From the earliest days of their education, students are expected to recognize gender as a concrete, defining element of a person’s identity. Preschool students are often divided into separate groups for boys and girls, and are routinely addressed as such. From primary grades through high school, students are subjected in their classrooms to activities and conversations that are based on this understanding of gender, assuming that people subscribe to one label: boy or girl.
By establishing gender as a binary system, and by assuming separateness between the opposite ends of this binary, schools are (however unintentionally) reinforcing the notion that a person’s capabilities and their role in society are determined largely by gender. While the social consequences of gender are undeniably real, I feel that students should be aware that gender roles and expectations are human constructions, and they are therefore malleable. This unit attempts to deconstruct some of the ways that gender dictates society’s expectations for individuals’ behavior by examining literature in which gender plays a substantial role.
The following underlying principles are reinforced throughout this unit:
- Gender is a social construction, but its consequences are real.
- Expectations and established social roles based on gender are subjective.
- An individual’s gender identity may not align with their assigned sex, and may change over time.
Students will address these questions repeatedly throughout the unit:
- What is gender?
- To what extent does gender determine an individual’s behavior?
- To what extent can people reject the roles given to them by society?