Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Gender Bias in Women

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Gender Bias in Women

Article excerpt


In many ways, society today is turning away from gender bias and sexism more than at any other time in history. People in the social mainstream believe that we must encourage achievement by girls and women in traditionally "masculine" fields like politics, business leadership, science, mathematics, engineering, and technology, and that we must encourage boys and men to do traditionally "feminine" work like childrearing, nursing, and housework.

However, we have not abandoned traditional gender roles. Around the world, men comprise the great majority of political leaders, business leaders, and leaders in science and technology. And women still dominate childcare work, nursing, and elementary education.

This continuing gender segregation seems increasingly strange. Our perceptions of gender are shifting as we see more men and women who are very good at work that doesn't fit traditional gender expectations. We are seeing more women CEO's, women legislators, and women scientists; we see gay male couples successfully raising children together; and we see male nurses successfully caring for our sick and our elderly; to list just a few examples. And researchers have been searching in vain for evidence of inherent differences between male and female abilities to lead, think rationally, care, and nurture. Again and again, the evidence points to the conclusions that women can think and lead just as well as men, and men (i) can care and nurture just as well as women. (ii)

Given this situation, my question is: Why are things not changing faster? In the education courses I teach for college students preparing for jobs teaching children, why are most of my students still women, instead of being half women and half men? Why aren't the United States Congress, other national legislatures, and top business leadership anywhere near to being half women by now? Clearly we still have within us some deeply rooted gender bias, and I want to look at the roots of that gender bias in this article.

In critiques of sexism and gender bias, it often seems assumed that sexism and gender bias come only from men, or mostly from men. Men certainly do uphold and perpetuate gender-based discrimination on a massive scale. But women do it too, and it seems to me that thinking about sexism and gender bias, and about how to confront gender bias, is often impaired by failures to examine and understand gender bias in women. Therefore, I have chosen to focus here on gender bias in women.

Dorothy Dinnerstein's Critique

To aid in my critique of gender bias in women, I will call on my favorite critic of gender bias, the psychologist and philosophical anthropologist Dorothy Dinnerstein, who wrote the 1976 book, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise. Dinnerstein writes of how men "cling hard to their right to rule the world," and how women and men both "balk" "at any concrete step that is taken to break the male monopoly on formal, overt power." She goes on to assert--perhaps more surprisingly--that "Men's balking ... could hardly matter now if women were not balking, too." (iii) For Dinnerstein, women's commitment to retaining male dominance is essential to continuing the male-dominated, militaristic forms of government that, in our age of nuclear weapons, threaten to destroy the human race. (Dinnerstein was an ardent anti-nuclear-weapons activist, and human survival is always in the forefront of her thinking about gender.)

What women are doing wrong, according to Dinnerstein, is dominating early childcare. She argues that we must abolish the female monopoly on early childcare because it is in reaction to women's great power over our childhood experience that we women and men create our crazily over-dominating, militaristic patriarchies. No matter how much we love our mothers and other female childhood caregivers, we also resent them because they have so much power over us when we are little; as a result, it feels good to us to create male-dominated adult institutions. …

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