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Gender Roles and Female Unconscious Bias

When it comes to social issues in this country, we aren’t doing too great on a lot of them. But at one point, this was one area I thought we were doing better on; I actually believed our society had stopped teaching traditional gender roles. Apparently, I was wrong.

Fortune published an article on a study that showed both girls and boys tend to view males as smarter than females. Now, here’s the interesting part: at the age of five, both genders viewed their own gender as the smarter one – it wasn’t until they were a bit older that they started to endorse gender stereotypes. What’s even more interesting, when the girls were asked who they thought did better in school, they chose girls. One of the professors who conducted the study says it indicates that the stereotypes are “free of any marker of achievement and intelligence.”

Now this part is just scary – when the kids were asked to choose a game to play, one was described as being for “really, really, smart people,” and the other not, the girls chose to play the one wasn’t for “smart people.” The girls believed the boys to be smarter than them, so they didn’t even bother trying the game for smart people. There are studies after studies about how there aren’t enough women in STEM careers, and perhaps this is why.

There are more studies on the topic. Another one concluded that girls as young as six see themselves as sex objects. In the study, girls ages six to nine were shown different dolls, and asked to choose the doll that they thought they looked like, the one they wanted to look like, and the one that would be most popular in school or that they wanted to play with. Overwhelmingly, the girls said they wanted to look like the doll that was dressed in tight or revealing clothes, and said that doll would win in a popularity contest.

Now, look, if you’re a grown woman and you like to wear a tight dress on a night out, or anything like that, I have no problem with that – in fact, I do it, too. My problem comes when women or girls dress like that because they think they have to in order to be attractive, or because they think their bodies are all they have to offer. You really think that 6-year-old girls want to look “sexy” because it makes them empowered? No, it has to do with what society is teaching them. And yes, I’m looking at you, “Toddlers in Tiaras.”

One last study for you: an HCD Research study showed that, in this last election, the group with the highest level of implicit bias against women in careers were female Trump supporters. Interestingly enough, female Clinton supporters weren’t far behind.

Here’s what worries me: somewhere in this country, there might have been a girl that, several months ago said “I want to be president,” and has since changed her mind. And it’s not because we have a male president again (we’ve had plenty already), but because an incompetent, unqualified, racist bigot became president over a qualified, smart, ambitious woman. That’s not to say that sexism is the only reason Trump won — it was one of many.

My conclusion to all this is that one of the reasons there aren’t as many women in national politics, STEM, or executive roles is because if there is an unconscious belief that men are smarter, while women are merely sex objects, then women won’t even try.  The first study supports this. And it’s a problem, because we are smart, and ambition is a good thing, and, just for the record, you can be smart and sexy.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Images/GIFs: 1, 2, 34

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Irina Kovari

U Mass Amherst

I'm a senior marketing major at UMass, with a passion for writing and equal rights. I'm on MASSPIRG at UMass, drink too much caffeine, and eat too much chocolate.
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