Teaching Children to Confront Peers’ Sexist Remarks: Implications for Theories of Gender Development and Educational Practice

Abstract

Elementary-school children (81 boys, 72 girls, aged 5–10 years) in the Southwest United States were taught to challenge peers’ sexist remarks to (a) improve school climate for gender nontraditional children, (b) decrease children’s gender-typed attitudes, and (c) test hypotheses linking gender identity and peer-directed gender role behaviors. Children either practiced using retorts to peers’ sexist remarks (practice condition) or heard stories about others’ retorts (narrative condition). At pretest, children rarely challenged peers’ sexist remarks. At posttest, children’s challenges were significantly more common in the practice than narrative condition. At the 6-month posttest, data showed intervention effects had become more widespread. Behavioral changes led to decreases in gender-typing of others among girls but not boys.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the Head of St. Francis School, Barbara Porter, as well as the many students, parents, teachers, and staff at the school, who made this work possible. The authors are also grateful to Erin Pahlke, and the undergraduate students in the Gender and Racial Attitudes Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin who assisted in data collection and entry. Finally, the authors thank two anonymous reviewers who provided especially thoughtful and detailed reviews that contributed greatly to improvements in the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Rebecca S. Bigler.

Additional information

This work was supported by a grant from Teaching Tolerance. Portions of the work were presented at the Gender Development Research Conference, April 2006, San Francisco, CA. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Lindsay Lamb, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station D5800, Austin TX 78712, E-mail: llamb@mail.utexas.edu

Appendices

Appendix A

Sexist Vignettes Task

Experimenter says: We are interested in what children do at school with their friends. We are going to ask you some questions about what you would do in some situations. You have to pretend that you are really in the story and then tell me what you think you would really do in that situation. So let’s practice…Pretend that you are in school and a child in your class needs a pencil. You have four extra pencils. She asks you for a pencil. What would you do? Now pretend you are in school and you find 10 cents on the floor in the hall. No one else is in the hall. What would you do?

Great. Let’s do a few more. For each one, pretend that you are at school and the children in the story are your classmates.

Comments About Counter-stereotypic Characteristics

Male target

Pretend that Todd came to school wearing a pink shirt that he had been given by his aunt for his birthday and that his mother made him wear. At lunch that day, one of your classmates told him he was wearing a girl’s shirt. What would you do in this situation?

Female target

Pretend that Sarah got a new haircut. Her hair was cut much shorter than usual and above her ears. When she came to school the next day, one of her classmates asked her, “Why do you have a boy’s haircut?” What would you do in this situation?

Self target

Pretend that you decide to play with the boys [girls] at recess one day. Later that day, none of the girls [boys] in your class will sit with you at lunch because they say you are now a boy [girl]. What would you do in this situation?

Comparative Judgments

Male target

Pretend that Jacob wanted to learn how to do ballet. He started taking ballet classes. The girls in the class told him he would never be very good no matter how hard he practiced because girls are better ballet dancers than boys. What would you do in this situation?

Female target

Pretend that Jenny wanted to play baseball. She decided to join the baseball team. When she arrived at practice the first day, one of her teammates told her she would not be any good because only boys know how to play baseball well. What would you do in this situation?

Self target

Pretend that your class takes a fieldtrip to an old-fashioned town. Some kids get to take lessons about how to make butter and some kids get to take lessons about how to make horseshoes. Some kids tell you that you should take lessons about how to make horseshoes [or make butter] because boys are better than girls at working with metal and girls are better than boys at cooking. What would you do in this situation?

Exclusion

Male target

Pretend that a group of girls was building a sandcastle in the sandbox. Ryan wanted to help them. The girls told Ryan that he wasn’t allowed to help because the sandbox was only for girls that day. What would you do in this situation?

Female target

Pretend that a group of boys were swinging on the tire swing at recess. Amanda wanted to swing and asked the boys if she could join them. They told her she wasn’t allowed because only boys could use the swing that day. What would you do in this situation?

Self target

Pretend you are playing in the park. A group of boys [or girls] are building a clubhouse. They tell you that you cannot build with them because the clubhouse is only for boys [or girls]. What would you do in this situation?

Role Stereotyping

Male target

Pretend that Emily becomes sick during class. The teacher asks for a volunteer to take her to the nurse’s office. Rachel says that a girl should take Emily because girls are good at helping sick people. What would you do in this situation?

Female target

Pretend that Tom and Jane were talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Jane said she wanted to be the President of the United States. Tom told her that she couldn’t because only boys can be President of the United States. What would you do in this situation?

Self target

Pretend that you are helping your parents cook dinner for friends. Your dad is grilling and your mom is baking a cake in the kitchen. Your friend tells you that you are a boy [or girl] so you have to help your dad grill [help your mom bake the cake] because this is a job for boys [or girls]. What would you do in this situation?

Highlighting Gender in a Neutral Context

Pretend that your class is going to the library. Your teacher tells your class to line up boy/girl/boy/girl at the door. What would you do in this situation?

Appendix B

Means and Standard Deviations for Children’s Gender Identity and Gender-typing at Pretest

  Practice (n = 31) Narrative (n = 30)
Pretest Measures M SD M SD
Self (P/COAT-PM)
 Masculine .59 .12 .59 .10
 Feminine .69 .13 .59 .10
Other (P/COAT-AM)
 Masculine .63 .26 .60 .24
 Feminine .71 .40 .59 .10
Gender Identity
 Gender Typicality 2.84 .69 2.76 .68
 Felt Pressure 2.18 .67 2.14 .72
 Gender Contentedness 2.93 .63 2.78 .76

Note. Gender-typing of the self scores are the proportions of items that participants reported being highly interested in performing and thus scores range from .00 to 1.00. Gender-typing of other scores are the proportion of “both men and women” responses and thus scores range from .00 to 1.00. Gender identity scores range from 1 to 4, with higher scores indicating stronger endorsement of the construct.

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Lamb, L.M., Bigler, R.S., Liben, L.S. et al. Teaching Children to Confront Peers’ Sexist Remarks: Implications for Theories of Gender Development and Educational Practice. Sex Roles 61, 361 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-009-9634-4

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Keywords

  • Gender stereotyping
  • Peers
  • Bullying
  • Intervention