Grade: all

#955. Introduction to Sexism

Social Studies, level: all
Posted Thu Apr 8 12:08:20 PDT 1999 by Glen Hansman (
McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Activity Time: two or three classes
Concepts Taught: gender, sex, bias and oppression


This individual lesson is meant to be part of a larger attack on sexism and other linked oppressions which will ideally discussed over the course of the term in a Secondary III?V M.R.E. or English class. This particular segment could be broken over a couple of days.

The goal for this specific lesson is threefold: 1) to introduce some of the terminology surrounding sexism to the students; 2) to help make the classroom a safe, comfortable and hate-free space; and, 3) to develop and understanding of sexism, its effects, and the ways in which messages in society (in media, texts, schools, families, et cetera) reinforce stereotypical beliefs. The intent is to examine the students? assumptions as well as giving them the opportunity to examine different perspectives.

It would helpful for this exercise to set up sound ground rules that the students can help to establish. Because this may be a contentious issue for some students in the class, perhaps the teacher can make it clear that students are free to use whatever terminology they feel the most comfortable with unless that terminology becomes offensive. Worrying about political correctness should not get in the way of fostering an understanding of the issues in all of the students.



Ask students to break into groups of three or four. Each group should be given two sheets of poster paper and a pile of old magazines. Ask the students to collect a dozen images both of men and women. Compile the images collected by the class and glue them unto separate sheets of poster paper ? one marked ?Women,? the other marked ?Men.?

Then as a large group, have the individual teams describe the process they went through. Ask the students how they decided who went in the ?Women? pile and who went in the ?Men? pile. Invite them to consider where their ideas of masculinity and femininity come from.

Afterwards, ask the whole group to share some of their feelings before providing the following working definitions:

Biological Sex: The alleged physiological and anatomical characteristics of maleness and femaleness with which a person is born.

Gender Identity: The individual?s sense of masculinity of femininity.

Gender Role: The separate expectations of behaviour for men and women as determined by society and culture.


Ask each student to take a blank sheet of paper and get into small groups of three or four students. Then tell the groups that they have five minutes to discuss the following question: ?If you woke up tomorrow and found that you were the opposite sex, how would you have to behave differently?? Students should compile their responses on their papers.

After the small groups are finished discussing, ask for groups to volunteer some of their answers, writing them down on the chalkboard as the answers are being given. Afterwards, ask the class to comment on the answers that have been given. What answers do they like and which do they not like? Do some of the answers contradict others? Are there advantages or disadvantages to some of the responses? How do some of the definitions of what makes a woman a woman or what makes a man a man put people into ?boxes?? Do any of the students feel that they are not represented in the answers given?

Hopefully, this activity should generate some good, healthy debate among the students. The teacher can act as more of a facilitator for this exercise, giving all students the chance to speak if they wish. The discussion should highlight some of the limitations placed on women and men because of their gender.


To provide some closure to this introduction to sexism, open the floor to the students and give them the opportunity to comment on what has been discussed. This will make the students a bit more comfortable with what they have just discussed as well as getting them thinking for future exercises. Perhaps some of the concerns of students in the class can be incorporated into future lessons.


Subsequent lessons could look at specific issues, such as violence against women, the status of women in society, transgender issues, international women?s issues, sex and gender in schools, social justice, and the links between sexism other forms of oppression (such as racism, homophobia, classism, ablism, et cetera).

Essays, group presentations, collages and other works can be used at a later date for evaluation.