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March 1999 - Issue No. #34

Teaching Gender Issues in the EFL Classroom

by Denise Drake

Kitakyushu University, Japan

The approach I take to teaching gender issues in the EFL classroom focuses on two aspects: one is the linguistic, particularly the grammatical sense; the other is the human, cultural sense of gender. Consider for example the following riddle:

A mother and her son were driving on the highway. Suddenly a big truck crashed into their car and the mother was killed instantly. An ambulance rushed the boy to a nearby hospital. As the boy was carried into the emergency room, a nurse on duty gasped "Oh my god! What has happened to my son?!"

Who is the nurse?

The answer is, of course, the father. People trying to work out the answer to this riddle are hindered by both the grammatical and cultural senses of gender. As most nurses are women, English marks the deviation from the "norm" by adding the prefix "male."

Using EFL as a springboard, gender studies asks Japanese university students to examine the social conditions and injustices that they encounter in their own lives. Though it may be a life long lesson, ultimately I hope that students become aware that many of the limitations on and expectations of men and women are social constructs. It is my hope that they realize that in order to achieve their full potential as individuals, they may have to challenge or reject established traditional sex roles.

I teach a university English-as-a-foreign-language course entitled Women and Men in Society Today. In a 16-week semester, we look at three topics: linguistic sexism; people working in non-traditional areas; and gender and social inequality. Each unit comprises readings that introduce and inform students about the topics, data related to gender roles, speaking games that encourage fluency and critical thinking, and an end-of-unit project.

Gender Questionnaire Data Analysis

At the start of the course, all students complete a questionnaire concerning their attitudes toward gender roles. The questions correspond to the thematic units we study.

On a trip to the U.S., I gave the same questionnaire to a group of American students at Georgia State University in Atlanta. The purpose was to get my Japanese students thinking and talking about attitude differences along gender lines as well as cross-culturally. Using the survey data, I ask students basic comprehension questions such as (A) and more demanding questions such as (B) and (C) requiring them to interpret and make inferences:

(1) Which group — Japanese men, Japanese women, American men, or American women — is most neutral about family roles?

(2) Which group mentioned above probably most strongly disagrees with traditional family roles?

(3) Which group would probably be most willing to pay more taxes for quality child care facilities?

As homework, students write their own questions about the survey results, then ask these to their classmates next period. This familiarizes students with survey work and prepares them for their end-of-course project where they design, conduct, interpret, and present results of their own gender surveys.

Linguistic Sexism Mini-Presentation

This presentation project aims to get students thinking critically about how language reflects the world around them. Students (in groups of 4) are required to find two authentic examples of linguistic sexism, either in Japanese or English, and to prepare a short speech about these using a poster they design as a visual aid. Most of their examples come from newspapers, magazines, and books, but students have also presented words or expressions from job applications, university forms, the dictionary, and transcribed dialogue from TV or real life. The posters summarize their presentation explaining where they found the linguistic item and why it's sexist together with suggestions for non-sexist replacements. The posters are hung around the classroom and in the hallway. Working in pairs, one student presents their speech to students who circulate, listen, and complete a hand-out. At a half-way point, the student pairs switch and the ones who have been listening take their turns making the presentation.

Linguistic Sexism in Japanese

Names: _____________________________

For next class, you and a partner must prepare a short speech about 2 Japanese words that you think are linguistically sexist. Your report must include:
  1. an INTRODUCTION of your words;

  2. a TRANSLATION of the words;

  3. an EXPLANATION of their history;

  4. a RECOMMENDATION for a new word or to abolish the usage of this word.

EXAMPLE: shujin Chinese character for _Shujin_

  1. INTRODUCTION: Our first word is "shujin".

  2. TRANSLATION: This word means master, owner and husband.

  3. EXPLANATION: Long ago, only rich men were called "shujin" because they were the masters of many servants (cooks, gardeners, etc). At that time, wives had to obey their husbands' commands. After World War II, it became popular to call any married man "shujin."

  4. RECOMMENDATION: We think this word is sexist and that people should use the words "tsureai" or "otto".

WORD / EXPRESSION: _________________

  1. INTRODUCTION: ______________________________________________

  2. TRANSLATION: ______________________________________________

  3. EXPLANATION: ______________________________________________

  4. RECOMMENDATION: ____________________________________________

Interview: People in Non-traditional Fields

This is a chance for students to research and introduce extraordinary people to their peers as possible role models. Students (in pairs or groups of 4) collect information about their subject, either a well known person such as the astronaut Chiaki Mukai or an ordinary citizen, then use this as the basis for an interview script. Using a talk show format, one student poses as the host, and another student plays the interviewee.

The interviews can be video taped (which decreases the anxiety factor) and played in class, or performed live in front of the class. With groups of 4, the students who don't appear on camera act as cameraperson or as typist, entering 5 comprehension questions about the interview onto a hand-out given to students when they watch the video. Before showing the videos, I do pre-view activities to activate their schema, e.g. giving hints about the person they're about to see ("This American woman won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997" - Jodi Williams) or citing dialog from the interview and asking students who might say this ("What kind of changes did your family have when you quit your job to stay home?" - Steve McGrady, homemaker).

Survey of Attitudes toward Gender Roles

This Survey about Attitudes toward Gender Roles comes at the end of the course and is a chance for students to focus on topics of particular interest to them. Working in groups of 4, they write 16 closed-ended questions in Japanese and English about gender roles. I ask that they write in Japanese so that all students ask the same questions when conducting the survey amongst their Japanese peers. Once the questionnaires are prepared, the students conduct a survey of 10 women and 10 men, analyze the responses, and create an information poster that conveys their survey results. They then write five questions that ask the poster viewer to demonstrate basic comprehension, interpret the data, and make inferences about their results — much as they practiced earlier.

Although 20 people is hardly a reliable sample size, the purpose of this survey is to get students talking about gender issues with others who have not taken the course and hopefully spark a bit of reflection about how their own opinions and attitudes may have changed (or not) over the course of the class.

It's not easy to learn to look at the world around us critically. But once we do, we see everything with new eyes. What we observe may require us to change or reject notions close to our core Self. While I don't think students acquire new eyes after a 16-week gender studies course, I hope they have begun to learn a new way of thinking that will lead to a new way of looking at the world.

Suggested Readings

Casanave, C. & Yamashiro, A. (Eds) (1996). Gender Issues in Language Education. Fujisawa, Japan: Keio University SFC Campus.

Cherry, K. (1988). Womansword: What Japanese Words Say about Women. Tokyo: Kodansha.

English Discussion Society. (1996). Japanese Women Now II. Kyoto: Shokado Publishers.

Freire, P. (1990). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (M. Ramos, Trans.) New York: Continuum.

Fujimura-Fanselow, K. & Kameda, A. (Eds.) (1995). Japanese Women: New Feminist Perspectives on Past/Present/Future. New York: Feminist Press.

Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. NY: Routledge.

Schenke, A. (1996). "Not Just a Social Issue: Feminism in ESL". TESOL Quarterly. 30 155-159

Sutherland, J. (Ed.) (1994). Exploring Gender: Questions and Implications for English Language Education. Hertfordshire, UK: Prentice Hall International.

Tannen, D. (1996). Gender and Discourse. London: Oxford University Press.

Vandrick, S. (1995). "Practicing Feminism in the University ESL Class". TESOL Journal. 4 (3) 4-6.


1. Are you ____ male ____ female? 2. If you were born again, would you want to be born as the opposite sex? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 3. Do you think that women and men have equal opportunities in society? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 4. Do you think that men should make the marriage proposal? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 5. Do you think that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 6. Do you support a woman's right to keep her own family name after marrying? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 6-A. [for women] Will you keep your own family name after marrying? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know ____ Don't Plan to Marry 6-B [for men] Is it OK with you if your wife wants to keep her own family
name after marrying? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know ____ Don't Plan to Marry 7. In marriage, the husband should be the primary breadwinner and the wife should
take care of domestic responsibilities. What do you think? ___ strongly agree ____ agree ____ neutral ___ disagree ____ strongly disagree 8. Do you think that women should quit working after marrying? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 9. Do you think that women should quit working after having children? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 10. Do you support parental leave for taking care of children? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 10-A If you have children, will you take parental leave? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 11. Do you think boys should be brought up to be "manly" and girls brought up
to be "womanly"? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 12. Do you think that there are "women's jobs" and "men's jobs"? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 13. Do you think terms such as "lady lawyer" and "male nurse" are
expressions of discrimination? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 14. Do you think women should shave body hair? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 15. Do you think it's OK for men to wear earrings, to perm and color their hair,
and to use make-up and body care products? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know 16. Do you have confidence to go out into the world and make a success of your life? ____ Yes ____ No ____ Don't Know


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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
E-mail: Work Tel/Fax: 0857-31-5650