As part of our Year 7 careers topic I trialled a very simple activity where students were asked to sort a set of different jobs into a Venn diagram of ‘jobs for women’, ‘jobs for men’ or ‘both’. Initially there was a bit of confusion and most students said that it was a bit silly because it was obvious that people could do whichever job they wanted to now. Whilst I appreciated their awareness of anti-discrimination laws I wanted to scratch below the surface of their response so I asked them to think about stereotypes in careers (it might be an idea to cover in a previous lesson what a stereotype is- my students are great at spotting them now, ‘Miss, that’s a stereotype, that is!’) and traditionally which jobs were more suited to men and women.
And then the stereotypes came out; in abundance.
‘Women can’t work in construction, they aren’t any good at screwing things’
‘It’s too hard for them, they aren’t strong enough’
‘Men just aren’t any good with children, it’s a bit weird for them to be a nursery teacher’
‘Women are more caring and nurturing’
‘Women can’t fight in the army’
‘Male nurses are all gay’
‘There’s no way I’d let a man cut my hair (boy)’
Then we had a discussion to break down some of these stereotypes. Where did these ideas come from? Could they think of any exceptions to these ideas? I think this is crucial in breaking down stereotypes, if they can think of examples from their own lives that go against the assumptions. We talked about the skills and qualities needed to do each job and the type of person you’d have to be to be a good nurse, childcare worker, builder etc and, to some extent, they agreed that anyone from any gender could have those qualities. They still weren’t very convinced that men could be caring and nurturing though. We discussed why it was ok to have a male barber but not a male hairdresser (what’s the difference?!) and how from an early age the toys children play with prepare them for gendered careers and they started saying things like this:
‘We just don’t see many male nurses or women in construction’
‘It’s not normal because it’s really weird to see it’
‘Well, maybe it should be shown more on TV or something’
and then, my hero moment:
‘Miss, my uncle’s a nurse and he’s not gay’
Which is probably the statement that had the most impact all lesson.