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Cooke-Sawyer, Sheryl. “Gender bias and sex role stereotyping in grade seven history textbooks.” M. Ed. Thesis, The University of Western Ontario, 1998.


The problem of gender bias and sex role stereotyping in learning materials serve as a backdrop for the author’s principle thesis question: to what extent is gender bias and sex role stereotyping present in texts used to teach History in Ontario schools?

This study analyzed three textbooks available to grade seven classes in one urban southwestern Ontario school board: Origins: A History of Canada; Community Canada, and Canada: Years of Challenge to 1814. The analysis involved numerical counts of photographs and illustrations in which women and men appear together and separately; an assessment of the type and breadth of historical fields presented in the narrative (for example, economic, political, cultural and social history); the number of references to women; the presentation of women and their activities; and an examination of language and neutrality. Suggested activities and exercises were also reviewed to see if students were encouraged to contemplate other points of view.

This study demonstrates that gender bias and sex role stereotyping do continue to be present in at least three textbooks used to support grade seven History programs. Within these books, gender bias is present in the form of exclusion as the contributions of girls and women to the development of Canada are largely ignored and the majority of content is dominated by males. When females are included, it is often in stereotypical nurturing and housekeeping roles while males are frequently shown as political figures, explorers, and discoverers. Students who use these books are exposed to such images of males and females without any necessary discussion about the lack of female presence or the representation of the people who are depicted. Cooke-Sawyer argues that the imbalance of females and males and the incomplete portrayal of both sexes in textbooks could result in the perpetuation of sex role stereotypes and gender biases which may negatively affect the development of a student’s self-concept.

This study provides a brief overview of gender bias and sex role stereotyping in society, the role of girls and women in society, and an investigation of these issues within the Ontario education system. Also discussed are the roles of teachers and textbooks in the classroom, and the rationale for teaching history in schools.

The textbooks that are analyzed in this study are limited to three. A logical extension would be to expand the research to include all grade seven texts used by the Board of Education in Ontario and nation-wide. Future studies could also aim to record the thoughts and opinions of students, particularly girls, who are exposed to textbooks that are gender-biased, and how they related to the opinions of students whose textbooks are more gender-balanced.


Mary Chaktsiris