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5 — (Re)membering men and women: Representations of gender

Graphic image of a bitten apple

Above: First bite, illustration by Jan Gillbank

The Macquarie Dictionary defines:

This learning sequence explores how the language of texts positions men and women as members of society and how authors re-member people. The students consider the complexities of how cultural expectations and memory shape the way we belong, and are seen to belong, in society. Throughout the sequence the students engage in a process of experimental inquiry, exploring the effects of gendered language on readers and viewers.

Activity 1: Language and gender

Using advertising as an initial stimulus, explore how texts can position people on the basis of gender. Show the students the advertisement ‘I Bought a Jeep’ and discuss the view of men and women represented in this text. Ask the students questions such as:

Introduce the concept of objectification to the class, explaining that this happens when the external aspects of a person are excessively emphasised at the expense of a more nuanced and complex representation. Show them the advertisement for Christian Dior Homme Sport perfume for men. Ask the students questions such as:

Tell the students that through this learning sequence they will participate in a process of experimental inquiry exploring the effects of gendered language on readers and viewers. Using the Experimental inquiry worksheet, preview the process with the students, explaining that they will:

Activity 2:  Exploring representations of gender in text

In this activity the students explore how authors might wish people to be (re)membered. This poem is included in their experimental inquiry.

Remind the students of the story of Icarus, show them Bruegel’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, then read Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Mrs Icarus’ (from Carol Ann Duffy (2001) The World’s Wife). As a class, compare the different representations of Icarus in each text, analysing how the texts use language to represent Icarus. The myth focuses on the over-ambition of Icarus and Bruegel’s painting illustrates the folly of Icarus and the indifference of the world to his exploits.

Duffy’s poem comments on the stupidity of women in being attracted to such figures. Discuss how language features such as tone, diction, invective and humour are used to make this comment. Ask the students:

Activity 3:  Presenting posters

In this activity the students form small groups and present the findings from their experimental inquiry to their groups. Provide the students with cues to stimulate group discussion and develop some generalisations about their experience. For example:

As a class, the students debate the question: 

How are men and women (re)membered in language and why does it matter?