Increasing awareness about gender stereotypes

by sharing multiple perspectives and initiating conversation

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Gender stereotypical beliefs play a role in everyone’s life, whether people impose personal and subjective norms on themselves, or judge others based on these existing beliefs. Gender stereotypes present a limited and inaccurate representation of reality’s complexity and have the ability to evoke pain and backlash. The goal of this master’s graduation project was to increase awareness about gender stereotypes and the thereof deriving effects on people. This project is part of a double degree program, in which the masters ‘Design for Interaction’ and ‘Communication Design for Innovation’ are combined. This meant that the objective was applied in two contexts with both a specific target group, namely Dutch high school students (aged 15 to 18) and academic professionals working within the TU Delft.

Through a non-systematic literature research further understanding of gender stereotypes and the resulting impact on people was achieved. In modern western society, gender is generally viewed from a binary perspective. But gender isn’t a category with only two variables. The interpretation of gender is socially constructed, and can differ per culture and can change overtime. Gender stereotypes are learned from a young age, children as old as 18 months will start to comprehend them. This goes to show that gender stereotypes play an influential role during a large part of people’s lives. It also indicated that gender stereotypical beliefs are deeply rooted and unconscious, which makes challenging them harder.

Additional to literature research, empirical research activities were performed. These existed of a mini experiment in which eight participants were asked about concepts related to gender, three interviews with academic professionals and an exploration of currently available informative media for teenagers. The conclusions drawn from these empirical research efforts are as follows. When aiming to increase awareness, it does help to encounter multiple perspectives on gender and gender stereotypes. Additionally, it is beneficial to be able to communicate with others about the matter. The created design concepts aim to do just that and should provide the target groups with guidance in the process of increasing awareness about gender stereotypes.

In the context of high school students, the design concept created is a teaching method. In five classroom sessions teenagers are brought in contact with different perspectives on gender, can have conversations about the topic with peers and are guided in reflection. Between the lessons the students work on an individual assignment. To support the teenagers in their learning efforts, different teaching materials were created. These are for example games, a quiz, worksheets and subject inspiration-cards. For the academic professionals a dialogue intervention was designed. During a ten step process these professionals are guided in sharing a personal experience related to gender stereotypes. The aim is to establish conversation amongst each other about these stories. The steps of the process were based on a conversation with a dialogue expert, the method of appreciative inquiry and a three-step model from awareness to action. Based on initial evaluation both design concepts seem to be promising in achieving their objectives. Further testing could help to get an even better understanding of the usefulness of both concepts and could lead to design iterations.