Playlist teacher guide - Societal forces

Playlist information

Playlist summary

This playlist explores the range of societal forces that can influence our decisions and actions on a day to day basis.

Playlist purpose

The content of this playlist supports students to understand:

  • Types of societal forces at play
  • Influence these forces can have on our decisions and behaviours.

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Learning objectives

  • Understand the nature of gender stereotypes and inequalities and how these stereotypes and inequalities may impact on the decisions they make and the way they behave.
  • Understand that gender stereotypes are socially constructed and perpetuated through the media and accepted social norms.
  • Be able to analyse gender stereotypes that are portrayed in the media and propose practical strategies for challenging harmful and unhelpful stereotypes.
  • Be able to identify the impacts of gendered expectations on young people and their personal and professional relationships.

Key messages

  • Gender stereotypes portrayed in the media can be rigid and narrow and may not reflect the reality of genders in our society.
  • Narrow gender stereotypes create inequalities that contribute to domestic and family violence.
  • Challenging narrow gender stereotypes helps to create a more equal society which benefits everyone.

Year level(s) appropriate for

Year 10, Year 11, Year 12

Australian curriculum links

Evaluate factors that shape identities and critically analyse how individuals impact the identities of others.

Media items

Societal forces

Type: Video.

Duration: 2 minutes.

Source: The Good Society.

Summary: We don’t live in a bubble. We live in a complex social environment where all sorts of forces affect what we do, say, think and feel. So what are these forces?

Survey questions:

  1. Question number 1. Are there social forces that influence how you behave that you wish you could change? Answers
    1. a.Yes
    2. b.No
    3. c.Maybe
    Discussion points:

    Societal forces or social norms impact on beliefs about roles and how a person should behave in a relationship - whether that be an intimate relationship, familial relationship or workplace relationship. Young people make decisions about their lives and relationships and are influenced by what behaviours are encouraged or discouraged by their peers, family or broader society, sometimes without even realising it.

    To explore the concept of societal forces more, discuss the following questions:

    • Where do your basic beliefs about your relationships and how to treat people come from?
    • Is there anything that you notice about social norms around relationships that you wish were different?

Social norms

Type: Page.

Duration: 6 minutes.

Source: The Good Society.

Summary: Social norms are the unwritten rules about how to fit into different social groups. How much of what we do is because it helps us fit in?

Survey questions:

  1. Question number 1. Do you think there are some problematic social norms that exist in Australian society? Answers
    1. a.Yes
    2. b.No
    3. c.Maybe
    Discussion points:

    Social norms define what society considers appropriate behaviour. For a behaviour or practice to become a social norm there needs to be shared expectations or unwritten rules shared within a population group.

    To explore this further, discuss the following questions:

    • What norms exist in our society that could be problematic?
    • How and why have they come to exist?
    • Who benefits from these norms?
    • Who is compromised by these norms?
    • How is the norm maintained and reinforced in our society?

Social institutions

Type: Page.

Duration: 3 minutes.

Source: The Good Society.

Summary: Social institutions are ways of organising power and hierarchy among people. We all belong to a variety of social institutions in one way or another, and they all have some degree of influence over us.

Survey questions:

  1. Question number 1. Social institutions make their own rules about what is appropriate, but should they be able to promote disrespectful behaviour? Answers
    1. a.Yes
    2. b.No
    3. c.Maybe
    Discussion points:

    There are a wide range of social institutions in our community, all of which will have slightly nuanced norms that exist for their members. Some of these institutions, in creating their expectations of behaviour of their members, may be promoting and reinforcing norms that are disrespectful and detrimental to other members of the wider community. As a society it is these problematic norms that we need to challenge. For example, challenging the poor off-field behaviour of players from some football codes, challenging the belief that “boys will be boys”, exposing the men’s club mentality in some businesses and organisations.

    To explore this further discuss the following questions:

    • What social institutions do you belong to within your community?
    • Are there any specific norms or expectations around how you behave as a member of this institution?
    • Are there rituals that members are expected to participate in that could be seen as disrespectful? For example, trolling in online communities, initiation rituals for apprentices, drinking after game in a sporting club, wolf-whistling girls walking past a building site.
    • Are there norms associated with these institutions that you consider problematic?

Laws

Type: Page.

Duration: 6 minutes.

Source: The Good Society.

Summary: Laws are another kind of societal force. But where do they come from, and how do they have power?

Survey questions:

  1. Question number 1. Do you agree with the laws relating to consent? Answers
    1. a.Yes
    2. b.No
    Discussion points:

    For sex to be sex and not sexual assault, there are laws to abide by in relation to age and the people involved having sex. Consent means freely agreeing to sex. It is more than merely submitting to sex.  Consent is your ability to say ‘Yes’. Consent is about mutual respect - It is about people taking care of themselves and their needs but at the same time taking care of the person they are with.

    To explore the role laws play in our relationships, discuss the following questions:

    • What are some other laws that exist that can influence or impact on our relationships? E.g. domestic violence laws, family laws associated with break-ups.
    • Are there any laws or sanctions that you think need to be changed in order to promote more respectful relationships in our society?

Human rights

Type: Page.

Duration: 4 minutes.

Source: The Good Society.

Summary: The Field Model says we need to respect each other as individuals with our own rich inner worlds. But why do we need to do this? The answer comes from our concept of human rights.

Survey questions:

  1. Question number 1. Do you think that all humans are born free and equal? Answers
    1. a.Yes
    2. b.No
    Discussion points:

    It’s important to remind students that the UDHR is aspirational and although Article 1 states that all human beings are born free and equal, that is not necessarily the case throughout our society. To explore this concept more fully, discuss the following questions:

    • What groups within society experience inequality?
    • What are the factors that lead to this inequality?
    • How can we as a society reduce the levels of inequality across our society?
    • Are there efforts we can make as individuals to address these inequalities?

Human rights are...

Type: Video.

Duration: 2 minutes.

Source: Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights. ()

Summary: If you ask some Australian high school students what they think are important human rights, here’s what they say.

Survey questions:

  1. Question number 1. Human rights are just an idea, and some words. They’re not even laws. So how important do you think they are in our society? Answers
    1. a.Extremely important
    2. b.Important
    3. c.Nice to have
    4. d.Not important
    5. e.Waste of time
    6. f.Don’t know
    Discussion points:

    For human rights to have any effect, they have to be reflected in law and policy (meaning we need to enforce rights, sanction breaches and allocate resources to preserving or maintaining rights).

    In Australia, we do this through a variety of frameworks, institutions and laws. You can read more about that on the Victorian Human Rights Commission site.

    But even so, it’s hard to appreciate the impact of human rights in our daily lives because they sit in the background and we take so much for granted. But imagine what life would be like without these rights—what has life been like historically in societies before human rights, or in current societies that don’t respect human rights?

    Students can visit Amnesty International or human Rights Watch to get a sense of what modern human rights violations can look like, and how widespread they might be.

Cultural values

Type: Page.

Duration: 6 minutes.

Source: The Good Society.

Summary: Beneath our social norms and laws are deep cultural values. What are the most common values in Australian culture?

Survey questions:

  1. Question number 1. Is it possible to be part of a group that holds different values to those that you hold? Answers
    1. a.Yes
    2. b.No
    3. c.Maybe
    Discussion points:

    Shared values can create cohesion in a relationship, contrasting values can create conflict. If we belong to a group that holds different values to our own, we can feel conflicted about which set of values to follow.

    And since values involve a trade-off, we can sometimes find ourselves enjoying the benefits of following a set of values, but also struggling with the costs of those values to the wider community, take gender equality as an example. A male might enjoy the benefits of being male but may be conscious and conflicted about the inequality experienced by females.

    To explore these concepts in more detail, discuss the following questions:

    • Do you notice any conflicts between values in the different groups to which you belong?
    • Is this a problem for you?
    • How do these values affect your relationships?
    • How do they influence what you want and expect in a relationship?
    • How do they influence what you say yes and no to?

    As a class, you might find it helpful to look at the questions in the World Values Survey
    Source: http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/wvs.jsp

Generalisations and stereotypes

Type: Page.

Duration: 6 minutes.

Source: The Good Society.

Summary: The Field Model wants us to see each other as individuals, but we can’t know everything about everyone. At some point we have to generalise. But how do we generalise without erasing the identity and freedom of others?

Survey questions:

  1. Question number 1. Do you think there are stereotypes associated with being male or being female? Answers
    1. a.Yes
    2. b.No
    3. c.Maybe
    Discussion points:

    Gender is one area where there are multiple stereotypes exist that can be limiting for males and females alike. To explore this further check out the Gender playlist in the Influences topic.

    This page touches on a lot of themes that are discussed in more detail in other playlists on The Good Society website. Some of the related playlists include:

Why I’m done trying to be “man enough”

Type: Video.

Duration: 18 minutes.

Source: TED. ()

Summary: A very good-looking actor who is mainly cast for his great body talks about how tired he is of the qualities he feels are thought to define real men. Why do we need to be so obsessed with strength and weakness? Can vulnerability be a strength? Can listening be a strength?

Survey questions:

  1. Question number 1. Do you think there is an expectation on men that they have to act a certain way to be considered manly enough? Answers
    1. a.Yes
    2. b.No
    3. c.Maybe
    Discussion points:

    There are an infinite number of ways to be a man which exist within a hierarchy of manhood. For many men, the belief is that in order to prove their manhood they must fit in to a mould of what a traditional man is and does. These characteristics that must be displayed by a real man include:

    • distance yourself from femininity or anything feminine
    • restrict emotions
    • be tough and aggressive (avoid vulnerability)
    • be seen as highly sexual with women
    • prove one’s heterosexuality via homophobia.

    These characteristics are often labelled as hegemonic masculinity. Lots of men feel that being emotionally restricted and having to constantly prove one’s manhood are not the most fulfilling ways to live their lives.  One of the exciting things about our generation is to see the variety of ways that men from all backgrounds are living beyond the confines of hegemonic masculinity.  Whether it’s choosing not to prove manhood with violence, affirming people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, or challenging the sexism of male peers, the movement to live beyond hegemonic masculinity is finding encouragement (and considerable backlash) in all parts of society.

    To explore this further, discuss the following questions:

    • What characters are typically associated with being a man in your home/ peer group / community / culture?
    • Is there conflict between the characteristics valued by one group over another?
    • How can someone safely challenge these outdated characteristics of manhood?

Societal forces wrap-up

Type: Page.

Duration: 3 minutes.

Source: The Good Society.

Summary: This is a quick summary of the main messages and themes in this playlist, so you can see them all in one place.

Activities and extras

The conversations generated through engaging with this playlist could be built upon and reinforced using role plays, scenarios or group activities where students practise and refine strategies for:

  • Identifying a range of social influences that may impact on their decision making in different situations
  • Challenging societal expectations, norms and stereotypes that may be limiting for themselves or others.

For resources and media that unpack stereotypes and cultural expectations in further detail check out the following resources:

Recode article: “We’ve studied gender and STEM for 25 years. The science doesn’t support the Google memo.”

  • This article is critical commentary about the infamous Google memo which said that males are in general better at maths and engineering because of innate biological difference. It directly engages with a discussion about stereotypes vs generalisations.

Npr podcast: “Austenistan”

  • This podcast starts off sounding like it is about a fan club for the classic British author Jane Austen, but it’s really about domestic abuse, marriages gone wrong, and the oppressive power of norms and laws, told through the story of two Pakistani sisters. It’s particularly good for students who want enrichment and extension activity, and touches on a lot of issues around gender, culture, laws, norms, power and abuse.