Age-appropriate tips for addressing gender stereotypes in the classroom

Promote positive gender representations and give students a broader perspective on their options

Teachable moments

  • Seek out stories with non-stereotyped characters—for example, female characters with realistic body types and non-aggressive male characters.
  • Seek out stories that show adult men and women in both traditional and nontraditional occupations, including women as professionals and men as caretakers.
  • Recognize and draw attention to characters who defy gender stereotypes.
  • Praise characters who are instrumental to the storyline for what they do versus what they look like.

Grades 6–8
Adolescents feel self-conscious about their physical changes and feel pressure to conform to cultural gender norms. They are concerned about the potential of dating and begin to sort out how they are expected to behave in romantic and sexual situations. Middle school students can be intolerant of cross-gender mannerisms and behaviors.

Teachable moments

  • When teaching a text or film, have students identify examples of gender stereotypes and expectations within the context of the story.
  • Include texts that show how worth and happiness don’t come from appearance (especially important for female characters) or from physical strength (especially important for male characters).
  • Comment positively on healthy, supportive, and fulfilling cross-gender friendships and relationships.
  • Introduce students to three-dimensional transgender characters who experience both ups and downs and are accepted and supported by their peers and communities.

Grades 9–12
Teens are more flexible about gender stereotypes, and mixed-gender friendships among teens are common. Still, they want to learn gender-based expectations for how to behave in romantic and sexual situations. Teens become preoccupied with their future careers, as well as their appearance.

Teachable moments

  • Encourage students to identify and analyze gender stereotypes during close analysis of texts, films, or other media for class.
  • Invite students to think about what power structures benefit from gender stereotypes and what people can do to resist them.
  • Point out characters or people in real life who defy gender stereotypes—for example, boys and men who express their emotions in constructive ways and girls and women who voice their needs.
  • Introduce students to adults from real life or characters who have non-gender-stereotypical professions (for example, a male nurse or a female scientist).
  • Seek out texts and content that include LGBTQ characters who are fully realized and who don’t fit common gender- or sexual-orientation-based stereotypes.

Caroline Knorr and Tanner Higgin contributed to this article.

 [Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Common Sense Education.]

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