Ideal Man or Woman

  • Objectives: To distinguish gender from sex, and explore how gender roles are socially defined as well as recognize gender stereotypes. This ISOFI module uses brainstorming, illustration (or in some cases sculpture modeling) to depict definitions of what participants associate with the terms man or woman (or boy or girl), and what it means to be an ideal man, woman, boy or girl.
  • Materials/Preparation: Flipchart paper, colored pens or markers. In some cases, facilitators used modeling clay, balloons and newspaper for groups to sculpt or construct representations of the ideal man/woman, rather than drawing.
  • Participants: This exercise has been done with CARE staff and partners. According to the ISOFI Toolkit, there should ideally be 10-25 participants and equal numbers of men and women.


The module begins with a brainstorm of characteristics of a man and a woman, both in terms of physical attributes as well as expected roles and responsibilities. Looking at attributes, teams examine if any of the attributes listed could be reversed and engaged in discussions on the difference between sex and gender.
Teams then divide into single-sex groups. Groups work together to illustrate – or in some cases sculpt or construct – what they perceive to be the ideal man and ideal woman in their culture. This is done either through illustration or sometimes through sculpturing. Facilitating discussion on the values and assumptions underlying these perceptions, a number of questions are presented for the groups to discuss:


Inner Spaces Outer Faces Initiative Toolkit

Exploring Dimensions of Masculinities and Violence

  • What did you learn about being a boy or girl when you were growing up? How did you learn? From whom?
  • How are images of the ideal man and woman created? Where do they come from? Who affirms them? Would you like to change the images you describe?
  • What are the things that women or men can do exclusively?
  • What groups fall outside of these images?
  • What is a gender stereotype? Are gender stereotypes positive, negative or neutral?
  • Why do gender stereotypes persist? What is the purpose of challenging gender stereotypes? Why do some people resist challenging the status quo?
  • How easy or difficult is it to consider gender roles that are different from the ones we are accustomed to?
  • What does this mean in the context of our development work?
  • What happens if we challenge these norms? What happens if we do not challenge these roles?
  • Do men have certain physical characteristics?
  • What other characteristics do men have that are not expressed in the models? Why were these not expressed
  • What is expected of typical men? What attitudes and values do typical men have? Towards family? Children? Fellow men? Women?
  • How are men expected to show they are powerful?
  • If you were going to do a model of a woman, would it look very different? How? Why?



SII Research Team Training Workshop

In a workshop in Uganda, teams first began by defining the term gender before moving on to answer questions to describe ‘a man’ and ‘a woman’. To frame participants’ thinking around the questions, the facilitator asked participants to organize their definitions into social, economic and cultural aspects within their society.

In addition to defining gender and sex, the workshop also facilitated exercises on brainstorming the differences between gender equity and gender equality. To understand gender equality versus gender equity, the facilitator posed a set of questions to the team:

  • Why is gender equality and equity given such high priority in development work?
  • How can gender analysis and an understanding of gender equality and equity be used to strengthen advocacy intervention and education?

This discussion touched upon the importance of gender equity for the elimination of poverty, and the critical importance of gender analysis to understand social issues in a society, how gender shapes barriers facing men and women differently, and potential harms that may arise between genders during a program initiatives.

Working with Children

Another variation with children, asks children to list what words the teacher uses to describe student behavior. For each term, students classify if these terms are used to describe girls or boys. One method to differentiate, would be to give each student 10 stones. For each behavior, students would divide stones between how much the teacher used the term to describe girls and how much the teacher used the term for boys. Following, the total stones for boys and girls for each behavior is added and recorded.

Following, the facilitator asks students to draw what chores are required in school and at home. For each, groups organize what are considered girls' responsibilities, and what are boys' responsibilities.

Looking to the future, the facilitator asks what the children would like to be when they grow up, in terms of jobs.

Following the exercise, teams analyze if gendered terms are positive or negative, and what types of expectations they give for boys and girls. Further, this exercise can analyze how children's aspirations for future employment reflect the gendered behaviors and chores they currently hold.



  • CARE and ICRW (2007). PLA Field Guide: Western Balkans Gender-Based Violence Initiative.
  • CARE and ICRW (2006). Walking the Talk. Inner Spaces, Outer Faces Initiative: A Gender and Sexuality Initiative.
  • CARE Uganda (2005). Participatory Workshop on Women’s Empowerment.
  • D VanBelle-Prouty and H Sey (1998). Girls' Participatory Learning Activities in the Classroom Environmetn (GirlsPLACE) A View to the Experiences of Girls. Institute for International Research.