Do textbooks have a gender?

A postage stamp issued by the Government of India
Colloquium on Liberalism in India (Courtesy: Centre for Civil Society)
Courtesy: Youth Ki Awaaz
  • Gender representation of occupations
  • Roles assigned to boys/men/girls/women/both
  • Reference to customary practices
  • Weightage given to the contributions/achievements of boys/girls, men/women or both
  • Are marginalized groups and their cultures and lifestyles represented?
  • Are prejudices mentioned?
  • Does the narrative speak only of a particular caste and class?
  • Who takes the decision in the area of food, education, all money matters, health, occupation and any other?
  • Does the theme reflect diverse areas of contributions of women substantially or in a tokenistic manner?
  • How are women reflected in different domains of society in relation to family, school, workplace and society?
  • Distribution of workload by gender in a framework of fairness
  • Who performs productive activities related to production of goods and services for income generation?
  • Who performs activities related to collection of water, nursing, child care, fetching fuel wood and all activities related to household chores?
  • Who performs community activities — welfare related, organizing meetings, marriage, funeral, religious activities, neighbourhood meetings, any other? Who takes the initiative in such activities? Men/women/both
  • Who are shown as agents of change?
    1. struggle
    2. dissent
    3. movements
    4. scientific attitude/temper
    5. scientific achievements
  • Who is active (the ‘protagonist’) in the visuals? Who is passive (the ‘receiver’) in the visuals?
  • Do the exercises explore issues related to gender, class, and caste?
  • Do the exercises attempt to question power relations?
  • Do they help children to connect with their lived realities?
  • Do they promote critical thinking and problem solving skills?

Gender — is a social construct. It refers to social differences between men and women which are conceived, enacted and learnt within a complex of relationships. They vary between societies and cultures and change over time. Gender is cultural specific variable. Gender is used to analyze the roles, responsibilities, constraints, opportunities and needs of women and men in any given social context.

Gender Bias — invisiblization/underrepresentation of girls’ and women’s contributions in textual materials and in schooling processes.

Gender Inclusive — it includes activities performed by both sexes.

Gender Neutral — text mainly representing the natural habitat. Does not aim at either men or women and assumes to affect both sexes equally. Treats women, men, girls and boys as they were part of one homogenous group. Gender neutral policies do not challenge existing gender division of resources and responsibility. Avoids references to masculinity and femininity and their social and cultural associations.

Gender Stereotyping — is the assignment of roles, tasks and responsibilities to a particular gender on the basis of pre-conceived prejudices and impact of socialization processes. Gender stereotyping is portrayed in different forms of media such as films, audio visuals and audios, conversation, jokes or books, of women and men occupying social roles according to a traditional gender role or division of labour.

  • Does the textual content reflect a gender sensitive approach?
  • Is there any bias reflected towards a gender in any of the textual contents?
  • Is there equal weightage for both genders in the selection of content?
  • Are there any guidelines to the content developers with regard to gender sensitivity?
  • Is the language used by the content developers gender sensitive or does it show any gender bias?
  • Do the images, pictures or visuals used in the textual content indicate any bias towards a gender?
  • Is there adequate representation of women in the texts of history, science, technology, mathematics, language and literature?
  • Are there any statements or inputs that provoke gender bias/demean either gender in the content?
  • Are there guidelines to publishers of textual materials with regard to gender sensitivity?
  • Is there any mechanism to vet the content published by the private agencies with regard to gender sensitivity?
  • Are there any anecdotes, incidents, events and descriptions in any of the textual materials that directly or indirectly suggest bias to a gender?
  • Is the language used in textbooks gender neutral?

Excerpt from the transcript of Marina Watanabe’s video:

When we talk about a person’s sex we normally use it to refer to their biology. It’s a two-category or a binary system based on a person’s genitalia, chromosomes, and hormones that classifies people as either male or female. It’s also the social, the legal, and the medical classifications of one’s body that’s assigned at birth.

Gender is how someone identifies, and it’s something that’s ascribed to each of us at birth in relation to our bodies. When you are born you have no say in what gender you’ll be raised as. Basically, if you have a penis you’re a boy, and if you have a vagina you’re a girl. If you’re born intersex, like one out of every 2,000 people, meaning your genitalia is ambiguous or doesn’t fit the traditional definition of what we consider male or female, then immediate emergency surgery is usually performed to make your body fit one of these definitions.

However, gender is much more than that. Gender is a social category. It contains the roles, dress, behaviour, and expression expected of a person based on an arbitrary category given to them at birth. For example, the idea that women are nurturing and compassionate, whereas men are stoic and unemotional.

When we think of gender and sex, we normally think of sex as purely biological and gender as something that’s social, but even when you look at biological sex it’s not necessarily something that’s natural or essentialist. Physical characteristics like genitalia and chromosomes exist, but sex as a category is a social construction.

For example, the ancient Greeks only had a one-sex system. They viewed women as inside-out men. Flash forward to today, where doctors are slowly beginning to change their views about sex and gender and they’re starting to view intersex as a third category of classification. Because why should we force an unnecessary and irreversible surgery on intersex babies to make them conform to an inaccurate two-sex system when we can just let them figure it out as they grow up?

Also, for a system that is supposedly based on biology, it only takes a very surface level view of sex. Most of the doctors will just be like, “Hey, you have a penis. You must be a boy,” instead of taking a deeper look at chromosomal makeup. There are a lot of sex chromosome disorders that can happen that might not even be readily apparent by just looking at physical characteristics of someone’s body.

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Writer, educator and researcher

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Chintan Girish Modi

Chintan Girish Modi

Writer, educator and researcher

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