Students in my classes will tell you that I like to assign them a variety of work during the semester. I’m not a “just give tests” kind of teacher. It’s part of my teaching philosophy. Recently my psych of gender students completed and assignment called, “Interview Across the Generations.” This entailed the class coming up with a variety of questions to ask people derived from the topics we have discussed across the semester, and then the class was split equally into 4 groups, with each group assigned a particular age group to interview (adolescent, young adult, middle adult, older adult). We spent an entire class last week discussing the responses to the interview. It was from this discussion that the title of my post comes.
At the end of class, when looking at trends/differences/similarities across the generations, students noted that the interviewees from the older adults and some of those in the middle adult group 1)Seemed unaware/unconcerned with the stereotypical gender roles that they experienced throughout their lives thus far and 2) seemed happier than many of the younger generation (their generation) are today.
At this point in the discussion I was hoping for a realization of cultural norms influencing the trend with older adults or something of the like, but the the talk took another turn. One of the students said something to the effect of,” They seemed so happy in the stereotypical gender roles, content. I’ve noticed, especially since taking this class this semester, that I see issues related to gender everyone and I feel a lot of discontent.” Another student had mentioned how it almost seemed easier when everyone had a role (men = breadwinners, women = housewives/stay-at-home moms). I could see some heads nodding about this, and a buzz in the classroom about how their world view had changed as they recognized gender issues more in the world around them.
In my head I started to panic! This was not my intention with this course, to create a set of discontented individuals who thought that things were better in the “good ole days!” So I started thinking out-loud with them. I mentioned how those who had interviewed the adolescents had a very different set of responses than those in the older groups. Granted, they have not had the life experience of those older individuals, but many of the adolescents discussed things in relation to not seeing differences in many areas of their lives. I suggested to them that perhaps their/my generation was in a state of flux, sort of stuck in a time of transition. We recognize gender stereotypes, we have much more flexibility in our lives today (both women and men!), but we are still strongly influences by stereotypes and roles. As some of them had said, we spend a lot of time trying to show how we can “do it all.” I then suggested that perhaps by the time they had children or grandchildren (if they chose to do so) that maybe those children would exhibit a greater sense of content as the older adults had, but from a different perspective, one in which gender does not dictate one’s choices as it does and has, historically.
What do you all think? It’s so important to me to raise awareness in my students, to help them become agents of social change. I’m a little worried that I have raised awareness in them, but haven’t done enough to show them how to make change, or they are too pessimistic to think they can make change. Any suggestions, thoughts on the above discussion, questions for me?!? I’d love to hear from you all. My last day of class with them is Wednesday, and then I see them for their final exam period (a discussion of their final projects) next Wednesday. Speak now, please, and help me impart wisdom or balm to the discontented young adults awaiting my words of closure for the course.