5 — (Re)membering men and women: Representations of gender
The Macquarie Dictionary defines:
- the noun member as ‘each of the persons composing a society, party, community or other body’
- the verb remember as ‘to recall to the mind by an act of effort or memory or to bear in mind’.
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:
- Who is the audience? How do you know?
- Who might feel excluded or left out by this text?
- How does the author of the text use image and dialogue to position viewers?
- Is either gender dominant?
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:
- Why Jude Law?
- Which male physical attributes are emphasised in this advertisement? How does this happen?
- What impact might this representation of maleness have on its target audience?
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:
- observe gendered language in their lives and the texts they encounter
- explore how gendered language might influence audiences and suggest possible reasons for this
- develop a hypothesis about the relationship of language, text and response
- collect evidence (from texts and general experience) and test the responses of students in class to these examples, recording their responses to specific words, images and attitudes
- create a poster to present to the class, using the Instructions for creating a poster.
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:
- What re-membering does this poem suggest for women?
- How does the use of gendered language in this poem affect your response?
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:
- Where else have I seen this?
- How else has this been shown?
- That’s like ...
- What if?
As a class, the students debate the question:
How are men and women (re)membered in language and why does it matter?