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So which ism to choose? The very best ism lessons generate an exchange of ideas, in which everyone (both learners and teacher) leaves the classroom having had the chance to question their own deeply held beliefs. In this post, I will discuss feminism. I choose this particular ism not only because it is a movement close to my own heart. Feminism generates discussion which can be as light hearted or serious as you and your learners wish. Many of my learners come from cultures where gender roles and expectations are quite different from those in the
Warmer: Gender Roles
The following warmer provides handy revision of character adjectives, although you may need to referee a few arguments!
Make a list of about fifteen character adjectives geared towards the level of your learners ( e.g.: brave, thoughtful, intuitive, sentimental, reliable, practical, logical, emotional , confrontational etc. ) Ask learners to work through the list in pairs, marking each adjective with M (male) or F (female) or B (both), depending on who is most likely to possess this quality. Come together to discuss answers and the areas in which people agree/disagree. Encourage learners to back up their ideas with examples and illustrations.
You might wish to show your class this amusing little animation on gender roles.
Ask learners to report back on what they have seen. This activity provides the opportunity to practice comparative forms (e.g.: women are more talkative) With more advanced learners you could use it as a vehicle to work on the language of making generalisations, e.g.: women tend to enjoy shopping more, men usually like to get out of the supermarket as quickly as possible. Encourage the learners to challenge and question these generalisations.
Changes Through Time
A look at the changing roles of women in society is important in any serious discussion of this topic.
The following clips provide a useful insight into the history of the women's movement: highlighting how far womens' lives have changed in the last few decades.
This short clip describes the anit-discrimination laws passed in the 1970s and contrasts these laws with the sexist way in which women continued to be portrayed in advertising. You could use this clip to generate discussion on how life has changed for women in the past thirty years, focusing on past/present tenses and used to. As a follow up, you could select a handful of television commercials from recent years and ask learners to comment on what they tell us about gender roles in
You could personalise this discussion by asking learners to compare their own lives as men/women with those of their mothers and fathers. What has changed? Do they feel these changes are positive?
This footage of the 1970's Miss World competition shows presenter Bob Hope being attacked by angry feminists in the middle of his (outrageously sexist and disparaging) commentary. You could show the learners the footage and ask them discuss what they think it might be about. Follow this up by providing a little more background and asking them if they sympathise with the protestors. What do they think about such beauty pageants? Are such competitions still as popular today?
A Spot of Market Research
Divide your class into two groups and allocate a three minute time limit. One half of the class lists as many "boys' toys" as they can think of, while the rest of the class lists "girls' toys". Collect and board the lists, providing linguistic input where necessary. Then discuss the items on the list. Why are some toys seen as being for girls, and others for boys?
If your learners seem interested in this discussion, you can follow up by taking a look at the "pink stinks" website. This is a campaign which is aimed at the gender stereotyping of toys; particularly at the marketing of make up and beauty products to the parents of female toddlers.
Learners could follow this up by doing a little research in their own communities. Is there a toy shop in your town? You could ask learners to visit and look at its layout. Does the layout of the shop perpetrate the gender divide? How does it do this?
Ask your learners to list all the -isms they can think of. (This provides a useful exercise in word formation too.) Are there any -isms they would care to discuss in future lessons?
Barnyard, K. The Equality Illusion (Faber and Faber: 2010)
Greer, G. The Whole Woman (First Anchor Books: 2000)
Power, N. One Dimensional Woman (Zero Books: 2009)