Stereotyping Good, Gender Bias Bad

26 Jun

Let me start with an important distinction between “sex” and “gender.”

Haven’t we all heard the rebuke “You shouldn’t stereotype!”?  Well actually it’s not such a bad thing.  What is not a good thing is gender bias … and we all exhibit it.  Seriously, “it’s in our genes.”  What is key though, is to be aware that we have it and then to make choices about what to do with it.

Sex is a biological difference.  It is:

  • Determined by nature
  • Universal
  • Not easily changeable

Gender is socially and culturally constructed:

  • Grounded in traditional male and female roles and responsibilities
  • Changes over time
  • Varies between communities

Males and females are treated differently from birth not only because of their physical differences (with unique challenges at different life-stages) … but also because of the different socio-cultural values associated with gender.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at stereotyping and gender bias.

Stereotyping is “A widely held but firmly fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing” (Oxford Dictionaries).  It’s based on both:

  • Physical attributes (e.g., age, sex, race)
  • Intangible aspects (e.g., religion, culture)

And actually, it’s critical to our evolutionary survival.  It:

  • Helps us sort and categorize people, places and things
  • Is often evaluated based on “additional associations” (usually negative)
  • Defines social interactions and permeates learning and decision-making processes

The problem occurs when stereotypes introduce Bias.  Bias is when we start viewing the stereotype as true and definitive, without pausing to consider whether we are making a fair judgment.  Gender bias is persistently found in global cultures, including Western countries.  It challenges gender equality and women’s empowerment by systematically excluding and discriminating against women and girls simply for being born female.

So, look again at the spa picture at the top of the article.  Why did it look “odd”?  Was it Stereotype … or Bias? And what does it reveal about your underlying beliefs and thoughts? 

Something worth thinking about.  Isn’t it time to start recognizing and talking about it?  Curious to know what you think …

Anna Minto

Founder & CEO, Transformational Change

AMinto@trchange.com

LinkedIn.com/in/annaminto

http://www.annaminto.com

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