Gender in Education: Gender Narratives and How We Can Do Better

Written by Jane Law Lee Bin, edited by Rifqi Faisal and researched by Team MYER.

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What are Gender Narratives?

Long before we were born, society has already rooted us with social norms that would define what’s considered acceptable and appropriate based on our given gender. These standards are deeply integrated- from the formal and informal structures of our world all the way down to the branch of how we coddle these thoughts in our subconscious. It has also found its way through the social interactions we have in our daily lives.

The Status Quo

A 2017 report from The Malay Mail showed that fewer Malaysian women are graduating from the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) due to gender stereotyping- a role not only Malaysia but the rest of the world has been highly guilty of partaking in. These long-standing social and gender norms have interfered with the ability of many talented women to take advantage of great opportunities all because they were taught to believe that ‘STEM was a career made for men’ or that ‘women are not as good as their male counterparts’.

A Deeper Look: Dissecting Malaysia’s Curriculum

Last year, Malaysians took to social media to point out a problematic infographic that was printed in a Year 3 health and physical education textbook. The illustration, studied by nine-year-olds countrywide, showed that girls should protect their private parts or they will risk being shamed and disliked by their peers while scarring their family’s honour. The graphic also illustrated that girls should wear modestly, not go to quiet places alone and change behind closed doors. (The page has since then been covered up and a correction statement has been issued to schools.)

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  • bagai anak dara sudah berlaki (a young/single maiden who behaves as married woman, often used to address a young woman who is shameless, slothful and shabby),
  • kasihkan anak, tangan-tangankan, kasihkan bini tinggal-tinggalkan (if you love your children, beat and discipline them, if you love your wife, leave her every now and then),
  • seperti anjing yang sudah biasa makan tahi, bagaimana sekalipun diberi makan yang baik, hendak juga memakan tahi (It is difficult to change a woman who is used to her evil ways. Note: Women referred to as dogs which are accustomed to eating faeces)

The Sour Reaps that We End Up Sowing.

So, where does all of this lead to?

We SHOULD Do Better.

Biased textbooks will not only restrict women’s worldviews and career choices, but they also distort their self-image and the image of the opposite gender group.

  • Do the walk by setting a prime example for them: Take turns with your spouse to do the housework and childcare so that your kids will understand that there’s no such thing as ‘this is a woman’s/ man’s work’.
  • Avoid perpetuating stereotypes: Let your sons play with cooking sets and your daughters play with toy trucks. Stereotypes will only limit their potential.
  • Mind your language: Refrain using phrases like ‘don’t act like a girl’ or ‘man up’ to boys because it reinforces how boys and girls should feel and behave.
  • Do not use gender as an excuse: Never condone bad behavior because of a child’s gender. Remarks such as ‘boys will be boys’ when a boy is seen acting aggressively will only further propagate the problem and normalize their violent behaviors.
  • Stop body-shaming: Girls are often fed with unrealistic beauty standards so teach your kids that we are defined by how we act and not by our physical appearances. Avoid making negative comments on their looks (ex. Skin tones, weight, facial features, etc.)


An independent youth-led movement for education reform in Malaysia. All information and resources are available here by MYER. Twitter/Instagram — @myermovement

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