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Learning Activities

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Gender Lifelines

This activity is designed for 16 to 18-year-old youth. With small changes to the discussion questions, this activity also works well with parents and educators.

Objectives

At the completion of this session, participants will:

  1. Define gender and gender identity,

  2. Identify from where and from whom they get messages about their gender,

  3. Identify negative or limiting messages about gender and gender roles, and

  4. Identify at least one way to challenge negative or limiting messages.

Time

60 Minutes

Materials

  • Flip chart and pens or equivalent

  • Three foot-long pieces of adding machine tape (paper) for each participant

  • Thin, colored markers

Procedure

  1. Introduce the Activity

    Introduce the activity by explaining to the group that they will be exploring what they have learned about what it means to be a female or a male in our society. Be sure that your group has clear definitions of terms like "sex," "gender role" and "gender identity."

Gender Definitions

Sex: Sex describes whether or not we are male or female. Our sex is determined by a combination of chromosomal, hormonal and genital factors. For example, a baby's sex is first determined by checking out whether he or she has a penis or a vagina.

Gender Role: Although our sex defines whether we are male or female, our gender role describes how we act out our maleness or femaleness (femininity). For example, a traditional gender role for men is to be competitive, athletic and aggressive. A traditional gender role for women is to want to have and take care of children. Gender roles have expanded in recent years for both men and women.

Gender Identity: Gender identity is the gender you feel yourself to be. Most children grow up with a gender identity that is the same as their sex. The few who feel their gender is the opposite of their sex are called "transgendered."

Explain to participants that they will create gender lifelines. These lifelines will document memorable events in their lives that brought about awareness of their particular gender. The lifelines will help them see what and who has contributed to how they feel about being male or female, or their gender identity.

  1. Have Participants Work on Individual Lifelines

Pass out adding machine tape and pens. Explain to participants that the left side of the tape represents the day they were born, and the right side of the tape represents today. Tell them they are to write at least three key events in their lives that brought awareness to them about their gender on their lifelines. Share a couple of examples from your own experience, or share the following examples:

  • A male remembers he was not allowed to play dress up with his female cousins.

  • A female remembers that she got to have her own cell phone (when her brothers didn’t) because her parents worried about her safety more.

  • A female remembers that she had to wash the dishes every night because she was told that dishes were girls' work.
  1. Have Participants Work in Small Groups

After participants complete their lifelines, ask them to form groups of four. Ask each participant to share three of the events from his or her lifeline and then together discuss their answers to the following questions (10-15 minutes):

  • How are the male lifelines and female lifelines similar? How are they different?

  • How does cultural background influence gender lifelines?

  • Where did the strongest messages about your gender come from (family, community, religion, media)?
  1. Lead Large Group Discussion

Reconvene the group and lead a group discussion using the following questions:

  1. What are the similarities and differences between the male and female gender lifelines?

  2. Why do you think male and females have such different experiences about their genders?

  3. Where did the strongest messages about your gender come from (family, community, religion, media)?
Record responses to questions four and five on flip chart paper. Recording participants' responses will serve as good reinforcement.

  1. What are some of the negative messages about gender that you do not want to accept?

  2. Some participants may feel that their gender lifelines contain basically negative experiences and messages. What can they do (if anything) to make their gender lifeline more positive in the future?

If not mentioned by the group, add the following suggestions:

  • Get clear about your own beliefs on gender by writing down in a journal your thoughts and feelings.

  • Find friends and supportive adults who have similar beliefs about gender.

  • Use self talk to counteract negative messages about gender.

  • Try critically analyzing media images about gender with friends or family.

Summary and Closure

Thank participants for sharing. Conclude the activity by summarizing the main points that arose in the discussions, which may include:

  • People have different experiences of gender, some positive and some negative.

  • Our experience of gender is affected by family, community, culture and media.

  • Male and female experiences are often different.

  • We can choose to accept or not accept messages we receive about what makes us female or male.

A simplified version of the Gender Lifeline activity is presented in Educator Inservice on Gender Equity - Leader’s Manual, edited by Judy Gordon, Girls Count, 1995.

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