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Learning Gender Roles: Boy/Girl Gender Socialization Exercise

Objectives:

This activity continues self-reflective processes as participants write and share short reflections about how their gender identities were informed through childhood messages about what it meant to be a boy or a girl (also adaptible for race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, religion, and other identifiers). This activity can be used to introduce a discussion on gender socialization and oppression, setting the groundwork for maintining a focus on talking about issues from one's own experience instead of their perceptions of the experiences of "those people."

Preparing and Assigning:

Ask participants to write a short (1 - 2 page) reflective piece on their childhood memories and experiences which helped shape their gender identities and expressions. (You may need to assign this during a meeting or two prior to when you want to facilitate a conversation about it.) Ask them to address what messages they received as children about what it meant to be a "boy" or a "girl." Also, ask them to discuss who sent those messages (parents, teachers, coaches, other kids, etc.). Be clear that this is not to be an academic piece, but a reflective effort regarding their own experiences.

Facilitator Notes:

In order to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to share her or his story, break into diverse small groups of 8-10 if necessary. Give participants the option either to read their pieces or to share their pieces and reflections from memory. Ask for volunteers to share their stories.

Questions to facilitate a discussion after everyone has shared:

  1. Have you ever systematically considered how you developed your gender identity?
  2. How are your gender identity and expression still informed or affected by your experiences growing up?
  3. What messages do you send to others regarding what it means to be a "boy" or a "girl" or a "man" or a "woman"?
  4. How did (has) your schooling play into your understanding of what it meant (means) to be a boy or a girl or a man or a woman?
  5. Have you ever been ridiculed or denied an opportunity for doing or saying something that others didn't consider "masculine" or "feminine" enough? How did that make you feel? How did you react? How did it affect your life beyond that single incident?
  6. Have you ever ridiculed someone else for doing something you didn't consider "masculine" or "feminine" enough?
Points to remember:
  1. Because some individuals will include very personal information, some may be hesitant to read their work, even in the small groups. It is sometimes effective in such situations for facilitators to share their pieces first. Consider sharing your piece when you give this assignment. If you make yourself vulnerable, others will be more comfortable doing the same.
  2. Be sure to allow time for everyone to be able to speak, whether reading their poems or sharing them from memory.
  3. You might need to begin by differentiating between gender "identity" and gender "expression" if you haven't done so already.

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