Free Resources for Students and Teachers of English as a Foreign Language in China - by Paul Sparks

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Paul Sparks, Sino-Canadian International College, Guangxi University, Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for Reading Lessons...



Reading: Stereotypes and Gender Roles

Lesson Objectives: To generate discussions from issues in articles. Expression of viewpoints and opinions.

Stereotype are general ideas of a person, created without taking the whole person into account. When we stereotype a group of people, we depict all of the individuals within that group as having the same characteristics even though they are probably all very different.

People often use labels or categories to describe others, these labels can be based on such characteristics as clothing, looks, the way a person talks, or the groups to which he or she belongs. People often make assumptions about groups of people they don’t even know.

When we make assumptions about an entire group of people, those assumptions are referred to as stereotypes. When assumptions and stereotypes influence our attitudes, we may find that making a fair judgment about someone or something is difficult. This influence on judgment is called a “bias.”


  • assumption - Definition: An idea that is taken for granted but not necessarily proven. Example: "Non-Asians often make the assumption that Asians are smart."

  • bias - Definition: Attitudes or behaviors based on stereotypes of people. Example: "When we omit people of color in our history lessons, we display a bias that suggests that their contributions are not important."

  • ethnicity - Definition: A categorization of people according to shared culture, language, or geographic region. Example: "The terms “Italian” and “Irish” describe two distinct ethnic groups."

  • race - Definition: A categorization of people based on shared biological traits such as skin color, hair texture, and eye shape. Example: "One function of the U.S. Census is to count the citizens by race, which is categorized as Black, White, Latino, or Native American."

Examples of common stereotypes about Americans are Freedom, Fast Food, Cars and Highways, Television, Computer, Culture and Sport. Americans are free people living almost without any restriction. That's why we speak about the "American Way of Life".

There is probably some truth in stereotypes, but they tend to be very general. For example, it is true that America is the home of Fast Food. With enterprises like McDonald's and KFC.

English speaking countries have many stereotypes about each other:

British and Canadian thoughts on Americans...
Americans are loud, they have low intelligence, they all have guns and they are all fat.

American thoughts on the British... British are all pretentious and and look down their noses at other cultures, British use copiously large words when something more diminutive will suffice, The British are all obese from food that is either boiled or deep fried.

Common Stereotypes about the Germans include: The people like to drink beer, are always on time, unfriendly, especially in shops and supermarkets. Germans have rules, regulations and laws for everything.


What does it mean to act like a man?
(e.g., men don't cry, men are tough, men are strong, mens jobs)

What does it mean to be ladylike?
(e.g., girls are polite, girls are neat, girls are passive, womens jobs)

Where do we learn these gender roles?
(People in entertainment? Sports? Media?.)

Where do women learn these messages?
(Parents, Society.)

A stereotype confirms the belief that if you are a girl or a boy, or a woman or a man, you must perform these specific roles, and do them well. This belief takes away our personal choices in deciding our own interests and skills. It also discourages men from participating in "women's work" (such as flower arranging and child care) and it restricts women from choosing roles that are traditionally "male" (such as engineering and science).


Differences in our society are many, including age, religion, physical and mental abilities, gender, sexual orientation, income, family or social status, and physical appearance. Anyplace where differences are found leaves room for stereotypes.

Stereotypes are generalizations about people usually based on inaccurate information or assumptions rather than facts. Stereotypes do not take into account the great diversity of people within a group of people. Nor do stereotypes consider the present circumstances of the individual. Even worse, stereotypes can lead to prejudicial or discriminatory behavior.

Stereotypes are learned. Young children learn to stereotype others by the comments or behavior of their parents or other adults in their lives. Some stereotypes show up in television, music, books, school textbooks, and advertising. People may learn stereotypes by believing someone else's opinion when they haven't had firsthand experience.

What can we do to reduce or eliminate stereotypes in our lives?

1. Focus on every person as an individual.
2. Become more aware of stereotypes and how they interfere with our ability to perceive and interact with people.
3. Remember that there are more differences within a group than between groups.
4. Recognize that we're all part of many groups, none of which can totally explain or define who we are.
5. Learn to look at things from the other person's point of view.
6. Adapt a more humble, tentative attitude about the accuracy of our judgments.
7. Be willing to learn more about the culture and background of people different from ourselves.
8. Take opportunities to neutralize stereotypes when we hear them.

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