Tolerance: Gender Issues

Breaking Professional Barriers


Key Staff

Primary instructor

Key Skills

Life and Career Skills: Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
Creative Thinking: Creativity and Innovation


The professions of reporter, pilot, doctor, or lawyer are no longer thought of as the exclusive domain of men. In this lesson, students research how professions such as nursing, clerking, and teaching have changed gender dominance over the past 150 years in the United States. They identify some pioneers who broke professional barriers and explore new opportunities that could open up in the future. The power of advertising in both print and video is discussed. In a culminating activity, the students create a scene, an ad, or a poster to recruit people into nontraditional jobs.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify professions associated with certain genders
  • Discuss historical changes in gender dominance in certain professions
  • Identify and research gender role-breaking pioneers
  • Write a report on an individual who broke gender roles
  • Select a profession that has not broken the gender bias
  • Discuss how print and video advertisements try to persuade its audience
  • Illustrate a recruiting poster, ad, or scene for the profession to attract gender role breakers

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Arts Inclusion

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection
  • Research

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • DVD Player
  • VCR
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should familiarize themselves with the history of gender and employment in the U.S. using these sources:


  • Bullard, Sara. Teaching Tolerance. New York: Main Street Books/Doubleday,1996.
  • Colman, Penny. Girls—A History of Growing Up Female in America. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2000.
  • Head, Judith. America's Daughters—400 Years of American Women. Los Angeles: Perspective Publishing, 1999.
  • Keenan, Sheila. Scholastic Encyclopedia of Women in the United States. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1996.
  • Thomas, Marlo et. al. Free to Be You and Me. New York: Running Press, 2002.


Prior Student Knowledge

Students who have grown up in the U.S. will inherently have certain ideas about/understandings of gender and employment. They should understand “gender” as a concept and recognize that, throughout history, gender has been used as a way to categorize and discriminate in the professional realm.

Students should understand what “tolerance” means.

Physical Space



Small Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual impairments or disabilities and/or ELL students may need modified handouts or texts.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Select a boy and a girl to read, "The Southpaw," by Judith Viorst in Free To Be…You and Me. The dialogue is written in the form of torn notes passed between a girl who wants to pitch on a baseball team and the boy who won't let her until all the boys abandon him.

2. Ask the students if there were any times in their lives when they wanted to play a game, buy something, or do something and were told, "That's not what boys/girls do."

Build Knowledge

1. Explain how things have changed for people in a variety of professions over the years. Give examples from your childhood and your parents’ childhood. For example, since "The Southpaw" was written in 1972, girls are now allowed to play in Little League Baseball teams. In the 1940s and early 1950s, women played baseball professionally. In the 1996 Olympic Games, the U.S. Women's Team won the Gold Medal, but today, there are no plans for a women's professional baseball league.

2. Write the following words on the board:

  • Scientist
  • Secretary
  • Nurse
  • Clerk
  • Athlete
  • Elementary school teacher
  • Writer
  • Doctor
  • Lawyer
  • Artist

3. Survey the class to see whether the students think of a certain gender when they read the above words. Discuss the results and ask why certain jobs made them think of a particular gender.

4. Distribute the Vocabulary handout located within the Resource Carousel and discuss the definitions. Explain that many professions have changed over the years. Ask the class if they would be surprised to find out that 150 years ago, these were considered men's professions.


1. Have students research and write a report on people who broke through gender biases. Distribute the Research Topics handout located within the Resource Carousel. The handout contains some general background information on the change in gender roles in certain professions over time, examples of women in a variety of professions, and suggestions for research topics. You may use it in class, have the students do independent research on each of these professions, or use the summaries as guides for more research for the students. Alternatively, you may wish to write the names of the professions on strips of paper and hand them out to individual students or a group of students. Have students write a report on what they researched. Allow at least one class period for research and another to finish the report and prepare it for presentation.

2. After students research and report on the gender role-breakers and gender issues in general, have the students brainstorm a list of professions that seem to be male-dominated or female-dominated. List students' ideas on the board. Create a Venn diagram to show professions that are stereotypically male, stereotypically female, or gender-neutral.

3. Have the students look at classified employment ads in the newspaper or magazines. Also have them look at posters used to recruit workers (a good example is the famous Rosie the Riveter poster emblazoned with "We Can Do It!"). They may also view commercials that solicit job applicants (such as military recruitment commercials). Ask students to consider the following questions as they examine the ads:

  • What catches the eye?
  • What would persuade someone to come to work for that company?
  • Do the ads look attractive?
  • Are people happy, serious, or having fun?
  • What qualifications do you need to work for that company, in terms of education, skills, etc.?

4. Divide the students into small groups and explain that they will be creating a poster, a scene, or an advertisement recruiting nontraditional workers. (For example, an auto mechanic is usually thought of as a man, so students might design an ad that would encourage a woman to train for the job. Conversely, they might design an ad for a day care center recruiting male workers.) Make sure you discuss with students what exactly would enhance the presentation, composition, and persuasiveness of their ads. You may wish to create some sample ads that are not effective in order to show students what NOT to do.


1. Give the students at least two class periods to create their scene, poster, or advertisement.

2. When the students have completed their work, the posters and ads should be presented in front of the class and then displayed around the room.

3. Have students fill out a Self Assessment sheet located within the Resource Carousel.


Assess the student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade 5-8 Theater Standard 1: Script writing by the creation of improvisations and scripted scenes based on personal experience and heritage, imagination, literature, and history

Grade 5-8 Theater Standard 2: Acting by developing basic acting skills to portray characters who interact in improvised and scripted scenes

Visual Art

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 1: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 3: Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas

National Standards in Other Subjects



Mary Beth Bauernschub
Original Writer

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

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