Today’s post, written by Educational Leadership Professor Laurie Puchner and Sociology Professor Linda Markowitz, gives us a first look at their recent collaborative project, one in which they ask middle school students to challenge the sorts of gender binaries reflected in–and reinforced by– the media. There’s so much to think about here: in encouraging middle school students to engage in critical conversations about gender, Laurie and Linda make us aware of how early messages about gender are transmitted. By inviting students to disrupt these messages, they also demonstrate that students can (literally) rewrite the sorts of scripts that they encounter daily, and by extension, redefine the gender roles they embrace and reject.
The media is a powerful place where many of us learn to do gender. Unfortunately, what the media teaches us about being female or male reinforces a belief in a false gender dichotomy. From the media, we learn that women are nurturing, gossipy and have the primary occupation of being sex objects for the male gaze and that men are active heroes who are sort of goofy but have important jobs making sure society functions smoothly.
Women’s Studies classes reveal the overt and sometimes covert messages about women and men we get in the media. In fact, sometimes it becomes difficult to watch our favorite show or movie when we deconstruct the gender messages tucked neatly inside the program. Learning about the constraining gender messages in the media has empowered some of us to actually begin troubling the gender binary in our own lives.
We wondered if some of what we teach and learn in Women’s Studies classes could be taught to children in secondary schools with the same effect. So, in 2012-13 we participated in a grant-funded project to develop and test a critical media literacy curriculum unit aimed at middle school students. We had two goals in mind: to encourage students to critically examine gendered stereotypes in media, especially as they relate to occupations; and to ask students to trouble the binary by having them create their own non-gender stereotypical media representations. We taught the unit in five 8th grade classes.
The critical media literacy unit consisted of four 45-minute lessons comprising discussion and activities revolving around multiple examples of print and video ads. At the end of the third lesson students received a handout describing their final assignment. In the assignment, students were instructed to work in small groups to create a video advertisement for a product. The ad had to: “Advertise a specific product of your choice; Challenge gender stereotypes rather than reinforce them. (In other words, the ad must be counter-stereotypical); Pertain to occupations in some way.” Continue reading