Exploring Gender Through T-shirts
Here is a simple yet effective way to identify and break down gender stereotypes. It can be modified to work in any classroom. Sarah Bayne uses a relatable medium such as a T-shirt to successfully engage kids of almost any age.
Begin with a discussion about a big-box store:
What can you find and see in the “boys’ section”? in the girls’ section?
Then split students into groups to analyze and interrogate images of these gendered department store aisles, asking questions such as:
What do you see? Who is the target shopper? How do you know? What signs tell you who is supposed to shop there? How are the language and images different in the boys’ and girls’ sections? What might be missing? What might be the effect of that?
Reconvene on the carpet, and have students share their findings.
At this point, introduce the word stereotype and its meaning.
The book Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty is an excellent medium to highlight and challenge female stereotypes.
After creating a list of female stereotypes from the book as a class, generate a list of male stereotypes.
Then break into groups to analyze intentionally gendered T-shirts.
They may notice many gender stereotypes, such as dark colours vs. pink, adjectives like strong vs. sweet, ruffles, watermelon vs. alligator, etc.
Share what they see with the rest of the class.
The best is at the end – a creative solution to a design problem! They design their own t-shirts to reflect their true selves – free of gender stereotypes and department store marketing. After designing and creating, they explain their design choices.
-Sarah Bayne is an AML director and teaches at the Toronto DSB. This curriculum can be adapted to both Elementary and Secondary classrooms.