Possibilities and Limitations of a Gender Stereotypes Intervention Program

Article excerpt


Gender stereotypes exist in society at large, and in the education system in particular. These stereotypes portray the male as the dominant person, one who works outside the home in often prestigious occupations. The female is usually portrayed as being subordinate and confined to the home (Tracy, 1987; Steitmatter, 1985). Moreover, these stereotypes reinforce the fact that females choose predominantly humanistic and domestic sciences, while males choose science and technology (Yogev & Ayalon, 1991; Clarricoates, 1978). This study addresses the important issue of how to increase the educational choices of both sexes, an issue that is being addressed worldwide. Presently, intervention is aimed at directing more girls into the more prestigious classes in high school, and directing boys to classes they currently avoid. The social benefits of such a program are obvious.

The finding of this study was analyzed with reference to the relative autonomy of schools. Only a few previous attempts at this kind of analysis have been made (Anyon, 1980; Mallea, 1989; Shamai & Coambs, 1992; Coambs, Jarry, & Shamai, 1993). The relative autonomy of education should not be limited to the financial relationship between the education system and society at large; cultural relations should be included. Broadening this concept may help clarify the power and limitations of school. Since schools are part of society at large, their effectiveness in changing norms, values, and attitudes may be questioned. This paper addresses that issue.


The school has become the arena in which many groups, organizations, and individuals try to introduce their policies, values, and beliefs. This paper reviews, in particular, interventions which attempt to change attitudes toward gender stereotypes and behavior through school programs. The focus is on the critical issue of the relative autonomy of schools; i.e., if power in relationships is determined within society as a whole, can schools be changed without changing society? (Shamai, 1987).

This research was based on a structured educational intervention program, aimed at modifying teachers' ways of interacting in the classroom in order to lessen existing gender stereotypes, and eventually to allow for more equal educational opportunities, specifically regarding students' choice of fields of study. Reviewed here are evaluations of programs designed to correct sex-role stereotyping. One study took place in Ottawa, Canada (Richer, 1988); one was in Manchester, England (Kelly, 1985); and one in the U.S.A. (Mason & Kahle, 1989). The Canadian study evaluated the 1980 Ottawa Board of Education's implementation of the call by Ontario's Ministry of Education to develop a "learning environment that is free of sex-role stereotyping" (Richer, 1988). The program at the school that was studied included several seminars on pedagogical practice, provided staff with consciousness-raising reading material on gender, increased the number of library holdings on the contribution of women to Canadian society, showed films on sex-role stereotyping to both staff and students, and promoted sports, drama, and dancing classes equally among boys and girls (Richer, 1988).

The program was begun at this school in 1980. Children in grades one to six were evaluated prior to the program in 1979 and following the program in 1986. Students were asked to draw a picture of themselves engaged in a favorite game, sport, or other activity. Results of a comparison between the 1979 and the 1986 drawings suggested a hardening rather than softening of gender-differentiated subjectivity. This is reflected in the virtual monopoly the males retained in competitive group activities. There was virtually no crossover by either sex into the spheres traditionally dominated by the other. This finding "speaks to the futility of attempting change . …