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Personal qualities ascribed to females and males in the english language textbooks: a case study from Jordan.


Are males and females given equal treatment in relations to the number of personal traits by which they are ascribed in school English Text books? And what kinds of adjectives are ascribed to them?

In the "Context and culture in language teaching", Kramsch (1993) concluded that foreign language learning is foreign culture learning. Lessard-Clouston (1997) noted that in the past people learned foreign languages by studying literature and that was the main medium of culture.

In the last thirty years, gender has emerged as a crucial sociolinguistic variable in Gender linguistics and one important study to elaborate on that is Hartman and Judd's (1978). This recent branch is concerned with various aspects of the representation of gender in language. Approaches that examined gender can be divided into two major categories: How the genders speak or write? And how they are spoken or written about? As an example of the first category, there exist certain forms of language which are appropriate for females (Labove, 1966, Trudgill, 1974, Lakoff, 1975, Fasold, 1990, Sundrland, 1992). The second category which will be the focus of this study, examines the way gender is portrayed by language users and textbook authors (Bondine, 1990).

Schools and textbooks

Schools are universally considered to be the place where children start their learning of skills, concepts, values, styles of thinking, and knowledge (Harrison, 2004). Most knowledge transfers in schools comes from lecturing and lesson plans which direct classroom interaction. Byrone (2001) concluded that schools and textbooks are major entities of the process of education. Textbooks are used to reflect the needs of the society. Moreover, school textbooks influence the learners believes and thoughts. It is not difficult to see that textbooks dominate the classroom environment despite the development of various instructional media (Sadker et al. 2007). These conclusions necessitate comprehensive text analysis to ensure careful selection and that the materials selected reflect the needs of both students and societies.

Research questions

The purpose of this study is to examine the status of gender bias in current EFL textbooks (Action Pack Series from grade one to nine) used in the Jordanian schools. The paper selects the personal qualities (adjectives) for analysis to reveal the quantitative and the qualitative portrayal of males and females. The following are the questions of the study:

1. Are males and females given equal number of personal qualities?

2. What kinds of personal qualities are ascribed to males and females?

Review of related studies

It is convenient to say that, from the early 1970s to the late 2000s, many studies that examined sexism in EFL texts have been conducted. The following studies examined the personal qualities that are given to male and female characters in EFL textbooks.

Hartman and Judd (1978) examined the images of men and women in several current TESOL textbooks. They found that the more blatantly offensive than omission was the use of women as a class as the butt of jokes. Among the stereotypes encountered are the over mentioning of females, where women are linked to the traditional female instabilities. They were easily frightened, being angry, and nagging.

Porreca (1984) examined sexism by analyzing the contents of fifteen widely ESL textbooks in America. In the category of adjectives, there was evidence that five years after Hartman's and Judd's study, sexism bias continued to flourish in ESL materials. She found that the adjectives for women in the category of physical appearance seemed to suggest a preoccupation with attractiveness. Beautiful, pretty, and sexy mostly modify female nouns in nine of the fifteen textbooks of a total of thirty-four terms. Males in contrast were described as handsome, good looking, famous, well-known and intelligent.

Caroll and Kowitz (1994) analyzed some ESL/EFL textbooks looking for adjectives ascribed to males and females. They concluded that in the twenty-seven adjectives they calculated, eighteen were used for men, while only nine were used for women. Qualitatively, the adjectives used to describe women were (busy, beautiful, pretty, and tall) while men were described as (poor, strong, rich, young, old, tall, big. fat).

The intended message to readers of such texts could be:
   Women are busy being tall and beautiful

   Men are poor, young, strong, and tall.

This is blatant sexism.

Sakita (1995) examined Japanese English textbooks published between 1989 and 1992. In the domain of adjectives, she revealed that negative qualities such as "foolish" used to describe females, contrasted with cleverness to describe males for example, "It is foolish of Mary to leave her purse. It is clever of Ken to go home early".

As noted from the previous studies, the trend of underrepresented women and giving them negative qualities compared to men is still popular among textbook writers all over the world.

Instrument and procedures of the study


Nine current English language course books were selected (Action Pack Series from grade one to nine) used in the basic stage in the schools of Jordan. The series replaced an old one in 1998. Since that date, the Ministry of Education in Jordan started teaching English as a foreign language from grade one. The Analysis restricted to Pupils' textbooks only. Each book consists of 12-16 units to be covered in two semesters. The upper stage textbooks (7, 8, and 9) include dialogues and reading passages, while the texts of grades (1, 2, and 3) are free from reading passages. The researcher analyzed the dialogues, reading passages, activities and the exercises.


In this study the target was to analyze the content of English language school textbooks from grade one to nine based on a checklist including two parts (see appendix (1)). The first part counted the number of adjectives given to males and females in the intended books on the level of words and sentences. The second part revealed the way males and females were prototyped. Adjectives were classified into categories such as (physical appearance, Intellect, emotionality, age...etc) to reveal the way males and females were portrayed. Then frequencies and percentages were calculated.

Textbooks content

All nine texts are divided into units and each unit has a certain topic. This division is obvious in sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth books. Topics are about authentic English activities such as (diaries, vacations, routine, school life, cities, hygiene, wishes and regrets). Each unit has certain functions of language and skills of reading, writing, listening and pronunciation. Each book has 12 up to 16 units. The rage of pages is from forty-eight to ninety six in each book. All books are taught in public schools in Jordan from grade one to grade nine.

Findings of the study

To answer the first question:1. Are males and females given equal number of personal traits?

The research revealed the following results:
Table (1) Gender- Personality Traits (adjectives) in the
first, second and third Grade Pupils' Books:

Pupils'   Male               Female             Total
          * F   Percentage   F     Percentage   F     Percentage

1         0     0            2     100%         2     100%
2         3     50%          3     50%          6     100%
3         1     33%          2     67%          3     100%

Total     4     36%          7     64%          11    100%

* F stands for the frequency of the occurrence.

Table (1) Shows that in Pupils' Book grade one, authors do not attribute any personal traits to males, while females are given two adjectives to describe them (100 percent). In Pupils' Book grade two, males are given three traits (50 percent), while females are also given the same number (50 percent). Pupils' Book grade three, has attributed one personal trait to males (33 percent) and two traits to females (67 percent). The three books which represent the lower basic stage include eleven traits (adjectives). Males gain four adjectives out of eleven (36 percent), while females gain seven adjectives (64 percent).

Table (2) Shows that: Males do not gain any adjective in Pupils' Book grade four, while authors attribute four adjectives to females (100 percent). In Pupils' Book grade five, males have allocated four adjectives (100 percent). In Pupils' Book grade six, males are given three personal traits out of five (60 percent), while females are shown with two personal states with (40 percent). The three books as a series represent the intermediate basic stage give males seven traits and females seven traits (50 percent) for each gender.

Table (3) Shows that males are given ten qualities out of seventeen (59 percent) in Pupils' Book grade seven, while females are given seven traits (41 percent). In Pupils' Book grade eight. Authors have given males eight traits out of nine (89 percent), while females gain one trait only (11 percent).Pupils' Book grade nine presents nine adjectives out of fourteen to describe males (64 percent), while females are given five traits (36 percent). The three books which represent the upper basic stage include forty personal Traits. They present twenty-seven to describe males (67.5 percent), while females are given thirteen adjectives (32.5 percent).

Table (4) Shows that males are ascribed thirty- eight traits out of sixty- five (58 percent), while females are ascribed twenty-seven traits (42 percent). It is observed that male characters exceed female characters with (16 percent).

To answer the second question:

2. What kinds of adjectives are ascribed to males and females?

The study revealed the following results:
Table (5) Categories of Adjectives

Category              Adjectives                                 N

Physical appearance   M black hair, brown eyes, small, tall,     9
                        thin, short, bald, blind, little
                      F long hair, short hair, brown eyes,       5
                        small, tall
Emotionality-state    M friendly, nervous, shy, odd, selfish,    6
  of mind               busy
                      F happy, sad, selfish, miserable, glad,    6
Intellect-education   M professional, clever, creative,          6
                        imaginative, punctual, decisive
                      F clever, imaginative                      2
Physical state        M strong, healthy                          2
                      F healthy                                  1
Age                   M young, old                               2
                      F....                                      0
Wealth state          M rich, poor                               2
                      F....                                      0
Reputation            M brave, generous, great, famous, nice,    7
                        polite, courageous
                      F bad, funny, kind, quiet, lazy, good,     7

M stands for males; F stands for females and N stands for the number
of times the trait appears in the text.

Table (5) shows that males and females are given fifty-five traits. The category of physical appearance comes first 16 percent for males and 11 percent for females. Males are given 9 traits while females have got five. The second category is reputation. Females and males are given seven traits, 13 percent for each gender. The third category is the intellect-education domain. Males are given 6 traits with the percentage 11 percent while females are given two traits 4 percent. In the emotional category, Authors give males 6 traits 11 percent while females are given also six traits with an equal percentage. In the category of physical state, males are given two traits 4 percent, but females are given one trait 2 percent. Concerning age, males have got two attributes 4 percent while females do not have any. In the domain of wealth, males are given two traits 4 percent, but females do not have any.


The results presented in tables (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) showed that the introductory textbooks (1, 2, and 3) were very poor in ascribing adequate adjectives to both males and females. The Series presented only eleven traits. In the Pupils' Book grade one, two qualities were used for females and none for males. The two adjectives were classified in the physical appearance category. Females appeared to have long or short hair. Pupils' Book two seemed to follow the same pattern the text included 6 traits, three for males and three for females. The six traits belonged to the physical appearance category. Males and females were given similar traits: For example, zoo guard asking the teacher to describe Ahmad ... She said ... He's small ... He's got black hair.... He's got big brown eyes (p. 32).

One of the boys described one of the girls: She's small. She's got long black hair. She's got brown eyes (p. 33). These two examples, under the pressure of repetition, force the Authors to assign similar traits to males and females. To retain the benefit of recycling, it is better to stick to repetition but not in the same context or even in the same page. In Pupils' Book grade three, three adjectives collocated with males and females. Both males and females are described as having healthy teeth, but in one example, the rug weaver (woman) is described as clever: Oh Yes! She's very clever (p. 38).

The introductory Series seemed to be balanced in presenting males and female personal traits. The second table shows that the intermediate textbooks (4, 5, and 6) were richer in alternating traits between males and females. Each gender was given 7 traits. This time the difference was not in quantity but in quality. Males were seen as (busy, polite, punctual, and nervous) while females were seen as (sad, bad, selfish, miserable). Consistent with these results, Carroll and Kowitz (1994) concluded that (busy) for example, is used mostly to describe men, but (selfish and miserable) were mostly used to describe females. In the Upper Stage Series (7, 8, 9) the third table showed that the authors presented 40 traits for males and females. Males were given 27 adjectives out of 40 (68percent). Males were given many adjectives that described them emotionally and intellectually as being (clever, great, famous, friendly, generous, professional, imaginative, decisive, brave, and courageous) .On the contrary, Females were seen as (quiet, lazy, silly, funny, and impatient). It is obvious that Action Pack series (1-9), generally speaking, preferred males in this aspect by giving them thirty-eight traits out of sixty-five (58percent). Porreca (1984) concluded that the proportion of adjectives in the intellectual-education category used for men exceeds that for women, which in turn agreed with the findings of this study. Moreover, this study revealed that males were given prestigious qualities as (brave, generous, rich, famous, creative) while females were under-represented and were given low prestigious adjectives. Sakita (1995) conducted a comprehensive study and her contention was the category of adjectives ascribed to males and females. In the twelve characteristics, authors showed male preference. Not far from these findings were Rifkin's (1998) results. In congruence with the results of this study, Rifkin assured that males were described as good doctors and good drivers while females were judged mostly due to their physical appearance.


This study showed that males were given more personal traits compared to females. Females were always ascribed adjectives that focus on their physical appearance. Females were seen deprived from all kinds of property, but males were always rich or poor. Males were always strong, clever, and generous. The results emphasized the female low status in society in all categories from wealth to education. EFL text Authors in general do not seem to have any gender checklists to guide their process of producing school textbooks. These results could be looked at as a call to Ministry of Education in Jordan to re-examine school textbooks to remove all aspects of gender bias. An immediate response could be an advice to EFL teachers to analyze students' textbooks and to provide their students with materials that might bridge the gap between males and females in the domain of ascribing them personal qualities.

Distribution of gender-personal traits (adjectives) in
pupil's Text book from grade 1-9

Book   Page   adjectives         Male      Female    Total (No.
                                                     & Percentage)

                                                     Gender   2    100%
1      11     Long hair          --        [check]   Male     0    0%
       11     Short hair         --        [check]   Female   2    100%

2      32     Black hair         [check]   --        Gender   6    100%
       32     Big brown eyes     [check]   --        Male     3    50%
       32     small              [check]   --        Female   3    50%
       33     Long, black hair   --        [check]
       33     Brown eyes         --        [check]
       33     small              --        [check]

3      23     Healthy teeth      --        [check]   Gender   3    100%
       31     healthy            [check]   --        Male     1    33%
       38     clever             --        [check]   Female   2    67%

4      62     happy              --        [check]   Gender   4    100%
       62     sad                --        [check]   Male     0    0%
       62     bad                --        [check]   Female   4    100%
       62     selfish            --        [check]

5      51     good               --        [check]   Gender   5    100%
       53     blind              [check]   --        Male     4    80%
       71     busy               [check]   --        Female   1    20%
       72     polite             [check]   --
       72     punctual           [check]   --

6      43     lollipop           --        [check]   Gender   5    100%
       72     little             [check]   --        Male     3    60%
       72     older              [check]   --        Female   2    40%
       75     nervous            [check]   --
       75     miserable          --        [check]

7      6      clever             --        [check]   Gender   17   100%
       7+41   nice               [check]   --        Male     10   59%
       17     strong             [check]   --        Female   7    41%
       28     glad               --        [check]
       28     shy                [check]   --
       49     great              [check]   --
       60     famous             [check]   --
       62     odd                [check]   --
       67     selfish            [check]   --
       67     funny              --        [check]
       67     impatient          --        [check]
       67     generous           [check]   --
       67     imaginative        --        [check]
       67     quiet              --        [check]
       67     lazy               --        [check]
       69     nervous            [check]   --
       69     friendly           [check]   --

                                                     Gender   9    100%
8      20     clever             [check]   --        Male     8    89%
       38     professional       [check]   --        Female   1    11%
       48     tall               [check]   --
       48     thin               [check]   --
       48     short              [check]   --
       48     bald               [check]   --
       49     silly              --        [check]
       59     creative           [check]   --
       80     famous             [check]   --

                                                     Gender   14   100%
9      18     Rich               [check]   --        Male     9    64%
       18     poor               [check]   --        Female   5    36%
       20     imaginative        [check]   --
       20     decisive           [check]   --
       20     courageous         [check]   --
       20     clever             [check]   --
       44     young              [check]   --
       45     great              [check]   --
       80     brave              [check]   --
              tall               --        [check]
       49     kind               --        [check]
       49     fun                --        [check]


Bondine, A., 1990. Androcentrism in prescriptive grammar: Singular "they", sex-indefinite "he", and "he or she", In C., Deborah, ed. The Feminist Critique of Language, London: Routledge pp. 124-138.

Byrone, M., 2001. Uncovering racial bias in nursing fundamentals textbooks: Nursing and health care perspectives, available from North Carolina Libraries for virtual Education database. 2. [Retrieved January 20, 2008].

Carroll, D., and Kowitz, J., 1994. Using concordance techniques to study gender stereotyping in ELT Textbooks. In J. Sunderland, ed. Exploring gender: Questions and implications for English language education, London: Prentic Hall International pp.74-79.

Fasold, R., 1990. The sociolinguistics of language, Cambridge MA.: Basil Blackwell.

Harrison, Jr., L,, Azzarito, L. and Burden, Jr. J., 2004. Perceptions of athletic superiority: a view from the other side. Race, Ethnicity and Education, vol. 7, no. 2, pp.90-101.

Hartman, P., and Judd, E. L., 1978. Sexism and TESOL materials, TESOL Quarterly, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 383-393.

Kramsch, C., 1993. Context and culture in language teaching, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Labov, W., 1966. The social stratification of English in New York City, Washington DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Lakoff, R., 1975. Language and women's place, New York: Harper and Row.

Lessard- Clouston, M., 1997. Towards an understanding of culture in L2/FL education. In, K., Ronko. Studies in English, Japan: Kwansei Gakuin University Press, vol. 25, pp. 131150.

Porreca, L., 1984. Sexism in current ESL materials, Women and Language, vol. 18, no. 40, pp. 704-724.

Rifkin, B., 1998. Gender representation in foreign language textbooks: A case study of textbooks of Russian, The Modern Language, vol. 82, no. 2, pp. 217-236.

Sadker, D., Zittleman, E., Theresa M., Candace T., and Jo Anne P., 2007. The treatment of gender equity in teacher education. In S., Susan et al. Handbook for achieving gender equity through education, 2nd edition., Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp., 131-149.

Sakita, T., 1995. Sexism in Japanese English education: A survey of EFL texts, Woman and Language, vol.18, no. 2, pp. 5-12.

Sunderland, J., 1992. Gender in the EFL classroom, ELT Journal, vol. 46, no.1, pp. 81-91.

Trudgill, P., 1974. The social differentiation of English in Norwich, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Note on contributor

Samir Mohamed Hamdan is an (assistant Professor) of the English Language and Literature in Al-Balqa University in Jordan. He is as well the academic advisor of the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Jordan. Email:
Table (2) Gender-Personality Traits (adjectives) in the fourth,
fifth, and sixth Grade Pupils' Books

Pupils'   Male               Female             Total
          * F   Percentage   F     Percentage   F     Percentage

4         0     0            4     100%         4     100%
5         4     80%          1     20%          5     100%
6         3     60%          2     40%          5     100%

Total     7     50%          7     50%          14    100%

* F stands for the frequency of the occurrence.

Table (3) Gender-Personality Traits (adjectives) in the seventh,
Eighth and ninth Grade Pupils' Books

Pupils'   Male               Female             Total
          * F   Percentage   F     Percentage   F     Percentage

7         10    59%          7     41%          17    100%
8         8     89%          1     11%          9     100%
9         9     64%          5     36%          14    100%

Total     27    67.5%        13    32.5%        40    100%

* F stands for the frequency of the occurrence.

Table (4) Gender-personality traits (adjectives) in Pupils'
Books from Grade 1-9

Pupils'   Male        Female      Total
          * F   %     F     %     F     %

1-9       38    58%   27    42%   65    100%

* F stands for the frequency of the occurrence.
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Author:Hamdan, Sameer
Publication:Ahfad Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:7JORD
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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