The other day the man and I went on an arts trail. In one of the participating houses I came across a great piece of art which I wanted to buy for a friend’s birthday. When I realised I’d run out of cash I asked the man if I could borrow some from him, with the full intention of paying him back, as this was my present for my friend. When the man paid for the piece, the girl in charge winked at me and said ‘sneakily done, I like it’.
I only just made it out of there without confronting her. When I burst out about it to the man, he claimed that if it had been the other way around (so him borrowing money from me), the girl would have said the same thing. Somehow I don’t think so. This was just an example of archetypal gender stereotypical thinking. And you know what? We are all guilty of it!
I know a full-time dad who I see out and about with his young daughter. He tells me that when he goes into local shops pushing the pram, cashiers often address him with ‘madam’. And he doesn’t look anything like a woman! So, we don’t only think in gender stereotypes, we literally look at the world that way too. We see what we expect to see, not what’s really there.
Yes, I say ‘we’, because we all do it in some way or form. Try this, do you think of a man or a woman when you think of these jobs: cleaner, cashier, hair dresser, secretary? Yep, women, even though there are plenty of men out there doing those jobs.
Having said that though, when it comes to jobs gender bias is still very prevalent. Recent research from Yale University presented a group of scientists with an application from a student applying for a lab manager position. Half the group were given the application with a male name attached, the other half were given the exact same application with a female name attached. You guessed it: “female” applicants were rated significantly lower than the “males” in areas such as competence, hireability, and whether the scientist would be willing to mentor the student.
And here’s an interesting one. A friend tells me that a particular secretary in their workplace is achieving amazing results. Now this secretary is a real go-getter and very experienced in her job. But I wonder if her success is also partly due to these two factors: 1) The lady in question has a non-gender specific name (as in Sam, Charlie) and 2) This particular workplace has given secretaries a different job title which makes it hard to place them in the office hierarchy (great idea by the way!). Could it be that her (undeliberate) posing as a male with a higher hierarchical job gains her more respect by those she deals with externally via email? I’m afraid so.
So, it looks like we still have a long way to go in reaching true gender equality in all spectrums of life. Let us all try to move away from conditioned ways of thinking about gender. Let us all try to see what’s really there. Only then real change and real progress can happen.