Ohio School Teaches Sexist Stereotypes

Phillip Cohen, a sociologist from the University of Maryland, reports on a sex ed class in Columbus, Ohio teaching some seriously sexist stereotypes about men and women. It’s like something out of a textbook from the 1950s, but it’s still in use today. Here’s a handout used in the class:


Cohen writes:

Yes, boys and girls in the class all got the same handout, with the normal human described as “you” and the one in the dress labeled “she.” After the graphic is a list of questions for the students to ponder in an essay, such as, “How might knowing these differences influence and impact an intimate relationship you might currently have or develop in the future?”

In her defense, the teacher naturally told the Dispatch that the point was to just “stimulate conversation.” But nothing in the assignment suggests the stereotypes might not be anything but true. None of the essay questions cast doubt on the facts presented.

There aren’t enough heads or desks for this one.

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  • John Pieret

    Is George Soros’ use of his time machine making all of time come apart and throw places like Columbus, Ohio back in time?

  • moarscienceplz

    From the original article:

    The handout was part of a “science of sex” unit in teacher Lezlee Levette’s health class. Levette said she took the handout from an outdated book to stimulate conversation about how attitudes have changed over the years and “how do these stereotypes affect you in your life.”


    Principal Jim Gaskill said the misunderstanding might have occurred because Levette wasn’t in class on Friday when a substitute teacher distributed it to students without explaining the context.

  • Mike Morris

    Context, in that it came from Mad Magazine, right? or the Onion?

  • http://twitter.com/#!/TabbyLavalamp Tabby Lavalamp

    The sad thing is I don’t think that was made in the 50s. Except for the word “court”, the language and phrasing reads far more modern, especially the straightforward “You want sex. She witholds sex.”

  • davroslives

    I was wondering who the heck was running Columbus City Schools’ curriculum, when I clicked through and saw that it was Worthington City Schools (technically a suburb, though basically within Columbus). Alllll is explained. Suburban rich conservative white people, take a bow!

  • jenniferphillips

    As moarscienceplz has already pointed out, the instructor later clarified that the info wasn’t meant to be instructional at face value. I’m curious as to why Philip Cohen disregarded this plausible explanation in favor of the splashier ‘class teaches children sexism’ angle.

  • eric

    @2 and @6: well that helps a great deal. But still, its a bit of a reach to cover this in a sex ed class. Teach the kids about venereal disease, the importance of consent, and how to use birth control (or abstain). How attitudes towards men and women’s roles in courtship have changed is a subject better suited for a sociology or history class.

  • moarscienceplz


    We weren’t given any details about the aims of the course, but I do think that sex ed should include more than just the mechanics of sex and how to avoid pregnancy and disease. For better or worse, sex and gender are big deals in our society that color nearly every aspect of social interaction. I think it’s quite reasonable to address some of these issues. Also, when I was in high school, we did not have such a thing as a sociology class, and history was mostly concerned with who killed who in such-and-such a war and what were the dates, so there was no better suited class for such a discussion. Maybe the same is true for this school.

  • http://skepticalimerick.blogspot.com/ Rich Stage

    Hey, now. As a Columbusite, I take offense to this. Thomas Worthington High School is *not* a part of Columbus City Schools. It is a part of the Worthington City School District, which is completely seperate from CCS. We might have our problems here in C’bus, but it would be more accurate to say “a Columbus, Ohio area school,” since they are seperate entities. Or say Worthington, Ohio, since that is the most accurate and we don’t more crap dumped on us than we deserve.

  • http://skepticalimerick.blogspot.com/ Rich Stage

    Don’t *need* more crap dumped on us…

    And I even previewed.

  • Ysidro

    So we DON’T want to discuss how attitudes about gender have and have not changed? Or are we still not reading the second comment?

  • eric

    @8: given Ed’s post on rape a few pages back, I would suggest that we need to take every extra minute in these classes we can and focus on teaching a better understanding of consent. Understanding past sexism is important, yes. But I would say that a better understanding of consent is a “must have,” whereas the other is a “nice to have.”

  • http://essaressellwye.tumblr.com Hershele Ostropoler

    How do you teach the importance of consent without getting into the social parts, to attitudes towards male and female sexuality? You can’t genuinely teach consent if you don’t push back against messages about the man’s role being to push and the woman’s role being to resist, messages about the woman being the gatekeeper.

  • eric

    @13: Sure you can. You say get consent. You say passed out is not consent. You say don’t dope drinks and don’t force people to drink/do drugs thinking it will get them into bed with you. You say no means no. You say no, getting into your car is not consent. Nor is coming to your house. Nor even is necessarily getting into your bed. And so on.

    Do you really think we need to discuss 1950s attitudes to have an understanding of consent? Don’t you think high schooers can be taught that without having to watch Mad Men?

  • lofgren

    I agree with eric. As we all know, condescendingly lecturing students, especially teenagers, is a far better model for teaching them than stimulating conversation about the impact of history and social values on their day-to-day life. Studies have repeatedly shown that students do not learn when asked to engage material in a thoughtful manner. Instead we should repeat the same tired mantras to them over and over again in hopes that this time it will finally sink in.

  • Anne Fenwick

    It’s one of those situations where it’s hard to promote the discussion of past values without to some extent perpetuating them. If the kids of either gender were ignorant of these past values so far, I doubt much service was done by enlightening them. They’ve got enough to talk about with contemporary values. And there’s something about just reading stuff like that which inherently depresses female autonomy and boosts male arrogance and/or provokes aggressive/defensive responses (c.f. psychology research, I think I’m not just speculating?) It’s the kind of stuff which should be handled with extreme care.

  • mattlantis

    @14: The comment you’re responding to didn’t say you can’t teach kids that they should get affirmative consent before sex, it said “how do you discuss the _importance_ of consent . . . ” I don’t see how any of the things you said address that. You simply said you can say what doesn’t count as consent, which @13 never denied.

    You seem to quite seriously be responding to something he didn’t say (or a different comment?) as when you say “Sure you can” he didn’t say “You can’t . . .” anywhere.

  • http://essaressellwye.tumblr.com Hershele Ostropoler

    @14: You can teach all that, but it’s not enough to teach all that if the culture is still saying something different.

  • ursamajor

    Even with the worst possible interpretation this sounds like a more complete and accurate sex ed class than the one I got.

  • http://www.weareplethora.tumblr.com We are Plethora, Protectors of the Orb of Tranquility ~+~ Seated on the Throne of Fantasia

    Hershele Ostropoler @18,

    Teaching is just one avenue among many that must be pursued. Clearly there need to be some significant cultural changes as well and that’s part of what many of us are here doing.

    Look at Anita Sarkeesian for example, she’s effecting real change in the world of gaming and that’s even starting to spill over into film and television. She and others are helping to bring about a general reduction in sexist and misogynistic tropes. Hopefully that will lead to a generally less sexist and misogynistic culture.

    Better education is needed to help raise consciousnesses and to enable cultural change, and cultural change is needed to put the education in practice.

  • eric

    @15 and @17. Alright, since you didn’t get it the first time, I’ll try again. Herschel asks “How do you teach the importance of consent without getting into the social parts, to attitudes towards male and female sexuality?”

    Okay, here’s the how. You teach the importance of consent by discussing problems and situations that teens will face in 2015, not pamphlets handed out in 1950. Sure, our attitudes today derive from past attitudes. That doesn’t mean they are identical, and it doesn’t mean that the best way to teach teen men the (un)ethicalness of using ecstasy and overdrinking at parties as a method of coercing compliance is to discuss how in 1950, a pamphlet described women as withholding sex. If you think that latter point is sooooo very critically important, why not include a full reading of Lysistrata in sex ed class? Its far better literature and explores the exact same point in greater depth and detail. Well, you probably think that’s a ridiculous suggestion. You probably agree that its not necessary to discuss such historical attitudes in detail to learn about consent. Right? Well, that’s what I’m saying.

  • mattlantis

    @21 Your tone (“since you didn’t get it” . . . ) only makes you sound childish. Your first comment was weak. You quite seriously failed to actually respond to what the first guy actually said. Your second comment still seems to miss what everyone is saying.

    There’s a difference between telling kids what’s bad and _why_ it’s bad. Your comment still doesn’t seem to get that. You seem to be saying that the answer to “How do you teach the _importance_ of consent without getting into the social parts, to attitudes towards male and female sexuality?” is “You don’t need to teach them the importance, you just tell the boys what behaviors are unacceptable, and leave it at that.”

    That’s fine if that’s your view, for all I know it’s the correct view, I’ve never taught teens and have no idea what’s best. The problem I have is that you seem to think you’re really putting others in their place with your comments, and you don’t seem to be paying much attention to what those others have actually said.

  • lofgren

    I agree with eric. The attitudes of 1950s America have no impact or relevance to the way the Americans view gender today. Nobody would ever advocate these views seriously anymore so there is absolutely no reason to discuss them. It’s not as though students will ever be exposed to ideas that challenge their notions of gender roles outside of history class, and gender constructs are hihly unlikely to change in these students’ lifetimes. The best thing we can do is teach them that their current interpretation of gender is perpetual and universally accepted. Otherwise they might rape somebody, or something.

  • Donnie

    The handout was part of a “science of sex” unit in teacher Lezlee Levette’s health class. Levette said she took the handout from an outdated book to stimulate conversation about how attitudes have changed over the years and “how do these stereotypes affect you in your life.”


    Principal Jim Gaskill said the misunderstanding might have occurred because Levette wasn’t in class on Friday when a substitute teacher distributed it to students without explaining the context.

    I agree that the context here is important. this could be a great teaching example of how gender stereotypes, roles, and sexual attitude have changed over the last 30, 40, 50 years. Without the teacher’s explanation of how this chart no longer applies (outside of conservative social circles that are trying to make inroads back into mainstream), or that you, the student have the choice to follow you own preferences.

    An essay forcing the students to think how this applies to their current life, and how they would like to live after graduation would be a powerful, critical thinking exercise exposing students to different choices. That is:

    – Flip the women and the man in this exercise

    – Better yet, add the man and woman symbols onto each side showing that both participants can have each other viewpoints, depending on the situation.

  • http://essaressellwye.tumblr.com Hershele Ostropoler

    Considering this turns on context, it’s important to note that I don’t have enough information to say definitively whether the handout was necessary. I’d have to see the lesson plan, I’d have to be there in the classroom. It might actually have been a horrible idea even in context. But I’m not willing to say it was, because I don’t know the context.

    So I’m not saying it was vital or even important, but nor am I ready to condemn it.