Avoiding Stereotypes with Gender when Teaching Sign Language
We are constantly posting tips, facts, and learning resources related to sign language and Deaf culture on our Signing Savvy Facebook Page and Twitter @SigningSavvy. Occasionally we get questions about our posts and explain them further with a followup article. This article expands on one of our Parent/Teacher Quick Tip of the Day posts from Facebook, which is also often tied to our Sign of the Day.
Each day I look at Signing Savvy’s Sign of the Day and reflect on what might be a good tip or antidote to share related to that sign or topic. As an educator and administrator, my tips are often geared towards parents and teachers. When the Sign of the Day was BEAUTIFUL, I started thinking about a lesson I once did with my students about different descriptive words. This lesson simply consisted of an activity where students would take adjectives written on index cards like strong, pretty, colorful, beautiful, smart, kind, interesting and associate them with pictures of people, animals or places. The students would then have to use them in a complete sentence.
One student in particular was sure that only girls could be beautiful. The discussion led me to teaching a lesson about “girl words” and “boy words” (the student’s title, not mine). It was amazing to me how these young children who couldn’t hear and were just learning the language, had already developed a sense of what was “the norm” as far as words used to describe the different sexes.
Think of how often you hear the word beautiful used for little girls, but very seldom with little boys. Think of how often you hear the word tough or strong used for little boys, yet not for girls. As a father, I can say I want my daughter to be just as strong as she is beautiful, and I want my son to be tough just as much as I want him to have a gentleness about him.
The lesson also led us to discuss the signs for man and woman, and girl and boy etc… and how the location of the signs on the face/head can be thought of as sexist as well. In ASL, masculine roles such as boy, father, uncle and grandfather are located at the top portion of the head, while female roles, (girl, mother, grandmother) are signed at the bottom portion of the face. This has been pointed out over the years by many as being sexiest and feeds the perception of men being the superior race to women.
It can be interesting yet important to have discussions on gender and to address stereotypes that can be found in sign language as well as life. Be careful as you address your students or children not to fall into this trap. Boys can be beautiful, sweet and kind just the same as girls can be smart and athletic and tough!
Here are some commercials that tackle gender stereotypes. These are great examples to check out and share with your students (the content of each video varies and would be appropriate for different age groups depending on the age and maturity of your students). Watching a video(s) with your students is a good way to start a lesson and engage a comprehensive discussion on gender stereotypes.
Pantene Advertisement: Labels Against Women
This video is great to make students think about language and how words and labels are sometimes unfairly assigned based on gender. (Caption Note: There are no captions in this video, however, there is no talking in it, only written messages and background music.)
Always Commercial: Like a Girl
This video makes you think about the meaning behind sayings and how they can create unhealthy gender stereotypes. (Caption Note: Remember to turn the captions on for this video.)
Verizon Commercial: Inspire Her Mind
This video focuses on the words adults use when talking to girls and the messages they send. The video says instead of just telling a girl she is pretty, “Isn’t it time we told her she’s pretty brilliant too.” (Caption Note: Remember to turn the captions on for this video.)
Time Magazine: One Login Campaign: #ILookLikeAnEngineer
This Time Magazine article: Female Engineers Are Using the Hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer To Tear Down Gender Stereotypes talks about a campaign that aims to redefine “what an engineer should look like.”