Heightening Our Awareness of Gender Stereotypes

By Constantinou, Phoebe | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, January-February 2008 | Go to article overview

Heightening Our Awareness of Gender Stereotypes


Constantinou, Phoebe, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


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Little attention has been paid to gender bias in the last few years. This may be attributable to the fact that many educators may feel that gender barriers and inequities are things of the past (Sadker & Zittleman, 2005; Zittleman, 2006). Furthermore, some educators consider that gender bias exists only for females (Sadker & Zittleman, 2005). The passage of Title IX (1972) resulted in some gender equity and expanded opportunities for females, leading many to consider the gender issue not pertinent in contemporary education. Statistical reports indicate that more than 40 percent of athletes are females (NCWGE, 2002) and that they outscore males on most standardized achievement tests. These data give the impression that females now "rule" in schools (Gurian & Stevens, 2005; Sommers, 2000). As a result, great concerns have been raised among the educational systems of England, Australia, and California about male underachievement (CPEC, Report 2006; Yates, 1997; Warrington, &Younger, 2000).

Along with the increase in females' achievements, it is argued that they still feel alienated from traditional male subjects; career aspirations are gendered; males dominate classroom environments; and some teachers have lower expectations of females (Warrington &Younger, 2000). Notions such as those stated above clearly suggest that gender bias and stereotypes still impact students' lives in spite of their gender identity (boys or girls). Re-addressing the gender issue and seeking ways to better understand the phenomenon is a crucial step toward educational equity.

Since gender is a socially constructed issue, females and males are socialized into their gender role expectations in unseen, subtle ways (Spencer, Porche & Tolman, 2003). Historically, the moment an infant is identified as male or female, the socialization process of gender identity begins with the simple choice of dressing the infant boy in blue and infant girl in pink (in most countries). By the time children go to school, they have a good understanding of their genderrole expectations. Gender stereotypes seem to be more pervasive at the middle school level as students struggle to discover their personal identities.

While one can assume that most educators try to be fair and attempt to provide equitable learning opportunities for all students, it is not uncommon for them to slip into their own stereotyped attitudes and treat males and females differently. Research on gender in classroom settings (Sadker& Sadker, 1994; Sadker & Zittleman, 2005; Warrington &Younger, 2000) indicates that males are called on more frequently and given more time to answer questions. Furthermore, they are given more specific feedback about their efforts and work. While males are punished more often for their egregious behavior, females are praised for being neat and quiet.

Similar teacher behaviors have been reported in physical education classes (Lirgg, 1993; Treanor, Graber, Housner, & Wiegand, 1998). Research has shown that some physical education teachers interact differently with, and provide more corrective feedback and practice opportunities for, their male high-skilled students compared to their female and low-skilled male students. Most of the teachers were unaware of their different behavior toward the two, but even when they became aware of it they found it difficult to change (Brown, Brown, & Hussey, 1996).

This article will provide some background information regarding research on gender stereotypes in the physical education setting and its impact on students' lives. Furthermore, it will suggest some teaching strategies that could assist with developing a deeper awareness of gender stereotyped behaviors, and enable the educator to provide an even more equitable teaching environment.

What is known about Teacher-Student Interactions

Teacher-student interactions impact students' motivation level, limit off-task behavior, and increase self-confidence and self-esteem (Rink, 2006). …

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