societal norms; behave and interact fitting to their gender to build their self-image.
Being belittle within peer groups decreases self-esteem, the child feels unwanted and lonely, therefore loses interest in learning in the classroom. They can no longer concentrate on what the teacher is explaining instead, they are constantly thinking of what they did wrong to deserve this maltreatment from classmates.
With that, the classroom experience can be greatly affected by gender stereotypes. It can negatively impact one’s academic performance and subject choice which can lead to influencing career path decisions (Deemer et al., 2014). When teachers use stereotypical behaviors in the classroom, they enforce the notions of gender is better than the other. With that, female students underperform and have low academic motivation because of a lack of support from teachers and adults (Deemer et al., 2014). Research implies that women can be strategically modifying their behaviors in class to avoid stereotypical threats (Deemer et al., 2014). This situation is a lot less apparent today compared to 40 years ago, but implicit gender-stereotypical cues still exist in classrooms to this day (Lörz, Schindler & Walter, 2019). Research proves that there is no scientific evidence that differentiates male and female brains (Frawley, 2005). Though, men still prefer engineering and natural sciences and women are still more confident in the fields of humanities and education.
researchers Beck, Fuller, and Unwin (2006), found that students from a young age already have an idea of their future encouraged by social contexts. Their career decisions are based on gender stereotypes and are strongly reinforcing labor segregation. Female students know that it is difficult to succeed in a male dominant industry, therefore they rather not try and just chose a more feminized occupation. For example, several studies show that when it comes to the leadership position in industries, results demonstrate that females were less favorable just because of their sex not due to their capabilities (Powell, 2012). The difference in the opportunity of growth, salaries and overall treatment, causes females to be discouraged to dismantle the status quo and pursue “non-feminine” career paths (Beck, Fuller & Unwin, 2006).
With receiving less precise and helpful feedback, less encouragement and less attention from the teacher, girls lose their confidence and interest in education. Studies show that this type of mistreatment has a direct correlation with the decision to pursue higher education (Weiss, 2001). Educators have to be more aware of the subtle gender-biases they project in the classroom that can strongly affect the future of their students.
Gender inequities in the classroom
Teachers are an important aspect in the development of a child’s learning progress. Even if all children are reading the same book, learning from the same textbooks and listening to the same teacher; boys and girls are experiencing education very differently (Weiss, 2001). Educators are often blinded by the discriminatory actions they use in the classroom. The gender biases are very much modifiable, teachers just need to be stressed about the negative effects of the matter.
Teachers are mostly unaware that gender discrimination is happening in their classrooms because it seems “normal” therefore may be subtle (Frawley, 2005). Gender bias behaviors are often ignored by the teacher because they do not see the importance of addressing it. Research shows that some teachers admittedly accept boys’ aggressive and violent behavior because it is “normal” for them to interact that way (Frawley, 2005). The teachers do not intervene and let them act viciously towards one another. Others witnessing the teacher’s ignorance assume that their behavior is not problematic, hence the idea that men should be tough and “macho” is spread onto the next generation.
The teacher provides different feedback to male students compared to female students (Frawley, 2005). Boys receive more constructive feedback, educators assume boys are tougher and can handle the criticism. Girls receive more encouraging feedback, the teacher notices her failure but encourages her by acknowledging her efforts. These differentiated reactions enforce the fact that girls are not encouraged to do better or increase performance, whereas boys are motivated to achieve higher marks. As a result, girls have less motivation to improve due to the “superficial feedback” receive by the teacher (Frawley, 2005).
When addressing a question in class, educators tend to give the opportunity to speak to the student that lifts their hand the fastest, due to boys having the tendency to answer quickly they get to participate the most in classrooms (Frawley, 2005). While girls prefer to formulate the answer in their minds before voicing it, barely get the chance to engage in discussions (Frawley, 2005). Consequently in a gender inequity because boys end up dominating the classroom dialogues while girls do not get the same chance to contribute.
How to teach about gender stereotypes
Teaching students about gender-discriminatory behavior is essential to eliminate it as much as possible in educational settings. Not only do teachers have to modify their behaviors, but they also have to teach children how to change their own as well. As mentioned previously, gender biases take place at a very young age, from learned or mirrored behaviors. Therefore even if the teacher does not project such prejudiced actions, the children could have witnessed it elsewhere.
Teachers can discuss the issue of stereotypes by asking students what they think is fair or unfair. Girls and boys will give out different answers and the educator can write them on the board for students to realize that the differences are largely split in the middle of both genders (Teaching Tolerance, 2019).
Afterward, students can discuss how it feels to conform to societal norms and how it has affected their way of living. They can discuss in small groups, when it started and why. Learners can share experiences and feelings for classmates to realize that everyone has been going through the same pressures of fitting in and fears of rejections.
These discussions can give the students a chance to analyze and dissect the inequalities that exist in the classroom (Teaching Tolerance, 2019). Depending on the grade level of the students, the educator can also bring to light that these inequities are not only present in the classroom but even more relevant in the real world, outside the school.
The objective of this is for the students to be more critical of their behaviors towards one another. For them to accurately define and understand the concept of stereotyping. For students to talk about how its consequences are unfair and can place others in inequitable situations. With that, they will learn to take the proper measures to be able to eliminate it from the classroom.
How to prevent “doing gender”
It is important to have gender-neutral class material and learning environments (Butler, 2019). Teachers can provide books and toys that are not associated with a specific gender. They can also decorate the classroom with gender-neutral posters and banners. Usually, when teachers create name tags they put gender-appropriate colors or symbols around it, they should be conscious of that and use gender-neutral colors and symbols.
The teacher must use inclusive language and actions (Butler, 2019). When trying to speak about a mixed group, educators must try to avoid using words such as “guys”, it is a male-dominated language, instead, acknowledge that there are girls in the group as well. The teacher can use “they” or “their”, these are acceptable alternatives to generic masculine pronouns (Madison & Shoda, 2006). As for actions, for example when dividing the class into groups, there should not be a division between boys and girls, the teacher should make sure that each group has an equal ratio of boy and girl.
Instructors must not ignore gender bias and intervene when they witness it in the classroom or the school (Butler, 2019). As mentioned before, the teacher tends to pretend that gender stereotypes are not happening and let boys act aggressively towards one another. Educators have to interfere and teach them that no matter who they are violence is never the answer. If boys are mean to girls, it is not always because they think they are cute. The adult must not assume that and should show them the proper way to show affection or teach them respect towards peers.
Educators need to be aware of their teaching methods and make sure they are using gender-neutral instructions (Butler, 2019).
The school must create a learning community that respects and values every member. Creating a safe learning environment for the students can encourage positive attitudes towards learning and education (Gilbert & Gilbert, 2002).
One must constantly teach acceptance and respect to their students (Butler, 2019). It is the most important concept that can make a difference. Not only can it abolish gender stereotypes and its side effects, but it can also tackle issues such as racism and discrimination towards students with disabilities.
Overall, gender is a social concept shaped through social interactions and behaviors. Individuals behave appropriately to their genders to conform to societal norms. Gender stereotyping has been present in society for many centuries and it will take a lot of effort to get rid of it entirely. The most efficient method to tackle this issue is in schools and classrooms. Gender stereotyping is experienced at a young age and teachers are a big part of children at that stage of life. Educators are seen as guidance and support, therefore it is the perfect opportunity to shape the future generation without all the negative effects of gender discrimination. Children must no longer be given limited options for growth. No matter their gender, each student must be given an equitable education. By doing so, it can increase self-esteem, academic performance and encourage children to pursue career paths of their choice, without the need to consider what others might think of it. Teachers must review their instructional methods and make sure that through their teaching they are educating their students to be respectful and accept one another. Not only are teaching methods a huge contributor but so are learning environments. Classrooms must be gender-neutral, teachers should provide books that promote anti-stereotypical concepts and toys that are not associated with a particular gender. Combatting gender discrimination should go beyond the classroom and should be incorporated into the student’s everyday lifestyle.