Good, Better, Best
This activity illustrates gender stereotypes and the way society considers ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ characteristics desirable or undesirable.
Prepare the materials for the group work in advance.
Sets of cards
Each card has one part of a pair of adjectives written on it (see handouts). Although these pairs of adjectives form opposites, the stacks of cards should be sufficiently mixed so that it this not immediately very obvious.
Worksheets and instruction sheets
Worksheet for Group A
Prepare a blank sheet of paper divided into two columns. Each column should have a heading: one should read ‘Feminine’ and the other ‘Masculine’. Prepare a separate sheet with the following instructions to add to the worksheet:
“Some characteristics are considered more feminine, while others are thought to be more masculine. Place the cards in the column where you think they belong. Work as quickly as you can, without thinking about it too much.”
Worksheet for Group B
Prepare a blank sheet of paper divided into two columns. Each column should have a heading. One should read ‘Positive / Desirable’ and the other ‘Negative / Undesirable’. Prepare a separate sheet with the following instructions to add to the worksheet:
“Some characteristics are considered more positive or desirable, while others are thought to be negative or not desirable. Place the cards in the column where you think they belong. Work as quickly as you can, without thinking about it too much.”
See handouts for pre-prepared cards and work / instruction sheets.
Explain that this exercise is about finding out how gender stereotypes work in society.
Form two groups with equal numbers of participants. Ask them to sit in two corners of the room. Hand out the envelopes with the cards and the worksheets with the instructions. Tell participants that they should follow the instructions on their worksheet and work as quickly as they can. Tell participants they have approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete the task according to the instructions on the worksheet.
When ready, gather the whole group again. Write on the flipchart two headings: ‘Feminine’ and ‘Masculine’ and ask Group A to dictate the characteristics they put under the ‘Feminine’ heading. After each adjective, ask Group B if they placed that adjective in the Positive/Desirable or the negative/Undesirable column. Note this information beside the adjective by putting a plus (+) or a minus (–) sign beside it.
Debriefing and evaluation:
Ask for a round of first impressions about the exercise and its results. You can ask participants some of the following questions:
- How did you find the exercise? What did you like or dislike about it? Why?
- How do you feel about the results, now that you see the summary?
- Does anything about the results surprise you? What? Why is it surprising?
The following typical issues need to be addressed in the debriefing of the exercise:
a. Characteristics in the feminine column are likely to have minus (-) signs next to them, while the ones in the masculine column are likely to have plus (+) signs:
- What do you think about this difference?
- Where do these differences come from?
- Do you consider this characterisation of masculine and feminine attributes to be accurate or stereotypical?
- How do we learn gender stereotypes?
- Can you identify with any of them (in yourself or in people you know)?
- In your opinion, in what way do gender stereotypes affect the way we / other people evaluate or judge men and / or women?
b. The lists of men’s and women’s attributes (whether negative or positive) have a lot to do with our perception of men and women. These tend to inform the pre-conceived or ready made ideas we have when we meet people:
- What do you think the consequences of gender stereotypes are on young women and men?
- What do you think can be done to deal with the negative consequences of gender stereotyping?
- How does gender stereotyping contribute to gender-based violence?
- How are people affected that don’t fit into the gender stereotype?
Tips for facilitators:
By way of introducing the conclusion to the debriefing, you may want to tell participants that research has found that children as young as 5 or 6 years of age have gender related stereotypes. It has also been found that consensus on the differences exist, regardless of age, education, sex or social status.
An additional dimension of the debriefing can focus on the fact that groups with undesirable characteristics are generally regarded as being less valuable and that they have lower status in society. This usually means that they are more often exposed to prejudice and to verbal or physical violence. You can ask participants to identify groups who are affected by such problems in their local area and ask how they think they can be overcome.
Suggestions for follow-up:
Ask participants to think about ways to raise awareness about stereotypes and to prepare guidelines for how to go about confronting and challenging stereotyping in everyday situations. Ask them to experiment with following the guidelines in their everyday lives and to observe the results. Discuss their different experiences at a later meeting.
Ideas for action:
Develop a ‘research project’ about stereotyping in everyday situations. If the members of your group attend school, discuss how they could observe and document stereotyping in school over a period of time. On the basis of the results, your group could propose recommendations to the school authorities for how to combat stereotyping, and the group could be involved in in-school activities to raise awareness about it among pupils.