Gender Switch for Gender Equality

I teach English, but I have noticed that many of my students (mostly teenage boys) have very traditional ways of thinking when it comes to girls or women.I prepare my students for the baccalaureate exam, where they have to be able to express their opinions on different familiar topics (family, friends, healthy food, bullying etc), so we do a lot of talking and arguing during the English classes. I usually just give them the idea and I let them find for or against arguments- they contradict each other a lot, so they do all the work, basically. But when it comes to the role of the woman in society…

…Most of them consider that it is the woman who should do the cooking in the house, she should raise the children, she should wash the dishes, she should do the laundry, she should clean the house… and yes, she should also have a job, if possible. This is what gender equality means to them- the women having the right to have a job. And not just any job, but jobs „for women”: shop assistant, cook, cleaning lady, nurse, tailor, secretary, teacher etc.

It makes me very sad to see how undevelopped this mindset is, especially for teenage boys- the future possible leaders of this country. It is not normal to discriminate women from such a young age and to be sure that this is the right way to think! I have been studying Gender Studies at the university in Timișoara and I cannot accept the idea of doing nothing when I see such misconceptions. We already live in a country where domestic violence is considered rightful and the tolerance for other nationalities is almost zero.

It is not a good idea to raise children who are guided by the same principles as their elders and who see the role of the woman in society as being only that of bearing and raising children, cooking and cleaning the house. This is what the Ancient Greeks believed, but times have changed since then!

I decided to try to teach my students gender equality by using some materials that I had found on the internet- two „modernised” fairy tales in which the main characters are no longer female, but male. A gender switch. The first material was a Disney-like film called „Cinderfella”. It was based on the original story of Cinderella, but the main character was a boy, Cinderfella. The step sisters from the original story became step brothers, the godmother became a godfather and so on. All the male/female roles have been switched. Even the Prince became a Princess. The second material was also a short animated film- Bropunzel. Based on the story of Rapunzel, the main character was a boy with long beard, who was locked in a tower and was saved by a Princess who fell in love with his voice.

I designed a lesson plan, in which we first discussed the main features of a fairy-tale and then I suggested that they should „modernise” or „upgrade” their favorite fairy tale by changing something in it – the time frame, the scenery or the gender roles. „What do you mean by that?” they asked me. And this was the perfect moment to play the two short animated films, as examples. Of course, the fact that we were having online schooling also helped, because I couldn’t have done that in the classroom, without a projector or a smartboard(which I do not have).

They watched the films and they laughed, at first. Then, they started thinking, with the help of some guiding questions from me: „Is it such an absurd idea to have a woman who saves a man? Why?” „Can you think of a situation when a man was saved by a woman?” „ Do you think that there are other stories that could be gender reversed? Which ones?” „Do you think that Bropunzel was not a courageous man just because he was saved by a Princess?” „Do you think that women cannnot ride horses or be brave?” With every answer to each question, my students were accepting more and more easily the idea that women can do many things that men do and that men can do many things that women can do.

It is not impossible to find tasks or jobs that can be done by both men and women. So why restrict them and pretend that they are for men only? To set the homework, I asked them to think about other stories in which a gender switch could be done. They had many ideas, one of which was a male Snow White with seven female dwarfs… So I allowed them to work on their ideas at home.

The idea of updating or modernising fairy tales is not a new one, but I think that it is much better if we can also teach a gender equity lesson while doing it. We need to educate these youngsters and teach them the European values, teach them to become modern citizens of this world, with an open mind and an open soul. They need to be less traditional and more progressive, they need their tolerance level to be raised and to be more aware of the discrimination done against people of different skin colour or people of different religions. It our job, as teachers, to fill in the education gaps that still exist in our students.

You can find the modernised fairy-tales here:





prof. Anca Simina Bărcuteanu

Colegiul Tehnic Anghel Saligny, Baia Mare (Maramureş) , România
Profil iTeach:

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