Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Gender Representation in English and Arabic Foreign Language Textbooks in Iran: A Comparative Approach

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Gender Representation in English and Arabic Foreign Language Textbooks in Iran: A Comparative Approach

Article excerpt


Official statistics from several resources in Iran indicate that female enrollment and achievement in Iranian universities has recently exceeded that of male students (Rezaei, 2012). Is this phenomenon (females' academic achievement) due to an enhancement in females' education or a positive discrimination in favor of them? Are there any positive improvements in the way women are depicted in Iranian textbooks after the Islamic revolution in 1995?

Textbooks have been used by researchers as a tool to study cultures and, particularly, to investigate gender roles in different cultures (Moore, 2007). In Iran, gender roles are especially important because of the ideological influence of gendered politics and religion in the local Iranian educational system. This study investigates how gender roles are represented in Iranian EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and AFL (Arabic as a Foreign Language) textbooks, and tries to identify micro and macro factors that may contribute to depictions of gender in Iranian textbooks.

Gender discrimination is, to a large extent, a social phenomenon with roots in social structures, social attitudes, and ideologies. Psychologists believe that gender identification starts 1 2 very early (about age 2) in human life (Yelland, 1998). Social roles are normally learned through socialization which starts at home, and then continues in school and within the larger society (Davis & Wills 2010).

Textbooks are an important element in students' gender role education because students use them both in school and at home (Hartman & Judd, 1978; Powell & Garcia, 1985; Bazler & Simonis, 1990; Ferree & Hal, 1 1990; Moore, 2007). According to Riazi (2003), "textbooks are considered the next important factor in the second/foreign language classroom after the teacher" (p. 52). Furthermore, due to students' trust in their textbooks the influence of textbooks can be much stronger than words they hear from their parents or teachers. According to Porreca (1984), this is particularly true of younger learners who tend not to question what they read and trust the printed word more than adults.

The important issue here is that many children may think whatever comes in their textbooks (e.g., gender roles and stereotypes) is a reflection of socially acceptable or socially desirable viewpoints. Textbooks as good representatives of any curriculum are, perhaps, the most tangible and publicly accessible resources that can "easily lend themselves to objective investigations" (Amalsaleh, Sajjadi, & Yarmohammadi 2006, 11).

Therefore, investigating the content of textbooks is important and researchers have worked on gender roles in textbooks of different countries (Hartman & Judd, 1978; Porreca, 1984; Gupta & Yin, 1990; Cerezal, 1991; Kanamaru, 1998; Yen, 2000; Harashima, 2005; Chick, 2006; Moore, 2007). In Iran, there have been a few research studies on textbooks. The educational system in Iran is highly influenced by the government with increasing control over textbooks' content to comply with governmental policies, and the government's political and religious agendas. Islam is the official religion of the country and according to Moghissi (2008); Islam is not a matter of personal spiritual choice but rather a legal and political system. Therefore, it is important to review the literature on Iranian textbooks to explore how gender roles, are reflected in Iranian textbooks. It is also important to know how these roles have changed since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and the implementation of new policies and revised curriculum.

Studies on Iranian Textbooks

The following literature review shows how textbook content in Iran has changed since the beginning of the 1979 Islamic Republic.

The first study in this regard was conducted just one year after the revolution. Touba (1987) analyzed several elementary-level textbooks and reported that the books portrayed only men in most economic activities traditionally performed by both sexes (for example, shopkeeper/salesperson or librarian). …

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