Section 1. Gender Stereotypes and Expectations
The unit will begin with a definition of terms which students may have heard but not necessarily understand such as gender, stereotypes, discrimination, sexism, and feminism. As an engaging, introductory activity, students will have a chance to brainstorm lists of stereotypes and gender roles in small groups and reflect on which ones bother them or make them uncomfortable. A nonfiction text and infographic such as those found in The Science of Gender will be presented to dispel any notions that males and females are actually biologically different, and the roles of culture and society in forming the stereotypes and expectation explored. Students will be encouraged to share expectation from their own cultures, subcultures, and families in journal writing. The class will complete identity webs for their external and internal identities which they may return to later in the unit to come up with ideas for creative writing. The negative results of this type of stereotyping will also be explored through the use accessible nonfiction texts such as “Gender Stereotypes are Destroying Girls and Killing Boys,” which illustrates destructive effects of stereotyping on girls such as depression and exposure to violence, as well as on boys such as engaging in violence and being prone to substance abuse and suicide. “Math Isn’t Just for Boys” explores how a disproportionate number of males are still filling math and computer science jobs, and “Stereotypes Might Make ‘Female’ Hurricanes deadlier” illustrates how far reaching such stereotypes are. Throughout the reading of these nonfiction texts students will practice literacy skills such as summarizing, determining main idea, and identifying claims and evidence.
Section 2. The History of Feminism
In small groups students will choose key figures in the history of feminism to learn about and present to the class. This will allow students to practice research skills, integrate history and utilize engaging multimedia technology. Approximately one week will be allotted for the researching and presenting. Skills such as citation of research sources and speaking to the class will be practiced. In addition, the rest of the class can be required to takes notes utilizing a graphic organizer during the presentations. Alternatively, the information gleaned by various groups can be shared in a jigsaw format. As mentioned above, some figures that students can research include Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, Gloria Steinem, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, bell hooks, Malala Yousafzai, Audre Lorde, Alice Schwarzer, and Rigoberta Menchu.
Section 3. The House on Mango Street
The class may begin this section by reading and/or watching a brief biography of Sandra Cisneros, along with some introduction to the time period during which she was writing the novel paced in its context in the history of feminism. In addition, students may be shown pictures of Chicago Chicano neighborhoods during the time the author lived in them.
As a series of interconnected brief vignettes make up The House on Mango Street, resulting in a rich yet highly engaging and accessible text for young teens (and people of all ages). The gorgeous imagery of Cisneros’ prose poems “function at the level of form of plot, and of symbolic significance.”37 Cisneros has a love of, and way with, similes and metaphors which allows for a foray into literary devices.
Most importantly, the vignettes of the novel can be grouped topically so students can compare how the novel portrays boys, the role of women, identity, growing up and culture. Again in small groups or individually for student who prefer, students can analyze sets of vignettes in order to make claims and support these claims with textual evidence. Key quote will also be analyzed in writing. Though each small group will explore one of these sets of vignettes, all students will read the complete text as it is not long and highly readable. Students would then, in a one page essay, draw a conclusion regarding whether the protagonist, Esperanza, is willing to accept future options available to her on Mango Street and why she ultimately feels she must leave home before she can return and change things on Mango Street.
The novel lends itself to interpretation in art. Class members can choose figurative language for illustration or other artistic interpretation. Additionally, there is a motif of women sitting by windows in the story which is perfect for a class art project where each student contributes images in a wooden grid which looks like windows in a house.
Section 4. Independent Reading and Book Projects
While the whole class is reading the core novel of the unit, students are typically also engaged in and responsible for independent reading in our school district. Students will be provided with sets of books related to gender and cultural stereotyping and expectation to choose from. In written responses, the young teenagers will be asked to respond to these works of literature, and to connect them with The House on Mango Street as well as with their own lives. Refugee families from the school can also be invited to speak and share their stories and their literatures. Students will be asked to choose a character from either their independent reading book of from The House on Mango Street, and to imagine themselves as that character either is a journal entry or letter to a character in the book. This reflection and exploration of different roles allows for the development of empathy, and also will prepare them for the final portion of the unit.
Section 5. Creative Writing
Esperanza’s, and Sandra Cisneros’s own breaking away from stereotyped gender roles and parental expectations provides the perfect segue into a culminating creative writing task of the type young teens find highly absorbing. Students can return to the identity webs they created at the beginning of the unit, reflect on their own identities and set of parental expectations, and then write a brief series of vignettes exploring a future in which they break free of those. Students will be encouraged to explore a broad range of societal expectations, including gender, race, sexuality, socioeconomic class and career ambitions. This would provide a true culmination of the class’s study of nonfiction and fiction with their own creativity, critical thinking and have important real-life implications for their own futures.