Stereotyping Males in the Classroom
Sexism in school began to become a topic of discussion when Title IX of Education Amendments Act was passed in 1972, which “”prohibited sex discrimination against students of employees in any federally funded program”” (Davies, Evans 255). It became clear that textbooks were not only teaching children math and science, but they were also being taught gendered behaviors and “”how society regards certain groups of people”” (Davies, Evans 256). Because “”books are a powerful tool in shaping children and their views of society,”” it is important to analyze what messages are being conveyed to children in their formative years (Davies, Evans 256).
In the article, “”No Sissy Boys Here: A Content Analysis of Representation of Masculinity in Elementary School Reading Textbooks”” by Lorraine Evans and Kimberly Davies, a study is conducted where the portrayal of gender characteristics in first, third, and fifth grade literature textbooks are investigated. After analyzing traits regarding masculine and feminine stereotypes, the results proved that males are portrayed stereotypically, by being shown to be “”aggressive, argumentative, and competitive,”” despite Title IX and publisher’s guidelines (Davies, Evans 255).
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Previous research concluded that “”sexism in elementary school textbooks focused solely on the portrayal of girls”” (Davies, Evans 257). While female characters are actually more likely to act counter to stereotypical femininity, male characters continue to be depicted by stereotypical masculinity because “”sexism, for boys, has not yet been properly addressed”” (Davies, Evans 258). First grade textbooks were analyzed because they “”initialize the reading sequence”” and third and fifth grade books were analyzed because standardized testing took place during these years (Davies, Evans 259). The textbooks that were analyzed were “”1997 Macmillan McGraw Hill basal series, Spotlight on Literacy, and the 1997 Silver Burdett Ginn series, the Literature Works,”” which were the main basal readers in the United States during that time (Davies, Evans 259). 8 feminine personality traits and 8 masculine personality traits were used to evaluate the main character as being either masculine or feminine. The masculine personality traits were, adventurous, aggressive, argumentative, assertive, competitive, decisive, risk-taker, and self-reliant, while the feminine traits were affectionate, emotionally expressive, impetuous, nurturing, panicky, passive, tender, and understanding. If a character showed “”any of the relevant traits, the trait was checked”” (Davies, Evans 261). After analyzing 132 characters in 82 stories, Davies and Evans concluded that “”males were portrayed with traditionally masculine characters more often than females”” (Davies, Evans 263).
In conclusion, while female characters are now more likely to display masculine traits, male characters almost never display feminine traits. In order for children to reach their full potential, textbooks need to teach children that it is “”acceptable to display a wide variety of traits,”” whether the child is male or female (Davies, Evans 269).
Contrary to Davies and Evans’s study, another study was conducted five years later that analyzed the visuals within children textbooks. In the first textbook, visuals include a female character wearing “”flowers on her head and on her shoes, a heart on her nose and pink cheeks,”” while the male character is wearing “”blue trousers and red shoes with a buckle”” (Hus, Sovic 498). While both characters are animals, gender stereotypes can easily be decoded. Each character is shown playing with its own toy, the male has a yellow plane, while the female has a baby doll. With that being shown, readers understand that the female is shown as being “”patient and caring,”” while the male character is “”active”” and “”goal-orientated”” (Hus, Sovic 498). Gender related stereotypes are not only shown in content of textbooks, but in the visuals as well, which can have just as much of an impact on children. These light-hearted images actually hold a lot of power in how children view themselves and the world.
After reading “”No Sissy Boys Here: A Content Analysis of Representation of Masculinity in Elementary School Reading Textbooks”” by Lorraine Evans and Kimberly Davies, the results were a bit shocking because the discrimination of males is not normally discussed. Boys, at a very young age, are being taught traditional masculine stereotypes not only through socialization, but in their textbooks at school, which is part of the reason why inequality is still present. Hypermasculinity can be extremely harmful to a young boy’s self-esteem regarding both his actions and his body and can make him feel limited in who he can be. However, what was not discussed in the article was how hypermasculinity negatively impacts females, as well- such as males viewing themselves as having power over females and aggression linked to domestic abuse. Hypermasculinity is “”about showing that you have control, whether that means acting aggressively or being tough”” (Ruminawi). This not only pressures young men to act a certain way out of fear of being a “”sissy,”” but also creates a dangerous world for women to live in. The “”internalization and normalization of this facet of hypermasculinity is very dangerous because of its connection with violence”” toward women, such as rape (Ruminawi). With this being said, teaching children that it is only acceptable to display certain traits specific to their gender, only causes harm to children and how society regards gender.
A common theme was that it is acceptable for females to have both masculine and feminine traits, while it is acceptable for males to have only masculine traits. However, even though it is more “”acceptable”” for females to have both feminine and masculine traits (which is a small step in the right direction), females are still not treated as being equal to males. As time is progressing, the portrayal of females in textbooks and the media is moving away from traditional feminine stereotypes, however it is still present. Because women are still being portrayed and viewed as inferior to men, it is important to focus on how textbooks are portraying females, along with how hypermasculinity can cause a greater divide between sexes. The pressure for young boys to fulfil traditional masculine stereotypes creates a dangerous society for both males and females. On the other hand, the pressure for young girls to fulfil strictly feminine stereotypes only directly harms females.
Thought provoking questions: Why is gender more dichotomized in third grade readers than in the first of fifth grade readers? Is reaffirming aggressiveness as “”natural”” or “”normal”” for males dangerous to society and/or harmful for males? Did the definition of “”feminine”” change over the years? Why? How? And what about the definition of “”masculine?”” What does this say about our society and how we are socialized? Does discrimination against one gender affect the other gender?
Davies, Kimberly, Evans, Lorraine “”No Sissy Boys Here: A Content Analysis of Representation of Masculinity in Elementary School Reading Textbooks”” February 2000
Hus, Vlasta, Sovic, Anja, “”Gender Stereotype Analysis of The Textbooks for Young Learners”” Elsevier Ltd, 2015
Ruminawi, “”Hypermasculinity and its Effects”” Cosas April 28, 2016