Gender Stereotypes

Gender stereotypes are culture-specific simplistic generalizations about gender differences and roles. Gender stereotyping can involve either positive or negative discrimination, but in both cases it has a harmful effect and reduces the individual to one-dimensional cliches. Stereotypes pave the way to sexism, the idea that one sex is superior to the other. They also create expectations for men and women which puts pressure and forces them to fit in with a schematic image.

According to stereotypical assumptions, women cannot drive, they are not good at mathematics, engineering and science, while men cannot express emotions. Famous stereotypes, recurrent in movies, advertising and the media, include the dumb blonde and the action hero.

Gender stereotypes are formed at an early age in the family and at school. In the United States between 1635, when the first U.S. public school was opened in Boston, and 1837, when the Oberlin College admitted its first four female students, men seemed to have gained a certain advantage over their female counterparts. By the beginning of the 21st century, the situation has improved, though any progress has not ensured equality in education and has not done away with stereotypes. As Myra and David Sadker (1994) put it, "Sitting in the same classroom, reading the same textbook, listening to the same teacher, boys and girls receive very different educations."

Statistics show that in the United States, in the first years of education, girls perform better than boys, but gradually they start to lag behind and let boys overtake them in the last years at school, which has a negative effect later on their professional life. In the United Kingdom, however, girls tend to perform better than boys in public examinations at the ages of 16 and 18.

Research done by Hallinan and Sorenson (1987) found that gender appeared to be a factor in the assignment of students to ability groups in mathematics. Teachers are more likely to assign boys to high ability groups, while girls tend to remain in low ability groups.

According to another deep-seated, sterotypical belief, girls do not show an interest in science. Psychologists however argue that the relationship between interest and confidence is very close. So, if teachers treat girls as worse performers in math and science, their interest in these subjects is sure to flag.

Stereotypes certainly have a negative effect on the school performance of boys as well. While the traditional view is that the U.S. education system does not value girls' achievement and opportunities, the truth is that both genders are affected by stereotypes about their role and performance. Research shows that in elementary school boys are twice as likely to be associated with learning disorders as well as emotional and behavioral problems. In the U.S,, boys are 60 percent more likely to repeat a grade than girls.

Women's struggle in Western countries to gain entry into the work world continued for centuries. In much of western Europe, legislation was passed to outlaw sexual discrimination and unequal pay, with varying effectiveness. By the end of the 1990s, in Europe and north America, the obstacles to women entering the workplace were mostly caused by indirect factors. The concentration of men and women varies from profession to profession. Differentials in wages is attributed to women often taking low-paid jobs, or take career breaks to have children.

Media, a powerful tool in shaping ideas and perceptions in the modern world, has stereotyped beauty standards and concepts of femininity, which has led to an increase in diet programs and plastic surgery. The harm done by these gender stereotypes also includes eating disorders, over-exercising and excessive anxiety over food.

Stereotypes can enhance the sense of superiority and thereby can justify domestic violence. A UNICEF survey in 2011 showed that the percentage of women who tolerate violence on the part of the husband is very strong in countries where gender stereotypes and inequality are particularly salient. For example, 90 percent of women aged 15-29 in Jordan say that the husband is entitled to hit or beat his wife, in Guinea this percentage is 85.4 percent, in Zambia it is 85.4 percent.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Psychology of Stereotyping
David J. Schneider.
Guilford Press, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Content of Stereotypes: Gender, Race, and Age"
The Developmental Social Psychology of Gender
Thomas B. Eckes; Hanns M. Trautner.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Gender Stereotypes and the Dynamics of Social Interaction"
Questioning Identity: Gender, Class, Ethnicity
Kath Woodward.
Routledge, 2004 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Gender Stereotypes" begins on p. 52
An Experimental Test of the Persistence of Gender-Based Stereotypes
Grossman, Philip J.; Lugovskyy, Oleksandr.
Economic Inquiry, Vol. 49, No. 2, April 2011
Constructing Gender Stereotypes through Social Roles in Prime-Time Television
Lauzen, Martha M.; Dozier, David M.; Horan, Nora.
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Vol. 52, No. 2, June 2008
Girls, Boys, and Junior Sexualities: Exploring Children's Gender and Sexual Relations in the Primary School
Emma Renold.
RoutledgeFalmer, 2005
Content Analysis and Gender Stereotypes in Children's Books
Taylor, Frank.
Sociological Viewpoints, Vol. 25, Fall 2009
Gender-Role Stereotyping and Career Aspirations: A Comparison of Gifted Early Adolescent Boys and Girls
Mendez, Linda M. Raffaele; Crawford, Kelly M.
Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Vol. 13, No. 3, Spring 2002
Women and Men in Organizations: Sex and Gender Issues at Work
Jeanette N. Cleveland; Margaret Stockdale; Kevin R. Murphy.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "How Stereotypes Affect Our Perception of Men and Women at Work"
Gender Bias in Fame Judgments: Implicit Gender Stereotyping or Matching Study Phase Fame?
Steffens, Melanie C.; Buchner, Axel; Mecklenbräuker, Silvia.
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Vol. 12, No. 3, June 2005
"I Run Faster Than Him Because I Have Faster Shoes": Perceptions of Competence and Gender Role Stereotyping in Children's Imaginary Friends
Coetzee, Hilda; Shute, Rosalyn.
Child Study Journal, Vol. 33, No. 4, December 2003
How Newspaper Sources Trigger Gender Stereotypes
Armstrong, Cory L.; Nelson, Michelle R.
Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 4, Winter 2005
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