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Language and Gender Exercises

The following discussion offers suggestions for language and gender exercises
appropriate for an introductory course.  The discussion took place on WMST-L in
May 2008.  For additional WMST-L files available on the Web, see the
WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Tue, 20 May 2008 11:58:16 -0400
From: kmiriam <kmim AT earthlink.net>
Subject: gender and language exercise?

does anyone have a fun gender and language exercise that you do in intro

thanks in advance,
Kathy Miriam
kmim AT earthlink.net
Date: Tue, 20 May 2008 12:02:42 -0700
From: Cynthia Fortner <clfortner2004 AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: gender and language exercise?
Hi Kathy, and the list,
 I have asked students in a variety of classes, Women's Studies and otherwise,
to write down a list of 20 total items: 10 a student self-identifies as
feminine, and 10 s/he self-identifies as masculine.  Then we talk them through
the next class time, particularly with the interest in looking at, pointing
out, and questioning the linguistic instantiation of gender-defined,
socially-sanctioned roles and expectations.  I've even had students create
posters or mural work as a class of the discoveries--and I mean big posters,
big murals, etc., with paint, ink, fabric, glitter glue, and this seems to be
where students confront color-defined gendered roles, expectations, and even
activities also.

 There are always surprises.  And we launch from these "surprise" revelations,
often of "border workers" who are quite comfortable with appearing to
contradict "expectations."  I get  the term "border workers" from a great essay
of participant-observer research in elementary schools that looks at the
defining of gender roles of "boys" and "girls" in the elementary school
environment.  Border workers are  those who refuse, for example, to sit at
all-girl or all-boy lunch tables, recess games, and such, and those who, in so
doing, are accepted by the "opposite" group without challenge, teasing, or
marginalization.  A great article.  I'll get the exact title and pass it on.
 All the best,
 Dr. Cynthia Fortner, PhD
 Purdue University
Date: Tue, 20 May 2008 15:41:16 -0400
From: Jeannie Ludlow <jludlow AT BGNET.BGSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: gender and language exercise?
Hi all,
I like to use the Bem sex role inventory in my classes. Here's a link for it
froma  Northeastern Illinois faculty member's page:

The inventory lists 60 traits and asks students to rate themselves. I use it

I divide the students into small groups and give each group a "focus"; they
then find the ten words on the sex role inventory list that are most often
culturally associated with that focus. For example, one group is "President"
and the students in that group should find the ten words we in the U.S. most
often associate with the President. The focuses I've used include (in no
particular order): femininity, masculinity, wealth, poverty, President,
teacher, mother, father, minister, athlete. Each group writes their focus
and their ten terms on the board, and then we compare the lists. Usually
(not always), the lists reveal similarities and commonalities between
wealth, the President, athlete, and masculinity and commonalities between
poverty, teacher, minister, and femininity. These commonalities, then, allow
us to discuss how masculinity and femininity, while certainly associated
with different biological systems, also get used as measures of conditions
and vocations.

An interesting aside: just this last school year, for the first time, there
were a lot more terms generally associated with "femininity" on the list for
"President." One class in the Fall insisted that the most important trait
for a President of the U.S. would be compassion--and they argued quite
passionately about this, even when my teaching assistant suggested that
"leadership" might be more important.

Peace, all,
Jeannie Ludlow, Ph.D.	jludlow AT bgnet.bgsu.edu
Undergraduate Advisor
Women's Studies		Spring, 2008, office hours:
228 East Hall		M 9:30-11:30 am
Bowling Green State U	M 1:30-4:30 pm
Bowling Green OH 43403	R 11:00 am - noon
Date: Tue, 20 May 2008 15:57:29 -0400
From: Liat Ben-Moshe <lbenmosh AT MAXWELL.SYR.EDU>
Subject: Re: gender and language exercise?
I teach Sociology of gender, but think it is applicable here as well.
For the day assigned as 'gendered language' I ask my students to bring to class
songs that have something to do with gender and/or sexuality. They can bring
the actual songs (we usually don't have time to listen to more then 4-5) and
the lyrics. Song lyrics are usually easy to find online or from the CD jacket.
In class, I divide them into small groups (my class size is usually over 30).
Each group picks one song (they develop the criteria for choosing, usually it's
a song they find of interest, or one they all know etc.) and then they analyze
it in depth. First, they analyze the language chosen and the possible reasons.
Then, the general context and content of the song. Finally, i ask them to
analyze the cultural assumptions conveyed in the songs (the ideological stance
behind it, what social expectations does is produce or reproduce, does is
subvert or resist any cultural norms about gender, sexuality etc.).
I realize this is more of a sociological exercise then a pure linguistic one,
but language is so prominent in any discourse analysis, and this is a fun way
to make students think about sociological and feminist concepts in their
everyday lives.

Students usually bring songs from a variety of genres, depending on their own
musical taste, which helps dispel some racist and other myths about which
genres are more misogynistic (it seems they all are..). Besides the
misogynistic, sexist and homophobic undertones of many songs, some song choices
that are brought up are more nuanced (such as songs by Pink, No Doubt or Dude
looks like a lady by Aerosmith). Some are parodies that subvert gender binaries
and traditional gender roles in interesting ways.
I know I always learn from this exercise myself, despite thinking i am immersed
in the world of pop culture and music, there are always surprises...

I couple this exercise with various readings, such as:
Richardson, Laurel "Gender Stereotyping in the English Language", In Feminist
Frontiers, 6th edition.
Lyman, Peter "The Fraternal Bond as a Joking Relationship: A Case Study of the
Role of Sexist Jokes in Male Group Bonding" in Kimmel, Michael and Michael
Messner, Men's Lives, 6th edition.
Kleinman, S. (2002). Why sexist language matters. Qualitative Sociology, 25(2),
Williams, Sarah, "A Walking Open Wound", Emo Rock and the "Crisis" of
Masculinity in America", in Freya Jarman-Ivens (editor) Oh Boy!, Masculinities
and popular music
Hawkins, Stan, "(Un)justified: Gestures of Straight- Talk in Justin
Timberlake's Songs" in Freya Jarman-Ivens (editor) Oh Boy!, Masculinities and
popular music

Hope this helps

Liat Ben-Moshe
Sociology & Disability Studies
302 Maxwell Hall
Syracuse University
Syracuse, NY 13244
lbenmosh AT maxwell.syr.edu

Beyond Compliance (BCCC)
Date: Tue, 20 May 2008 14:03:45 -0700
From: Chris Wilson <christwilson AT HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: gender and language exercise/borderwork
Dr. Cynthia Fortner wrote:

"I get the term "border workers" from a great essay of participant-observer
research in elementary schools ..."

Barrie Thorne uses the term "borderwork" in _Gender Play: Girls and Boys in
School_ (see p 64 for definition). A preview of the book is available through
Google Books:


--Chris Wilson Simpkins
cwilson AT sfsu.edu
Date: Thu, 22 May 2008 00:28:33 -0600
From: Joshua Raclaw <Joshua.Raclaw AT COLORADO.EDU>
Subject: Re: gender and language exercise?
In my language and gender sections, I usually have the students split into
groups and reduplicate (in varying degrees) parts from the studies in these two

Cameron, D. (1992) "'Naming of Parts': Gender, culture and terms for the penis
among American college students", American Speech  67.3: 364-79.

Sutton, Laurel A. (1995). "Bitches and skankly hobags: The place of women in
contemporary slang." In Kira Hall & Mary Bucholtz, eds., Gender articulated:
Language and the socially constructed self. New York: Routledge. 279-296.

I also have them think up and discuss examples of gendered forms of semantic
change in the English language (e.g. how the meanings of binary terms like
master/mistress or governor/governess has changed in gendered ways, the
changing use of gratuitous modifiers in terms like male nurse or female doctor,


Joshua Raclaw - PhD student
Department of Linguistics
Culture, Language & Social Practice
Women and Gender Studies
University of Colorado at Boulder
Date: Fri, 23 May 2008 00:06:54 EDT
From: Anne D'Arcy <CoonHollow AT AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: gender and language exercise
We study Kleinman's argument in "Goodbye, You Guys" (you can google it) and
then go out in teams into the community to find the phrase used in restaurants,
classrooms, etc.   When we do, we either leave the card Kleinman's essay
refers to, or we engage the offenders in a friendly dialogue, recording the
results and reporting back in class.   It's one of the most wildly successful
popular exercises I've tried.   Even the students who disagree with Kleinman
enjoy it.

Anne D'Arcy, Ph.D.
Philosophy Dept.
Cal State University, Chico

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