English Literature

Writing about gender roles: a few small things

Writing about the significance of gender roles at GCSE

Understanding the significance of context and then embedding relevant aspects of it within a response is something that is very difficult to teach, especially to youngsters who are yet to build much of their own context, let alone understand that of a 19th century poet. I knew that I had to tackle how my students were dealing with context, particularly the way in which they were writing about gender roles, when I kept seeing phrases like…

“Back in those days when…”

“In that era, women were not treated equally…”

“Men were in control during this time…”

I approached this with several layers of strategy and have seen a marked improvement in not only their confidence of expression, but also in the concise nature of their assertions.

Key vocabulary and phrases

As a class we discussed and developed our own vocabulary list that expresses clearly what ideas students have about gender roles from the 18th-19th century. For centuries, societies have developed and assigned different roles and codes of behaviour to men and women – much of this students understand, but struggle to express.

In pairs, students listed these roles and ideas associated with them and we then wrote them in a column on the board. We discussed how these ideas could be articulated in a more concise way. Here are some of the key words and phrases that we are now using:

Codes of behaviour
Social distinctions
Standards of masculinity and femininity
Domestic spheres
Social spheres
Modest behaviours
Moral codes of sexual purity
Men seen as ‘guardians’
Moral virtues, social graces
Double standards
Economically, educationally, legally and socially disadvantaged
The Male Gaze (an excellent article on this here).

Having completed the list, as a class, we divided the words into two columns – those we associated with women and those we associated with men. Students were asked to redraft a piece of work using the more precise terminology.

The Separate Spheres


Classroom activity: Students draw their two spheres across a whole page, slightly overlapping the middle (or, I’d suggest printing them). In each sphere, one for men, one for women, students make notes on the gender roles and expectations relevant to the texts they are studying. They can then explore how these roles and expectations are painted in the text around the edge of the spheres.

I’ve written more on the separate spheres using An Inspector Calls as an example here.

Links to Literature

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands,” Anne Elliot in Austen’s Persuasion (1818).

Giving students the opportunity to research and create a literary timeline is also a key aspect of developing confidence in their writing and ensuring that they are secure in the assertions that they make about context. Creating a timeline that has links to Literary movements and the impact of women writers on literature which maps out the ever-changing roles of both men and women in society is invaluable. This creates a strong springboard from which students can make inferences and show understanding of certain characters and themes as they read and study.

The British Library have a series of excellent pages on women and writing. I found the below particularly relevant:

Thank you for reading.

Categories: English Literature

1 reply »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s