Gender roles in English language textbooks in Japan

This study explores aspects of improving gender equality in the Japanese educational context, specifically English language teaching, by analysing the representation of women in four widely used English language textbooks as well as the intersection of race and other defining human characteristics.

Two female Japanese school students in a classroom sitting down looking at a tablet device

About the publication

Textbooks exert a strong influence on learning among school pupils, second only to teachers, so it is reasonable to expect that textbook materials eschew biases or stereotypes and instead represent gender and gender roles in a fair and balanced manner. However, research indicates that textbooks around the world continue to exhibit patterns of systematic gender bias.

Ethnicity intersects with gender and, when out of balance, can potentially promote racial, national and gender inequalities; yet it is rare to find foreign language textbook analyses focusing on both gender and ethnicity as social, cultural and educational constructs.

This type of research is of interest because textbooks can contribute to cultural prejudices and personal biases that learners may, unwittingly and unfortunately, absorb as a byproduct of study.

This paper reports on an analysis of images and dialogues taken from four popular junior high school textbooks from the intersectional perspectives of gender and ethnicity. Although recentlypublished English textbooks have arguably made progress in their awareness of gender-based stereotypes and other biases, and materials writers seem to be taking more care about the representation of gender roles as compared to previous surveys, progress remains uneven. The results of this intersectional analysis reveal that despite earnest efforts, some gender-based stereotypes and other biases appear to persist in recently published teaching materials. Based on findings of the textbook analysis, guidelines for teachers, teacher trainers, materials writers and other stakeholders are offered.

ACCESS to gender balance. A toolkit for teachers

The findings of the research also led to the development of a separate reflection and evaluation tool (ACCESS) for teachers to support improved adaptation and supplementation of existing materials in areas of gender representation.

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