“Men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” It’s a well known phrase in the USA, and it does a pretty good job of demonstrating how America views genders; as a binary.
You either are a man, and embody all of the things that society deems as masculine. Spoiler alert: you also MUST have been born with penis.
Or you are woman, and embody all of the things that society deems as feminine. Spoiler alert: must be in possession of a vagina from birth.
And everything in American society revolves around these two genders and how you should act once placed in one box or the other. This is also true for language education. In language education it is generally assumed that girls are just better learners of language than boys. It’s claimed that this is even seen in L1 acquisition where girls end up producing speech and language earlier than their male counterparts. Supposedly, all this is due to physiological differences in brain structure.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s all a load of hooey. Why? Well, I believe that the whole entire idea of gendered education is based off of the false notion sex = gender and is therefore a harmful.
As a language learner who has always struggled to fit into one box or the other, the topic of gender and language education has always piqued my interest. I’m a woman, but I’ve always related better to men. However, I love language. So…. Does my love of language really just boil down to what’s in my pants? I want to find the facts, something that science backs, evidence that shows I am not some reflectionless monster terrorizing the norm. I want to arm myself with this knowledge to help my future language students fight off their potential demons as well.
So let’s break it down. Here are a few of my arguments and findings so far:
It’s a common misconception that girls are better at language because they are more right hemisphere dominant, as opposed to boys, who are more left hemisphere dominant.
BUT actually the brain is more like a mosaic, with male-like and female-like features unpredictably mishmashed together all over the brain .
Another common misconception? That there’s men/boys and women/girls and nothing in between. If you are born with a vagina, you are a girl and you act like one. If you are born with a penis, you are a boy and guess what? You better act like one. Now, if this were true, how do we explain transgender, intersex, and genderqueer kids? How do they fit into the language education system? Humans are amazingly complex, and to guess at a student’s language capabilities simply by their genitalia seems like a gross oversimplification.
Lastly, regardless of what you teach, it’s a good idea to allow for students to express themselves and celebrate their diversity through your class. Social Justice Teaching sounds scary given the current negative views on social justice warriors, but is a great tool for allowing your students to feel welcome and engaged in your classrooms. We might not be able to change how people view gender overnight, but if you can get your students thinking critically about and engaging with the idea of gender while also learning a new language, overtime that has the potential to be world changing.