Gender Activities and Exercises


I use this activity in my stereotypes course to address the role of the media in both reflecting and maintaining gender roles, stereotypes etc. You might find it useful to.

I ask students to purchase a magazine of their choice, something they would normally read (no pornography please), to read it cover to cover, and then to identify examples in text, images, etc. that either support or counter traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Students flag the examples in their magazines and bring them to class. I begin class with a partial viewing of the film "Killing Us Softly" and then open discussion about what they found in their magazines. The idea is to get students thinking about how the media is both constrained by social/cultural norms (they use these images and ideas because that is what readers expect) and responsible for maintaining these expectations (what people see is what they come to expect). One interesting thing students often note is that the same companies advertise in different ways, depending on the audience for the magazine - automobile ads are especially good examples of this. For ads in men's magazines, the ads emphasize speed, freedom, and sex. For ads in women's magazines, the ads emphasize

Stephanie Goodwin
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This original idea was suggested to me by my advisor, Dr. Jennifer Hunt. Get the book called The Giving Tree by Shel Silberstein. Give one half of your class the original text of the book with the woman-gendered tree and the man-gendered child. Give the other half of your class the book with the genders of the characters switched around (a man-gendered tree and a woman-gendered child). Ask them to read through the article, and then rate the characters on a number of dimensions (I gave my class a short questionnaire). I asked them to rate each character on dimensions including: niceness, generosity, selfishness, nurturance, assertiveness, compliance, how satisfied they were with their actions, how much they took advantage of the other character, as well as how good of a lesson the book presents for children, how much they think the book is appropriate for a son, and how much it is appropriate for a daughter. (Whew! That was a big list!) I did this activity during the class period before we talked about gender roles and the bias that can occur when people adhere to them. During my gender role lecture, I brought in the SPSS analysis of their responses with some bar graphs, and to say the least, the class was shocked. My class composed of people who probably have decently egalitarian attitudes (they did elect to take an unrequired gender class, after all) showed interesting bias in the direction of traditional gender roles.

2. Another idea I have for you involves gathering up a bunch of magazines (Maxim and Cosmopolitan/Glamour/Elle work well). I randomly passed them out to my class as they entered the room. At the beginning of class I told them to pretend that they were coming to this planet for the first time (I know that sounds a bit weird). I asked them to use the magazine they were holding as a good "reference" for learning what men and women were supposed to act/be like in our culture. I had them jot down some notes, and then we had a really neat discussion afterward about the media's portrayal of gender. It was a nice set-up for a number of things (gender roles, body image, careers, personality, etc.).

3. The last idea I have for you involves a little discussion with no prep materials whatsoever. This is a funny demonstration to do when you get to the Gender Script Theory section of the class. Talk to your students about the behaviors that are and are not acceptable for them to do in a public restroom. I've done this a couple of times with different classes, and the behaviors that seem to evoke the greatest differences are what they do when they realize the stall they are in has no toilet paper (mostly the women in the class say they would politely ask the person next to them, which is followed by disgusted and shocked looks by the men in the class who usually say they wouldn't dream of doing something like that). I've also seen some funny differences when I've asked them about whether they talk to other people at all, or whether they'd compliment a stranger on their outfit. I usually follow this up with a short discussion about how this demonstration illustrates gender differences in scripts in our culture. It's a fun one to do because it requires no materials, and it usually gets even the quietest, most shy students to talk, or at least laugh along with the rest of the class.

April L. Seifert
Social Psychology Graduate Student
238 Burnett Hall
Department of Psychology
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, NE 68588-0308

Get two identical dolls, dress one in blue and the other in pink. Write down 12 mixed up gender stereotypical feminine and masculine words. Then get the students to assign 6 'words' to one of the dolls. You will find students will assign the words based solely on the colour of the dolls cloths. Then you can talk about gender being assigned at birth by the colour of the baby grows given in hospitals.

An alternative is to use pictures of male and female toys together with either a picture of a baby in pink or blue. Students could get the pictures from catalogues and carry out a very simple experiment.


I have got my students to mark the same essay, but alter the gender of
the author's name (e.g. Joanne/John) to see whether it makes a difference to the average mark given. If it does, you can then discuss contemporary sexism.
If it does not, you can discuss the reasons for a decline in sexism!
This links in with a study (but I'm not absolutely sure about this) by
Goldberg (circa 1984). It is also quite a good exercise to improve
essay-writing (having to consider how to allocate marks).

Louise Swire (Notre Dame College, Leeds, U.K.)


In-Class Exercises
Psychology of Gender
R. Engeln-Maddox

I use a subset of the following exercises each semester based on time available in class and the interest level of students in different topics. Most exercises are completed in groups of 3-4 and then discussed as a class.

Researching Gender

Option 1: After showing a recording of a 20/20 show by John Stossel ("Men, women, and the sex difference: Boys and girls are different"), students break into groups of 3-4 and, using the research terms they have just learned, compile a list of criticisms and perceived strengths of the research presented by Stossel. Students are also asked to list any evidence of bias seen in the program. Each group presents their conclusions to the class to facilitate class discussion.

Option 2: Students break into groups of 3-4. Each group is asked to come up with a way in which they believe men and women are different or similar. Their task is to design a study to test their hypothesis. Groups must explain their research design, how variables will be operationalized, and any confounds or potential sources of bias.

Hormones, Chromosomes, and The Brain

Option 1: After reading the article "Domestic Disputes" from Time Magazine, students break into groups of 3-4. This article covers two court cases involving transsexuals who married partners who were technically "same sex" (if the transsexuals' original sex is used as the criterion). Students are instructed to imagine that they are the judges deciding the two cases in question. They must summarize their judgment and their reasons for deciding as they did. These decisions are incorporated into a broader discussion on what it is that makes people male or female.

Cognitive Abilities

Option 1: After being introduced to research findings suggesting that gender differences in math skills do not emerge until junior high, students break into groups of 3-4 and create a list of potential hypotheses to explain this finding. They must rank their hypotheses according to how plausible they are and how much variance they are likely to account for.

Gender Development - Psychoanalysis

Option 1: After an overview of Freud's general theories and his specific theories regarding sex/gender differences, students break into groups of 3-4 and compile any examples they can think of suggesting that Freud's theories still influence how women and men are perceived today.

Option 2: Students read the "Heinz dilemma." (A man breaks into a drug store to steal a drug that he cannot afford but is needed to save his wife's life.) Students individually write what choice they feel Heinz should have made and why. They then work in groups to evaluate whether their responses provide support for Kohlberg's theory of moral development, Carol Gilligan's theory ("A Different Voice"), both, or neither.

Gender Development - Social Theories

Option 1: After watching the 20/20 documentary "The Secret Life of Boys," students break into groups and evaluate whether the story shown in this film provides support for social learning theory, gender schema/script theory, or cognitive developmental theory. All pieces of evidence are evaluated in terms of their likely validity. Potential sources of bias in the film are also identified.


Option 1: Students are each handed a piece of paper at the beginning of class. They are instructed not to look at what is on the papers others have. They are given one of the following tasks:
a. List the 8 most important characteristics that an ideal person should have.
b. List the 8 most important characteristics that an ideal woman should have.
c. List the 8 most important characteristics that an ideal man should have.

Lists of the characteristics they come up with for each three categories are written on the board. Students discuss and evaluate the degree of overlap between perceptions of the ideal person and the male and female stereotypes. This discussion is then extended to include the ideal characteristics of people with certain jobs (e.g. president, teacher, accountant) to look for degree of overlap with the lists of ideal characteristics for men/women.

Option 2: Students are asked to bring copies of men's and women's magazines to class (e.g. Vogue, Cosmo, GQ etc.) After watching Jean Kilbourne's "Still Killing Us Softly" (about images of women in the media), students break into groups and look for images that support or fail to support Kilbourne's findings. Each group then reports their findings back to the class.

Emotion and Aggression

Option 1: Students watch the film "Tough Guise" (about media images of masculinity). Students then break into groups and compile of list of the most and least persuasive arguments made in the film and their reasons for these choices.

Option 2: Students read the article "Girls Just Want to be Mean" from The New York Times Magazine (about relational aggression in junior high and high school age girls). Students are then asked to come to their own conclusions about whether there are differences in aggression between male and female teenagers and, if so, what the nature of these differences is.


Option 1: Students watch the documentary "Defending Our Lives." This is a highly emotional and disturbing portrait of domestic violence from the perspective of four women who killed their abusers. Students are then given a list of domestic violence myths and are asked to work in groups to determine how the documentary addressed each of the myths (e.g. supported or failed to support a myth, didn't address a myth).

Option 2: Students bring in "relationship advice" obtained from advice columns/articles in popular men's or women's magazines. Working in groups, students look for stereotypes of men or women in the articles, evidence that is consistent or inconsistent with research on gender differences in relationships, and are then asked to determine whether these articles discourage healthy psychological development of men and women and the success of heterosexual relationships.

Option 3: I play a 20 minute recording from the Chicago Public Radio program "This American Life". The program interviews several psychologists who are researching what makes relationships work - studying both heterosexual couples and gay/lesbian couples. The researchers interviewed during the course of the program are cited multiple times within the relationship chapter in the textbook. The program includes recordings of interactions between couples and researchers' comments on how these interactions may or may not predict the likelihood of divorce. The impact of gender differences in communication styles and the impact of these differences on relationships are also discussed. This recording is used to launch into a broader discussion of what makes relationships "work", and how/why gay and lesbian relationships might be different from heterosexual relationships.


Option 1: Speakers from Loyola's student group, "The Rainbow Connection," come to class and speak on issues surrounding the development of gender identity among GLBT youth. Specifically, they address how being gay/lesbian has altered their perceptions of what it means to be masculine or feminine. They also speak to students about the heterosexist bias they often encounter. Students are encouraged to turn in anonymous questions for me to give to the speakers before the presentation. Of course, they are also encouraged to ask questions during the presentation. I give students the opportunity to complete an alternative assignment should they have serious objections to attending this discussion. However, I have never had anyone take me up on this offer. Instead, attendance is usually perfect or near perfect on this day, and some students even bring friends or roommates.

Option 2: I play a recent MTV documentary: "Fight for your rights: The double standard in sexuality". This is a very modern, pop-culture infused take on how a double standard still exists in this culture when it comes to sexual behavior. After showing the video, the class works in groups to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the documentary, and any biases it appeared to have.


Option 1: Students are shown an advertisement from a recent technology magazine. This ad shows a woman pushing a man (sexually) down onto a desk in an office. The copy reads "Our new LCD monitor gives you more room to work" (implying that one's desktop can now be used for alternative activities). Students are asked to discuss the following questions: Whose office is this? Who is the boss? How can you tell? How do you think most men respond to this ad? Most women? Why the difference? What would you think of this ad if the roles were reversed (i.e. a man was pushing a woman onto a desk)? These questions are used to launch into a broader discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace and gender differences in terms of defining harassment.

Option 2: Wal-Mart stores are now being sued for gender-based discrimination in hiring practices, promotions, and pay. Students are shown a chart from a recent newspaper article comparing the salaries of men and women at Wal-Mart in different occupational categories along with the percentage of each job category that is male or female. Students discuss whether they believe this chart is evidence of gender-based discrimination. (If they do not, they are asked what type of evidence they would need to see to be convinced that a company was practicing illegal discrimination against women.) This discussion often leads to many students suggesting that the women at Wal-Mart just weren't working as hard or were not as smart as the male employees. This is used to launch into an exploration of research-based findings about gender differences and careers along with myths about working women.

Mental Health

Option 1: Students are asked to work in groups to compile a list of hypotheses to explain the consistent finding that women are more often diagnosed with depression than men. They are asked to evaluate and rank their hypotheses in terms of plausibility.

Physical Health

Option 1: Students are given a chart detailing the top ten causes of death for both men and women in the U.S. They work in groups to generate hypotheses explaining any differences or similarities seen between these two lists. This leads to a discussion of how lifestyle and behavioral factors, along with gender-role socialization, have an impact on the health-related behaviors of men and women.