Gender Lesson: The Past is Present – Part 1

Ads from past generations had problematic messaging.  This has not changed.  The negative gender normative messages will be addressed in this lesson.

Having already familiarized students with the concepts raised from The Gender Box, and enhanced through the study of the short story X: A Fabulous Child’s Story it’s time to take those concepts and use them to form a lens through which both past and contemporary advertisements and media are viewed.

This lesson is part of a large mini-unit on Teaching Gender Representation in the Media.  It can be used as a stand alone piece, or part of a larger conversation.

Minds On

The Flip Side – Christmas Holidays

Start by playing the above video.  A cold start is the best way to introduce this video, as prefacing it may take away from student discovery.

While watching students will notice that some things are humorous, and seem out of place.  Before the clip is done, they will undoubtedly realize this is because the gender normative roles of the characters have been swapped.


Once the video has finished playing, you can pause and discuss why they thought the film was odd, or funny.  Taking a moment to explore the idea that these gender roles are so deeply ingrained in us that people acting against them appears as absurd is an excellent way to drive home the power that they have in our society.

The Flip Side – Bar

Before watching the second The Flip Side video, students should be asked to create a T-Chart, or use the Flipside Bar Handout to track all the gender normative behaviours that are being displayed in the video.

Students should be asked to group the gender normative behaviours into categories.  It should become obvious that there are a number of stereotypes that show the females in the videos as aggressors, as sexual harassers, or sexual assaulters.

This is a good opportunity to explore how gender normative behaviours not only hurt women but also negatively condition men to view elements of toxic masculinity as things they feel they must identify with.

Students often react to the man slapping the woman in this scene, which is an excellent opportunity to address both Male Violence towards women, and the normalization of Female Violence towards men.

Once you feel the conversation has run its course, you should move on to the focus of the lesson.


This lesson is mostly Teacher-Directed, where you will lead students through a number of pieces of media in a set order.  They will have the opportunity to answer a few quick questions or voice their opinion before you move on to the next piece.  However, this should be viewed as a quasi-lecture that aims to reinforce skills and concepts that were learned in the previous lessons.

Apple Macintosh – 1984

After showing this advertisement, ask students to explain what elements stood out to them.  They most likely saw the people walking in unison, without emotion.  They also probably picked up on Big Brother speaking and issuing commands from the large screen.  Finally, they would have noticed the spark of colour as the woman rushed in to overthrow the regime with her hammer.

You can briefly touch on how this vision of a strong and empowered woman, in an advertisement for technology, sends a strong message about empowerment.

Then transition into how that was not always the case…

Postage Meter – Is it Always Illegal to Kill a Woman?

Is it always illegal to kill a woman.jpg

I find it helpful to first explain what a postage meter is.  Students are probably familiar with the letters they get that don’t have traditional stamps on them, as postage meters are still in use today.

At over 60 years old, this advertisement is incredibly problematic.  Simply looking visually can lead students to make their conclusions about the piece.  The obvious answer they should be shouting is, “YES!” even if it’s in hushed tones, as you’ve not explicitly drawn attention to the words yet.

Next, I recommend that you read the small print, drawing attention to the woman’s need to put a bow on the machine before she enjoys it, as well as her true reason for liking the tool – it allows her to gossip in the washroom.

Noting that this advertisement plays on the idea that women can’t possibly understand machines, and the use of gender-based violence as an attempt at humour, students will quickly see how this advertisement is in stark contrast with the previous one.

Prepare to move on from this advertisement by asking students how far they think we’ve come, trying to pretend as if women are no longer portrayed as unintelligent in advertisements.  Because, really, we’d hope that was the case.

True Car dot Com

As you sigh, after watching this, quickly explore how women are still being portrayed as being incapable of doing things on their own.  Discuss that normally she would require a “dude with [her]” in order to do something like purchasing a car.

I normally point out how I know nothing about cars, but was taught how to change my own oil and tired by my buddy’s wife.  And he doesn’t know how to do it himself.

By pointing out that the gender roles these advertisements prey on simply aren’t true, you can move to the next piece.

Hardee’s – Women, Don’t Leave the Kitchen


Once again, we return to an advertisement from the past.  The problematic nature is obvious, from the large print claiming that women shouldn’t leave the kitchen, to the small print reading, “We all know a woman’s place is in the home, cooking a man a delicious meal.”

Quickly explore why this is troubling, and allow students to voice if they agree or disagree with these statements.  Keep control of this short conversation, and lead them towards the damaging nature of agreeing with it.

Next, say something along the lines of, “luckily things have become better, right?  We can’t possibly still have advertisements like that…  Although, that Star looks familiar.  Hmm, doesn’t Carl’s Jr. use the same logo?  I’m pretty sure they’re the same restaurant.  Let’s see what Carl’s Jr. advertisements look like these days.”

Carl’s Jr. – Great Buns

Of course, you’ll sigh as you watch this video too, realizing that things have not changed at all.  This is a great opportunity to discuss the concept of the male gaze – the camera assuming an implied male viewer.

As the women are literally cut into pieces, during both the yoga scene and the dance scene, you can discuss the objectification of women.

I try to play this video through twice.  Once to allow the whole “twist ending” to sink in, and a second time to explore how that twist ending makes the video even worse.

First: We have the female lead in yoga trying to change her body because she believes that’s what her boyfriend wants her to do.

Second: The woman’s father is oggling her, and her mother as she dances at her wedding.  The new husband, and his wife’s father bond over appreciating specific body parts (keeping in mind that the father doesn’t understand that his son-in-law is actually looking at the burger).

Third: We have the male gaze appear once more on the escalator, before one of the most problematic parts of the commercial where…

Fourth: The wife realizes that she was wasting her time.  Her husband never meant that he wanted to change her body, instead, he just liked good hamburger buns.  This moment of realization on her face is obvious at 0:23.  Once again, this draws attention to the fact that women are incapable of understanding simple concepts (which connects back to the advertisements for technology).

But, maybe you’re just choosing examples that fit your narrative, tell your students you’re willing to watch other ads by Carl’s Jr. to see if they differ.

Carl’s Jr – Buffalo Blue Cheese Burger (Female)

Once more, address the male gaze, and the problematic nature of this advertisment.  Next, tell studnets you’re going to watch the advertismenet for the Blue Cheese Burger that uses a male model instead.

You can address the groans you will likely hear in class, and then proceed to that video.

Carl’s Jr – Buffalo Blue Cheese Burger (Male)

Take a moment to explore the differences – namely that the focus is on eating, and doesn’t objectify the model through close up camera angles, and rapid cuts.

If you want to further prove the difference between advertisements that use male and female models, you can show the two Carl’s Jr. advertisements for their Cod Fish Sandwich.  Otherwise, you can move on to the consolidation activity.

Carl’s Jr – Buffalo Blue Cheese Burger (Male / Female)

Having watched this advertisement, have students try to predict how the female version of this advertisement will appear.

Things aren’t much better than they were with the Blue Cheese Sandwich.  End by explaining that while advertisements may not be as explicitly problematic as they once were, the negative messaging is still very much present.

But, let them know things are changing.  End with a message of hope in the consolidation.


Play this advertisement for your students.  It is for a Goldiblox Action Figure.  After rocking out to the first playthrough, tell your students that they should look back on the first advertisement they viewed in this lesson.

Have students draw specific paralells (walking in unison, the Big Sister giving orders, the one person who looks different using a hammer to destroy things).

Students should be tasked to write a P.E.E. Text-to-Text Connection between the two advertisements.  The focus on the piece should be using those connections to further explore the meaning and messages in the Goldiblox advertisement.  This connection should be handed in as students leave the classroom.

Next Steps

The next lesson will focus on other media representations, building upon what was learned in this piece.  In The Past is Present – Part 2 there will be a focus on toys, how advertisements can help change the narrative, and also the future of activism.


Flipside – Bar Handout.PDF

PART 1: Gender Representation in the Media

PART 2: Lesson – The Toy Box

PART 3: Lesson – The Gender Box

PART 4: Lesson – The Past is Present – Part 1

PART 5: Lesson – The Past is Present – Part 2

PART 6: Lesson – Annotating Texts

PART 7: Lesson – Gender R.A.F.T.

PART 8: Lesson – Reshaping Roles

PART 9: Final Thoughts

PART 10: Gender Representation – Resources

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