Gender Socialization and Representation in English Language Textbooks

Term Paper 2014 8 Pages

American Studies - Linguistics



Language is fundamentally considered the most powerful tool for developing, moulding, and influencing human attitude and behaviour. Generally, in an academic setting, and particularly in the practice of English Language Teaching (ELT) in Pakistan, a textbook is of vital importance. It conveys explicit and implicit ideology/message at all levels of social interaction affecting communication. In view of gender discrimination, there has not been equal treatment of male and female characters portrayed in a variety of textbooks. Recently, there has been growing interest by the researchers in careful textbook selection and materials development for English Language Teaching in Pakistan.

Over the years, textbooks in Pakistan have consistently shown a strong tendency to promote a biased mindset regarding discrimination. However, in the wake of rising crimes against women, there has been a noticeable increase in the state rhetoric regarding women’s rights and empowerment in the economic, social, and political spheres (Dawn July, 27th, 2005). The Department of English University of Sindh, Jamshoro has introduced a new English course book English for undergraduates published by Oxford University Press (OUP) 2004, for the graduates of all academic departments/institutes. In view of this perspective, it seems to be appropriate to examine the role of women being depicted by the authors and publishers in a variety of textbooks.

The book (English for Undergraduates) is a recent addition to the curriculum development. Its implementation may primarily serve academic and communicative needs of graduates studying in various disciplines. Besides being an important tool for language instruction, it also promotes sociocultural values to the youth, and is a reliable document for obtaining data regarding gender socialization. For the stakeholder and policy makers, there are specific areas of concern highlighting gender representation from different perspectives to promote a mindset already existing in a male dominated society.

Women form half of the population of the world. Under representation of women in textbooks reinforces stereotypical notions regarding subservient status of women in society, and misrepresentation is an attack on the basic human rights. It becomes a major roadblock to economic, social, and political development of the various world communities i.e. local and global. Textbook selection and evaluation, therefore assume great importance in ensuring that just and fair concepts are being conveyed to the students.

On the part of curriculum planners and syllabus developers, it is reported that a number of English courses lack equality regarding gender representation. It also seems from the studies conducted that the course designers have paid less attention on gender issues. In spite of balancing the gender roles, a large number of publishers continue the traditional practice of showing woman as an inferior person. These publications may have adverse effects on youth already experiencing gender inequality in society.

Despite representing half of the population of the world, women have generally been relegated to an inferior position in all spheres of life. Irrespective of region, race and religion, women have had to fight for being accorded the same rights and similar status as that given to men. Any form of gender discrimination is an acute denial of human rights, and a major obstacle to human development. Targeted actions aimed at empowering women and righting gender inequalities in the social and economic spheres, as well as in terms of civil and political rights must be taken alongside efforts to engender the development process. This is a tall order indeed and cannot be effectively carried out without significantly changing gender percepts and attitudes of world societies.

Literature Review

The Status of Women

Cooper 1998 attributes the start of modern feminist movement with the publication in 1963 of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in USA. The goal of feminist movement is not less than the liberation of women­­­- and, by implication, men as well- from those socially imposed limitations which restrict their ability to realize their full potential as human beings.

In 1995, a landmark U.N conference in Beijing adopted a platform seeking to establish global equality for women. After the 10th year of original conference, women are still second-class citizens in most parts of the world. As regards British context, Kelly (2000) reports that even thirty years after the first Women’s Liberation Conference in Oxford (1970) women still remain unequal at work, home and social institutions. A study conducted by Coates (1994) on women in employment reports that majority of them are either segregated or offered inferior positions.

Although, as a signatory of the UN Charter, the Pakistan Government is obliged to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has also signed and ratified the Declaration of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Unfortunately, there has been negligible progress in most of the social and economic areas of concern. According to a recent survey by United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP,2005), it is one of the top ranking countries showing the biggest gender gap in literacy between male and female ranging from 15-24 years. In the employment category, gender balance among the managerial group confirms that it is highly male dominated group in all countries in the region. According to Mansoor (2005), the plight of woman is a matter of great concern in most South Asian Countries like India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Moreover, compounding the issues of access and equity in Pakistan as reported by Mansoor, is its position as a Muslim country with traditionally patriarchal values.

Language and Gender

According to Fadl (1991), gender and its issues are doubtlessly as old as creation, the emergence of gender debate and the interest of the academia in ‘gender studies’ is distinctively modern prerogative. Gender may be pervasive without any liking or disliking. It is seen as a socially constructed attribute of an individual related to his/her sex. There are always gender differentiations in any given context where people are treated according to their sex.

Lakoff (cited in Otlowski, 2003) argues that the values and assumptions held by society are reflected through language. He was primarily concerned with the manner in which women were depicted through written and spoken forms of English. This shift of values to other cultures of the world may influence people regarding gender inequity in a society. Generally, language is regarded as a communicative agent involving gender issues and practices set in a society. Pierce (1995) makes the case that the language and social roles the learners are exposed to are crucial components of the language curriculum. Therefore, these should be carefully monitored.

Gender Representation in Language Textbooks

Gender bias is taught implicitly through the teaching resources selected for classroom practices. The use of textbooks and other materials that omit contribution of women or that stereotype gender role amalgamates biased attitude in school curriculum. On the other hand, research reveals that the use of suitable texts/materials allows students to have more gender-balanced knowledge. This initiative may develop more flexible attitude towards gender roles and may help discontinue the old trend of gender biased texts.

In 1990, researchers reported in a conference that even texts designed to it within the current California guidelines on gender and race equity for textbook adoption showed subtle language bias. There has been omission of women as history makers, initiators of an event and their overall contribution in scientific developments of the world.

Research studies conducted on content analysis of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) course books mainly highlight the issue of gender inequity. In the 1970’s and 80’s, it was found evidently that many textbooks show gender bias. Citing here the studies conducted by a number of researchers (Hartman and Judd, 1978; Porecca, 1988; and Talansky, 1986), Sunderland (1998) reports bias in three main senses: exclusion, over-representation of males; subordination and distortion, men tended to occupy more powerful and a greater range of occupational roles than did women and both males and females performed gender stereotypical activities; and degradation, women tended to be stereotypically emotional and were more like than male characters to be the butt of jokes or of implied slurs.

In addition to content analysis of language textbooks, there has also been linguistic analysis of language structures. It was discovered that verbs associated with female agents reflected some of the traditional stereotypic behavioural patterns. (Hellinger, cited in Sunderland, 1998, p.3); and in dialogues, females speak less, speak first less often, and perform a narrower range of discourse roles, i.e who speaks and who listens, when, how, how much and about what (Hartman and Judd, 1978; Talansky, 1986; Poulou, 1997).

Recent writing on textbook content (Beebe, 1998; Ansary & Babaii, 2003; Mattu & Hussain, 2003) suggests textbooks should manifest a balanced view of the role of women in society and avoid perpetuate inaccurate generalizations about women and their roles. Many research studies on the portrayal of women in EFL textbooks (Sugino, 1998); Ansary & Babii, 2003) have shown that there is a complete bias in the representation of women and men in textbooks. Mattu and Hussain (2003), reports on gender based division of roles woven into almost all the exercises and stories in school-level books in Pakistan. Mostly, they are shown very weak and passive characters but men are depicted as heroes performing active roles. Further, the jobs assigned to women in some textbooks are the responsibilities of a mother and homemaker. This stereotyped depiction only reinforces the outdated notion that women stay at home and men go out for work. A study carried out by Ansary and Babaii (2003) indicated similar findings with women being less visible than men in traditional roles. Thus the students need to learn various roles women now have in society. They too have to know the linguistic debate on the grammatical terms of reference and lack of reference to women in texts.

English is taught as a second language in Pakistan from primary to the graduate level across public and private educational institutions. For the local learners, the textbook is used by students as a main learning and referencing tool. It guides them to the correct use of language in an academic and social context. Many of the students acquire/learn English during schooling either from their teachers or textbooks. Historically, the discrimination against women in social, economic and political spheres, taking into account gender portrayal and sociolinguistic appropriateness is of significant pedagogical importance when selecting a textbook (Otlowski, June 2003).

Gender Analysis of Textbook

English language textbooks are important tools of teaching and learning practices at all levels of education in Pakistan. The institutions adopt and implement them according their suitability of context and the needs of students. The book English for undergraduates (2004) is published by Oxford University Press, and is prescribed by University of Sindh for the graduates of various disciplines.

It is an activity based book aiming to teach communicative use of English by integrating reading, writing and speaking skills. This book is divided into 11 integrated units, a section on extended reading includes six short stories, and a set of test papers. Each unit is divided into five section i.e. language practice, using English or reading for information, practical conversation and composition. Most of the units are based on passages with a number of exercises focusing on the development of language skills.

Generally, this is an open fact that society is divided in terms of male and female. It may be covered or open in Asian and Western societies because of cultural values and assumptions. This can also be clearly observed in the prescribed English for Undergraduates. It is very much clear in few activities that women are only shown doing the job of an office secretary or receptionist. There are activities in the book which are based on interviews of females for office jobs. A good number of positions offered to them are non-managerial and clerical in nature.

In most of the activities, no woman is shown working in management role. They are represented to low jobs only in the text which shows biased attitude towards them. Woman as an individual can perform better jobs which even man cannot do so efficiently. Similarly, the conversation in unit-10 titled as A Job Advertisement activity is biased on argument whether woman should do work or stay at home. This too is biased attitude on the part of woman presenting different opinions for each gender. The conversation for and against explains the cultural bias on gender equality because every individual is a citizen and has right to live his life.

In another activity, there are family members at home using computer, reading newspaper or book but a woman is cleaning. This too is very much biased to show that all sitting comfortably at home but only a woman is to do this job. At another place, on page no. 160, a woman is doing school work with children and husband is talking on telephone. All of these activities have socially biased attitude towards woman and labeling her with certain jobs. Whereas, man either doing management role or sitting comfortably watching television or talking on phone.

For assessing the extent and nature of gender discrimination with specific reference to representation by frequency of occurrence, use of appropriate language, interaction patterns, profession and activity types, personality traits, job possibilities, role representation and sensitivity to the socio-cultural context. The analysis of textbook highlights some specific areas of concern regarding male/female ratio of occupation and conversational patterns.


Friedan, B. (1963). The Feminine Mystique. W.W. Norton and Co. Hartman, P.L., & Judd, E.L. (1978). Sexism and TESOL Materials. TESOL Quarterly, 12: 383-393.

Talansky, S. (1986). Sex Role Stereotyping in TEFL Teaching Materials. Perspectives, XI /3.32-42.

Cooper, L. R. (1989). Language Planning and Social Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fadl, A. M. (1991). Understanding Gender in Muslim Societies. Retrieved June 20, 2014, from http://www.muslimwomenstudies.com/gender1.html.

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Pierce, B.N. (1995). Social Identity Investment and Language Learning. TESOL Quarterly. 24, 105-112.

Poulou, S. (1997). Sexism in the Discourse Roles of Textbook Dialogues. Language Learning Journal, 1568-73.

Beebe, J. (1998). Sexist Language and English as a Foreign Language: A Problem of Knowledge and Choice. The Language Teacher, 22:5

Sunderland, J. (1998). New Dimensions in the Study of Language Education and Learner Gender. Retrieved June 27, 2014 from http://www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/groups/circle/docs/crile43sunderland.pdf.

Sugino, T. (1998). Gender Stereotypes and Children Literature. The Language Teacher, Retrieved July 2, 2014 from http://www.jalt-publication-org/tlt/files/90/jun/sugino.html.

Kelly, J. (2000). Gender and Equality: one hand tied behind us. Canada: Rutledge Falmer.

Otlowski, M. (2003). Ethnic Diversity and Gender Bias in EFL Textbooks. Asian-EFL Journal, 5 (2). Retrieved June 22, 2014, from http://www.asian-efl-journal.com/june_2003_mqphp.

Ansary, H., & Babii, E. (2003). Subliminal Sexism in Current ESL/EFL Textbooks. Asian-EFL Journal, Retrieved July 2, 2014 from http://www.asian-efl-journal.com/march03.subl.htm.

Howe, D., & Kirickpatric, D.L (2004). English for Undergraduates. Karachi: Oxford University Press.

Mansoor, S., & Rasool, N. (2007). Global Issues in Language Education and Development Perspectives from Post Colonial Countries: Contemporary Issues in Language Education and Development in Pakistan. Maggie: Multilingual Matters.


ISBN (Book)
File size
407 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Sindh – English Language and Literature
gender socialization representation english language textbooks



Title: Gender Socialization and Representation in English Language Textbooks