Gender Roles in Primary Education

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The topic for my research paper is concerned with the gender roles & gender differences amongst the two sexes*.

(As to put much concentration on my paper I’ve narrowed the idea of gender roles amongst the two sexes, male & female as incorporating the other genders would have made this paper wider.

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So, to keep my work impact yet detailed, I’ll be dealing just about the heterosexual boys & girls).

My main area of interest for the paper is the gender roles & stereotypes in the educational sphere, i.e, Schools mainly.

However I’ve tried to incorporate a few more things.

Firstly, I’ve talked about the reasons gives by experts for this difference in the attitude, thinking,behaviour of the girls & boys.

Then I’ve put some light on the historical background of this gebder discriminations between boys & girls.

Beginning from the very old age era &covering up the mughal era, colonised era, post colonial era & contemporary world in brief.

In my final part of the paper I’ll substantiate my views on the existence of gender stereotypes in school texts & state the facts & instances of practising of gender stereotyping behaviour.

Using a qualitative method and through some secondary readings I’ve written this paper.

Some of the questions put forward in my paper are:

  1. Why do men &women act, think & behave in different ways?
  2. How is education socializing children into Gender roles?
  3. How teachers socialize children into Gender stereotypical behaviour?
  4. How peers affect the children at school in understanding gender roles & gender identities?


To begin with, my topic “”Gender roles in primary education”” needs its first clarification and

Distinction between the two terms I.e., “”Sex”” & “”Gender”” which is most of the times used


However, Sex & Gender are different.

What is Gender?

In simplest of the term, gender refers to the socially or culturally constructed identity. It refers to the cultural, social, constructed differences between the two sexes.

It refers to the way society teaches & encourages the two sexes to behave in different ways through socialization. In other words, Gender also refers to the differences in attitudes & behavior & these Differences are a product of socialization process rather than biology.

It is also important to remember that gender issues are not only pertaining to women or it isn’t just about women or girls in general, gender issues encompasses both men & women.

What is Sex?

Sex simply put refers to the natural or biological differences between men & women.

In short,

Sex = Biological difference that is natural &

Gender = Social difference that’s constructed.

By now, it’s clear that sex is not equal to gender.

Question may rise.

Why do men & women think, act & behave in different ways?

2 reasons are given to this question by scholars-

1. Biology.

2. Culture.

The scientists adopting the biological explanation consider these differences linked to hormones. Several experiments performed on rats have shown that there’s a link between hormones & a certain type of behavior (androgen with excessive aggressive behavior). So, by these experiments it is believed that differences in behavior between the two sexes are found in biology & it is natural for men to be more aggressive & assertive than women because of their higher levels of testosterone. However, these experiments were highly criticized by scholars as it makes it truly unfair to make conclusions based on observations from animal’s experiments. (Giddens, 1989).

The next popular explanation for these differences in men & women remains the most popular between sociologists & is the cultural one.

Gender roles are viewed & practiced through socialization. Culture is an important aspect to understand the key differences between the way men & women act, think, and behave differently.

These differences are a fruit of the fact that the society wants men &women to carry certain attitudes & behavior. It’s the way society actually wants them to behave & accept these differences as “”natural””.

This is why the term “”Gender has been coined.

It is stated that men & women are not born with behavioral difference, there’s no distinction between a man’s & a woman’s thinking or attitude since birth despite being anatomically different and they rather learn these from a very early age that they belong to a particular sex & must behave in a certain way. Their gender identities & gender roles are assigned to them from. A very early age & it’s not my biology rather societies norms & values regarding different sexes. (Renzetti & Curran, 1998).


To have an idea about the emergence & naturalization of these gender roles in society, we

need to look back at the historical context as how these gender roles & differences between genders emerged.

In 1962, the National Library of India, also known as the Imperial Library under the British Raj, compiled a total of around 5060 books & 133 periodical published between 1818-1962. These writings reformed the Indian middle class families & provided them with the idea of an ideal woman & a “”perfect”” child. 19th century also witnessed the emergence of the respectable middle class or the Bhadralok. This bhadralok is a heterogeneous body of an upwardly mobile cultural community of professional, bureaucrats, & servicemen. In colonial Bengali literature, the middle-class child occupied the center stage as the future citizen subject if male and the good mother and housewife if female.

Mainly in the past decade with all the rich literature, particularly on colonial Bengal & on the changing roles or gender identities & expectations of women, many scholars have worked on it such as Meredith Borthwick (1989), Partha Chatterjee (1993), Tanika Sarkar(2001)*

All these scholars have addressed the socialization of children in the context of the role of The “”ideal mother “” or “”good”” wife.

But the questions of children literature paving a way for gender roles in childhood & for everyone are not seen exclusively.

The issue of children was slightly put on focus in the postcolonial period but from the perspective of exploitation, poverty, & child abuse/Labor and not from childhood 7 children’s literature leading to gender roles in general.

However, Pradib Bose’s “”Sons of the Nation”” (1995) was one book that questions about upbringing of the male child in the colonial Bengali family.

Jasodhara Bagchi’s research on the socialization of girl child provides key insights about the gender discrimination & gender differences that is marked while raising the children. (Bagchi, 1993).

Sivaji Bandyopadhyay’s Gopal-Rakhal Dwandwa Samash: Upanibeshbad o Bangla Shishusahitya (Colonialism and Bengali Children’s Literature, 1991) and Satadru Sen’s article A Juvenile Periphery: The Geographies of Literary Childhood in Colonial Bengal show substantial engagement with Bengali children’s literature. He constructed the identities of ‘good’ & ‘bad’ (read- Gopal & Rakhal)


In the construction of gender in India, various phases were involved.

Since centuries, Indian women were considered to have this popular image of veiled & enslaved women. Women were considered to be secondary & was also termed as the weaker sex. Later on as well, Hindu liberals & conservatives put forward the image of the Aryan women as the only aspect of Indian women from the historical viewpoint and all the images of the vedi dasi were absent. However, later on Pandita Ramabai addressed these questions.


During the pre-colonial period, scholars have explained that pre-colonial Indian societies were much flexible in terms of gender. It was fluid & absorbent of identities like bisexuality &androgyny. These features were strongly present in that period & was considered as natural as it is.

It is also observed in the works of scholars that “”softer”” forms of creativity & intuition were not identified with femininity nor violence, power, aggressiveness or assertiveness were associated to masculinity. (Kaviraj, 1994) & (Nandi, 1983)


Furthermore, Kaviraj & Nandi argues that the creation of this strict dichotomies of gender is associated with the Victorian Colonial Culture.

They have argued that during this time the two notions of gender identities was created & masculinity was put against femininity which led to an establishment of analogy between political & sexual dominance.

Mrinalimi Sinha also in her work “”Colonial Masculinity”” (Sinha, 1995) puts up the argument that how the Englishman actually makes the idea of masculinity so significant in the hierarchies of gender identities.


During the post-colonial period, a new image of women emerged in the Indian society.

During this time of nationalist discourse, gender identities went a step ahead to form the image of “”New Woman””.

This was mainly done to reform & the pre-created image & status of the Indian women in the society.

During this period of time, women get a social identification & social roles because of their gender.

The concept of “”Ghar”” & “”Bahar”” emerged at this time as how women belong to the home & inner domains of life & men belong to the outer world.

It is also important to mention that at this time, in children’s literature gender roles took birth in the form of “”Good”” boy & “”Bad”” boy or “”Bhadra”” mahila etc.


Coming back to my basic question of gender roles in primary education, first we need to know about gender roles.

What are Gender Roles?

Gender roles are socially & culturally defined behaviour & attitude that society wants us to adopt & follow.

It is mainly the dichotomy of being masculine or feminine.

The term “”Gender roles”” was coined by John Money in 1954.

However these qualities & attitudes changes from time to time & culture to culture.

What is permitted & absolute normal in the West may not be here in the East.

So, in the simplest of terms gender roles are the socially constructed roles incorporating a certain set of attitudes & behaviour for particular sexes, mainly men & women that are considered acceptable & appropriate to the society.

Now coming back to the topic of my research paper, let’s focus on the part where education & schools play a significant role in socializing children from a very tender age into adopting & following certain gender roles.


To answer this question, the first basic knowledge we require is to know how the gender differences arises.

Starting from the evolutionary theory (Darwin, 1859), which believes that human beings behave in a certain way because of their natural & sexual selection through a passing period of time. Talking about “” Gender stereotypes”” & “”Gender roles “” the very first part of this socialization becomes the family, parents, other members around, etc. The next is the school. This theory states that children are like clean slate, & society writes upon them. If they don’t inject the notions of stereotypes, they will disappear. However, evolutionary theory also believes that these stereotypes are in biology & since the beginning of the evolution. It also doesnt even explain as of why these stereotypes are natural & universal.


It is stated that the ancestral men had this predominantly work of being hunters & women were gatherers.

For the men to hunt better, they required certain skills & power for which they worked leading to a stronger core, fighting abilities, etc.

And for the women, who is capable of reproducing was required to be a good nurturer.

They were required to bond well with other women & infants.

That were supposed to have good taste of food to detect what’s good & what’s bad for their babies as forest fruits can be poisonous as well.

Over the passing of time, and passing of such traits of men & women to other generations, it resulted in the increase in this dichotomy of two kinds of behaviour between men & women.


The main area of my research is how children develop & adapt in some “”stereotypes”” since the early age.

Since Birth.

Gender stereotypes begins very early at the time of the birth of the child & slowly these practises evolves as natural with time.


Just after the birth, there is a clear cut division of colours.

Blue for boys & Pink for girls.

With growing age, boys are interested in games which are much powerful, masculine, aggressive like superman, iron man, bat man etc.

However girls are supposed to play with barbies, soft toys, baby dolls & are asked to nurture them.

Not to forget about the kitchen sets.

A recent study showed that infants as young as 9 months old prefer toys typed to their gender.1

When boys were asked to name what they wanted to become when they grew up they named around 18 professions including footballer, policemen etc.

In the same study, girls were seen saying a total number of just 8 professions, dominated mostly by “”nurse”” or “”teacher”” being the most topped choice.

So, by this we can conclude that how since birth & even beofre going to the school children are socialised into Gender stereotypes & gender roles.resulted in the increase in this dichotomy of two kinds of behaviour between men & women.


Schools are of a major context for gender socialization starting as early as in kindergarten.

A child usually spends 10-12 years in schools from a tender age till he/she reached the reproductive stage.

And because of these children spending such large amount of crucial years of their lives in the school, it is a place that effects the fundamental building of milds of the child in a serious way.

The impact of school & the peers altogether is very crucial.

By the time a child enters into the kindgergatens, they already know the distinction between genders.

But with the coming up of schools in children’s life, it effects gender identities through two primary ways-

  • Teachers.
  • Peers.

These two usually create a different environment for both the sexes.

Teachers in their behaviour admit some gender stereotypical behaviour.

Peers treat girls differently & boys differently.

The kind of sports played by boys and girls are different.

Extra curriculum activities differs from music, art, dance for girls whereas sports, gym, athletics for boys.

Questions that may arise from the above statement.

1. How teachers socializes children into Gender stereotypical behaviour?

The answer lies in the classroom behaviour of the teacher.

Intentionally or unintentionally, teachers promote gender stereotypes sometimes.

Such as, Maths is for boys, English is for girls.

Engineering is for boys, doctor is for girls.

Sometimes even female teachers sbows “”math-phobic”” behaviourwhich further affects the impact of the gender stereotype in children.

Teachers making statements like “”Boys don’t cry”” to a 6 year old boy makes him think that it’s actually wrong for him to cry.

In many schools in rural & suburban India, acts of physucal violence is still used as a form of punishment mostly on boys because “”boys are stronger than girls””.

There is always a “”Boys cricket/football team”” in any school, is there one for girls? We doubt.

But we do have dancing classes & music classes for girls.

Another perfect example of teachers/wardens contributing to gender stereotypes is the difference between the hostel deadlines for boys & girls respectively because girls are fragile & needs to be protected but boys can roam around as they are strong. (Pun intended!)

So, there are numerous ways through which teachers promote gender differences & gender roles in schools.

2) How peers create a gender stereotyping atmosphere at the schools?

Peers plays a very crucial role in socialization children into Gender roles & also for defining gender differences in their lives.

Usually the peers & not the teachers are the ones who can put up some really sexist remarks amongst each other like “”Dont cry like a girl””, “”Girls are weak””, “”Girls can’t play””. Etc.

Schools are a crucial part of ones life & plays a significant role in the creation of gender roles or identies.

Teachers must go through a training regarding delivering a gender neutral lectures & gebder neutral awareness must be spread amongst the peers as well.

Schools have the capacity to either magnify the gender differences or to diminish it.

Schools are important for socializing children into better behaviours & attitudes that is free of gender stereotypical behaviour & identities.

School must provide a gender neutral atmosphere & culture.

However in reality the truth isn’t this.

Even today people opt for a sex segregated school (single sex school) rather than sending their kids to a co educational one.

The reason lies in the way people see a boy & girl is different.

And schools being the major source of gender socialization, it’s important for them to create a gender neutral environment.

The images of girls & boys we learn at out home through our families gets reaffirmed at the school.

Children enter schools with a pre concept or idea of gender,identities, behaviour, self image &also the expectations from both the sexes.

School has the capability to either challenge these identities or to reaffirm it.

These reaffirmation also happens because of the images portrait in the text books which is also a major source of gender stereotypical behaviour.

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Gender Roles in Primary Education. (2019, Feb 18). Retrieved from