This semester, I am taking a class at my university for future educators designed to promote diversity and inclusion in the classroom. As future teachers, we want to make sure that all of our future students will feel comfortable and included in our classroom regardless of who they are. I have learned and experienced so much in this course, but right now I want to share about an activity that we did about gender and sexual identities under the guidance of the LGBTQ+ Support Services at the University of Dayton.

We started out by simply filling in the statement “Act like a _____.” For girls, we answered, “Act like a lady.” For boys, we answered, “Act like a man.” This raises the question of why is it not act like a lady AND act like a gentleman? Or act like a man AND act like a woman? While our answers may not seem significant, both of these statements carry their own connotations and images of what that might look like.

After completing the statements, we took this a step further by writing “Act like a _____” and box. The goal was to fill a box with characteristics we associated with “act like a man” and another with “act like a lady” to help us visualize the connotations these statements carry. While our descriptions for “act like a lady” suggested being dainty and emotional, our descriptions for “act like a man” suggested strength and power. We found that these descriptions relied on many stereotypes that would be impossible for a person to embody all of them at once.

So then what were characteristics of those that did not fit into the ‘box?' Our class chose to focus on those who did not fit into the box of “act like a man.” As we listed some of the common insults used for those who did not fit the ‘manly’ stereotype, we found that most were feminine and or related to sexual orientation. These included “too emotional,” “pussy,” “gay,” “queer,” etc. This list shows that we consider the worst things that we can call a man are a woman and not heterosexual. This is seen in the idea of “You throw like a girl.” What kind of message does this convey then to children? This shows that we value heterosexual boys more than girls and those of different sexual orientations.

Sadly, this seems to be deeply ingrained and normal in our culture. So what can we do to be better friends, coworkers, teachers, mentors, parents and family members? We can try to help get rid of the boxes. We can start by not rejecting or making fun of someone for not fitting into the ‘boxes’ or the stereotypes. We can also try to be more inclusive in the way we approach situations. For example, we can make our speech more inclusive by replacing “Hey guys” with “Hey folks” instead so that we are not leaving any gender out. We can also increase awareness to lessen the stigma and weight the words listed as insults above carry. We can speak of women and non-heterosexual individuals more positively.

Sometimes the little things we do will add up and have the ability to change the world, or at the very least hopefully the worlds of our future students. Hopefully one day we will be able to fill in those statements with just “Act like a human.”