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Lesson Plan: Gender Socialization Lab/Fieldtrip


I Learning Objective(s)

This exercise explores socialization by looking at some of the ways gender is learned and reinforced by material culture. It can be done as an in-class laboratory or as an independent project outside of class.

II Rationale for Objectives

Learning goal: An appreciation for the mechanisms of socialization. We may be born male or female, but we learn how to become a man or a woman through the process of socialization.

III Materials

If the exercise is done in class, instructors can prepare kits ahead of time containing selected everyday objects such as fashion magazines, newspapers, toys, greeting cards, items of baby clothing (teen and adult clothing can sometimes work too), and children’s literature, or instructors can ask students to bring in items, or use images of the items pulled from google.Students are asked how the objects reinforce traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Using similar but gendered items in each kit works well.  Jumbo size Zip-Loc bags work well to create and distribute the kits. All of the kits listed below worked well in classroom tests.

Lincoln Logs and an Easy Bake Oven

Barbie and Ken dolls

GQ and Vogue Magazine

A Britney Spears and a Limp Bizkit CD

A picture of Elvis and a picture of Madonna and/or song lyrics from each

Men’s and Women’s deodorant.

Children’s books, such as Mother Goose

Popular music magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin.

A picture of the cast from the t.v. show Friends

A picture of the puppets of Sesame Street

A Jackie Collins and a John Grisham novel

Power Puff Girls and Sponge Bob Square Pants items

Self and Men’s Health Magazine

Advertisements for pick up trucks


IV Procedures


(1)   Introduction

Students are first asked to come up with a list of gender stereotypes--positive, negative, and neutral. If they hesitate to list stereotypes, ask them to describe traditional gender roles (i.e. “What was expected in your grandparents’ generation?”). Write what they come up with on board, making two lists: one for males and another for females.

(2)   Activity

Students break into groups of 3-5 and each group is given a kit and a discussion guide (attached) containing questions like, “What is contained in this bag? Could the items be used by either gender? What kind of gender socializing messages would a person coming in contact with these items get?” The instructor can draw student’s attention to elements like colors, active and passive characters, advertisers, and other themes if students are having a hard time getting started. Even fonts can contain socializing messages. For example, the title font of Vogue is thin and “feminine” whereas the GQ font is muscular, representing social norms or ideals of each gender.

(3)   Discussion

What kind of gender socializing messages would a person in contact with these items get? Are gender stereotypes reinforced with these materials? Where would you go if you wanted to get away from gender socializing messages?


Occasionally students complain that the items are unscientifically “cherry picked” for the “object lesson.” This presents a good jumping off point to try to identify sources of gender-neutral socializing messages from popular culture and elsewhere. Ask them to identify characters or products that are completely gender neutral. This usually proves somewhat difficult and underscores the ubiquity of gender socializing messages.

V Evaluation/Assignment

(1)  Written in-class Laboratory Exercise asking students to discuss what is in their bag.

(2)  Written independent field trip report on a visit to a department store or mall.

Supplementary Materials

Film: “1994. Toys. New York: Filmakers Library.”