Gender Stereotypes: Where do They Come from and Why do They Persist?

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Questioning the origin of gender stereotypes is a complex and global issue, as multifaceted and layered as the cultures from which these preconceived notions originate. In Iceland, for example, almost no one (3.6%) believes that a woman has less right to available jobs than a man, whereas in Egypt, almost everyone believes such as an ineffable truth (94.9%).(1) What cultural variables could possibly account for this? Religion often takes the blame, but when one looks closer, different nations where the majorities are of the same faith often still exhibit a remarkable variety in the level and enforcement of gender stereotypes.

One hypothesis that accounts for the development of this discrepancy lies in the different ways in which various cultures practiced agriculture in the past. Ester Boserup, from whom this theory originated, found that gender roles are strongly correlated to plough use. Unlike shifting cultivation, which relied largely on the use of hand-held tools, plough usage requires “significant upper body strength, grip strength, and burst of power, which are needed to either pull the plough or control the animal that pulls it. Because of these requirements, when plough agriculture is practiced, men have an advantage in farming relative to women.”(1)

Naturally, as the centuries passed, it became thus assumed in those societies that men have an advantage when it comes to activities outside of the home (i.e. manual labour) whereas women specialise in those activities which take place in the home. The belief in this division of labour became so imbedded in these cultures that it effortlessly crossed over to those populations applying the same belief system to non-agricultural work.

To test this hypothesis, researchers combined pre-industrial ethnographic data from a wide variety of nations and ethnic groups which reported whether those societies traditionally practiced plough agriculture, alongside contemporary measures of individuals’ views about gender roles. Consistent with Boserup’s hypothesis, historical plough use was found to correlate very strongly with views on gender inequality today. (1)

In the digital age, where rapid and frequent cross-culture communication is a fact of life, the reasons why these stereotypes still persist is perhaps more baffling than their origins. After all, it is quite easy for someone from Egypt to observe the fact that Icelandic society is functioning perfectly productively, despite their belief that women work just as effectively outside the home as men do. Likewise, even countries with adequate workplace equality still have stereotypes about the preferences and natures of women and men as distint categories.

But when exactly do these develop?

The short answer would be, perhaps obviously, “in childhood.” Children become “gender aware” at a very young age (typically between three and five years of age, in our commercialised society even sooner), and begin to develop gender stereotypes almost immediately thereafter.(2) These concepts become rigidly defined between 5 and 7 years of age (Martin & Ruble, 2004), and begin to have lasting impact on identity and self-esteem by adolescence.(2)

Is this nature or nurture? It is a combination, but research seems to suggest that for the most part and at younger age, it is the latter. Children observe the roles of their elders, and begin to act them out in play with their peers as soon as they can walk and communicate enough to do so; through this process, they label themselves as being a boy or a girl, and begin to instruct themselves on what that entails.(2) “Imitation and instruction are vital components to children’s development. Adults promote this learning by role-modeling behavior, assisting with challenging tasks, and passing along cultural meanings to objects and events, all of which are components of gender development.” (Vygotsky, 1961)

Even if a child’s parents do not adhere rigidly to gender stereotypes, the pervasive nature of the media inundates children with preconceived notions about gender. Gender-typed messages are found on bed sheets, towels, bandages, clothes, school supplies, toys, and furniture (Freeman, 2007). Even the most well-meaning parent cannot shop for their child without exposing him or her to segregated pink and blue aisles for girls and boys. If aisles were thus segregated by race, most people today would be appalled, and yet it is considered normal where gender stereotypes are concerned (fortunately, activists, consumer groups and concerned parents are starting to react to this, demanding an ending to gender segregation in the marketing of children’s toys – see for instance the Lettoysbetoys and PinkStinks campaigns promoted in UK).

Likewise, adult role models are frequently shown perpetuating gender stereotypes via the media; for example, advertising related to computers typically depicts men and boys as “competent users, engaged in active or professional roles, while women and girls were passive observers or merely posed next to the computer while looking pretty or provocative.” (McNair, Kirova-Petrova, & Bhargava, 2001) This, of course, subsequently shows up in children’s play. It also keeps gender stereotypes perpetuated even as we move into a highly digital economy.

When a child enters school, this bias usually deepens, furthered by the biases of his or her teachers. “While unintentional, a teacher’s inherent biases can perpetuate unfair stereotypes and may be manifested in discriminatory classroom practices. For example, one group of teachers perceived girls as passive learners and therefore more “teachable” than boys.” (Erden & Wolfgang, 2004). In my research this was very evident as primary school girls (age 8-11) often complained of the double standard in terms of expected behavior from their teachers: boys would be allowed to be noisy and misbehaving in the class and playground to a much greater extent than the girls. An example is given by their conceptualization of “being a girl” as opposed to “being a boy” (see link http://thegirlsproject.webs.com/stereotypes.htm) Research shows that females often receive less active attention from their teachers, which reinforces lower aspirations of achievement and poor self-esteem. (2)

With all of these factors taken into consideration, it is logical to assume that gender stereotypes today are the product of cultural bias that is found on many different levels of society—in the home, in the media, on the playground, and in the classroom—which then perpetuates into later workplace, affecting our identity/sense of self and our relationship with others. Ending gender stereotyping, then, will take the concerted effort of many – parents, educators, activists, media producers, marketers, regulators, to name a few – to critically analyze and counteract gender bias found at all levels, in the media, the school system, the workplace, and the home.

 Main reading:
  1. http://www.econ.northwestern.edu/seminars/Nemmers11/Giuliano.pdf
  2. http://bit.ly/1pOb7Gv
References:
Boserup, E. (1970). Woman’s Role in Economic Development, London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
Erden, F., & Wolfang, C.H. (2004). An exploration of the differences in prekindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade teachers’ beliefs related to discipline when dealing with male and female students. Early Child Development and Care, 174(1), 3-11.
Freeman, N. (2007). Preschoolers’ perceptions of gender-appropriate toys and their parents’ beliefs about genderized behaviors: Miscommunication, mixed messages, or hidden truths? Early Childhood Education Journal, 34(5), 357-366
Martin, C., & Ruble, D. (2004). Children’s search for gender cues: Cognitive perspectives in gender development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(2), 67-70.
McNair, S., Kirova-Petrova, A., & Bhargava, A. (2001). Computers and young children in the classroom: Strategies for minimizing gender bias. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(1), 51-55.
Vygotsky, L. (1961). The development of scientific concepts in childhood. In K. Paciorek, & J. Munro (Eds.), Sources: Notable selections in early childhood education (pp. 11-18). Guilford, CT: Dushkin/McGraw-Hill.

47 thoughts on “Gender Stereotypes: Where do They Come from and Why do They Persist?

  1. Very nice article. In my experience males and females are different. Not better or worse, just different. I think that both males and females should be treated equally and be afforded the same opportunities and allowed to make their own free choices. But, I guess I don’t see anything wrong with dressing my baby girl in pink. I also dress her in green and yellow and purple, and brown, and black,etc. But, she dose wear a lot of pink. I don’t see a problem with having stores that contain clothing segregated by gender. In my opinion, race and gender are not the exact same thing. The color of a persons skin doesn’t effect their biology. But, a persons gender does. Males and females have more than just different sex organs, there are differences in the brain, in hormones, etc. We are different and I like it that way.

    • Yes Jodie, we are different for sure. Nobody could ever deny that (just by looking at our genitalia, lol). But my point is that we are more similar than different, especially character/personality-wise! Yet our culture, promoted and amplified by the media, focuses on the differences, it tends to naturally exhalts them and exaggerate for the sake of entairtainment. In the differences between men and women, there are lot of elements which are cultural/socially constructed rather than biological (and this has been proven by anthropological studies, observing the behaviour of women and men in different habitats and cultures, i.e. Margaret Mead observing tribal cultures in remote islands of the world). We are first and foremost HUMAN BEINGS and share the same way to experience emotions, love and fear. It is the generalisation brought by stereotypes, that confer certain attributes as “given” in a certain category of people (to the exclusion of the other), which create problems. It’s not about denying gender differences, it’s about avoid perpetuating limiting generalisations about one category of people and the other. In reality we are all different and that’s the beauty of it! Continue the conversation Jodie, I would be curious to know your age. I have heard a similar point talking with girls in their 20s, they actually LOVE the differences and to emphasize the differences become sort of a game that makes the boy/girl encounter more exciting. Maybe this whole thing changes with the age and at some stage is somehow about attraction, seduction, the struggle between the two? just like we see in the movies! 🙂

      • See, I actually think men and women are especially different character and personality-wise, not the same. Men and women are wired totally different in my opinion. We are also different in other ways as well. We ARE limited when compared to men’s strength. We can’t make believe we are equal there. I believe a woman who grows up to have low self esteem and blames it on gender stereotypes is just making excuses. People experience so much worse things and turn out to be very strong, confident, and successful people.

        I am 30 and I, as well, like the differences between males and females (except between my boyfriend and I lol).

        • I agree, I think that it doesn’t matter how we look at it and how much we try to dig to find the difference and how they started, men and women are just “different”. It has been that way since the beginning of time and it will be that was until the end,

  2. Men and Women are different. They think differently, behave differently, and they look different. No one can argue with that. I think, like you said, it all depends on age as well. I am 22 and my outlook on life is different to my mum who is now 50. I agree with Jodie – you can’t compare race with gender as gender is a hell of a lot more fundamental to our species than race ever will be. Nowadays women don’t spend all their time in the kitchen, looking after children. In most western homes, the husband and wife take on the cooking equally. Women work after their children are born and are not always expected to be domestic goddesses. But, now the difference is that women now have the choice of being in the kitchen, cleaning, looking after kids, etc as opposed to being expected to do so. Gender stereotypes aren’t a bad thing – they just are. My boyfriend and I work on that basis and it works really well for us – although he point blank refuses to clean the loo…

    • Rebecca thanks for your point: you wrote “he point blank refuses to clean the loo”. Lol! Then simply ask yourself: why you and NOT HIM is cleaning the loo in the end? (even if you hate doing it at the same level i am sure!) Is it not perhaps because of a certain cultural/social pressure ingrained into your being regarding what is expected from a good girl/woman? (e.g. keeping the house clean!). After all, is much more accepted for any boy/ man to live in a pigsty than for a woman/girl, isnt’it true? So you hate cleaning the loo but in the end decided to give up and not even taking turns on the task! And a similar thing happen with thousands of fathers around the world who refuse point blank to change their adorable baby’s nappy! And research show consistently hundreds of other examples: the social expectations placed on girls/women boys/men make us ultimately behave in certain way, this is undeniable when you reflect on it and your loo’s example is for me the perfect case in point 😉

      • Or that loo example is just ONE example of how a couple deals with their chores. It doesn’t actually mean it has to have anything to do with gender stereotypes. There are probably thousands of other examples where women refuse to clean the loo by themselves (like me).

        See, I actually think men and women are especially different character and personality-wise, not the same. Men and women are wired totally different in my opinion. We are also different in other ways as well. We ARE limited when compared to men’s strength. We can’t make believe we are equal there. I believe a woman who grows up to have low self esteem and blames it on gender stereotypes is just making excuses. People experience so much worse things and turn out to be very strong, confident, and successful people.

        I am 30 and I, as well, like the differences between males and females (except between my boyfriend and I lol).

        • lol Michelle, I love your last sentence! The last twenty years of neuro scientific research have highly disproved that there is actually much difference between male and female in term of how our brains are wired. Lisa Eliot made a powerful example of this in her comparison of graphs regarding psychological /attitudes gender differences compared to physical gender difference such height. While the difference in height is significant and cannot be denied, the difference in psychological and attitudinal characteristics are remarkably minimal and their distribution tend to overlap at all points of the curves: this means you can probably predict with reasonable degree of confidence on the basis on gender that a man will be taller than a woman, but in terms of psychological and attitudinal characteristics we cannot predict with confidence any of them on the basis of gender.
          But what has been discovered by neuro-scientists in hundred and hundred of studies is something even more significant: it’s called ‘neuro-plasticity’. It means that while in previous years scientists thought that our brain characteristic (or ‘wiring’) was somehow fixed, now it is evident that the brain (his neurons and all his nervous pathways and connections, so-called ‘wiring’) develops and grows in response to the enviroinment. This means that our education, the messages we get from parents and society, the toys we play with and all other enviroinmental influences will mold and shape our brain from the day we born. This is why the brain differences between the two sexes are incredibly minimal at birth, to become something noticeable once adulthood is reached.
          The trouble is GENDER DIFFERENCES ARE SEXY (to borrow from Lisa Eliot again). How boring would be to think that we are not this explosive encounter and exciting clash of ‘Mars and Venus’? Our brain is naturally inclined to form categories and opposites. We love dichotomies and contrasts. Media and marketing thrive on this desire of men and women to be different, like being from different planets (see the incredible success of the 1992’s book “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” of John Gray – which conclusions are much more based on what people experience, feel and see in their relatioships and every day life, rather than on solid scientific evidences). After all, the marketing of any product is based on something called ‘segmentation’… dividing a big mass of consumers into well defined categories and niches of people with similar characteristics (marketing LOVE stereotypes!). To be honest I was one of the most firmly convinced individual about gender differences until just a few years ago (funnily enough). I’ve always been tempted to believe the same as well: afterall this was my direct experience of relatioships with most boys and men in my life! How can someone ever deny such an obvious difference I thought? How can someone deny my own experience of things? But when I did stop and look at the real scientific evidence out there, I had to question my believes and I GRADUALLY started to appreciate the differences between men and women (or boys and girls) as something which is acquired and grow through many years of “molding” our brain and behaviour under social and enviroinmental expectations. Reflecting on how we become like we are is a fascinating phenomenon and I know these discoveries are positive in terms of making girls and boys (the women and men of tomorrow) much more close and similar than what has been in the past. THIS WILL BRING MORE UNDERSTANDING AND LESS POLARISATION. But this does not mean that the ‘sexiness of difference’ will disappear, because that ‘sexy tension’ is often between our individual characteristics, feminine or masculines or a mix of them. A masculine type (either men or woman) will be attracted by a feminine type (either man or woman) and so in truth to beat gender stereotypes is only to leave every boy and girl (alas every man and woman) free to follow their natural inclinations towards femininity/masculinity and express their individuality without ‘gender molding’ constantly applied to them.
          I am also convinced that the emphasis should not be on censorship, or more regulations and limitations applied to businesses, marketing and media productions: after all, the profit interests behind them would make very unlikely a drastic change of direction in the immediate future. The emphasis should be on making young girls and boys more critical towards media and marketing messages: by changing the way our boys and girls react to the enviroinment we will allow them to be sophisticated and indipendent consumers, who will be able to shape the economic and ideological fabric of tomorrow ‘s world through their informed demand or rejection fro certain products/media/marketing practices and patterns of consumption. In other words, by educating children on concepts such as ‘gender stereotypes’, ‘objectification’, ‘sexism’ or ‘sexualisation’ we will be able to eventually affect the system from the inside out.

  3. The persistence of gender inequality in the face of modern legal, economic, political processes that work against it suggests that there must also be on-going social processes that continually recreate gender inequality.

    I believe that people use widely shared gender stereotypes as “common knowledge”, or a process of relating to one another and coordinating their interaction. That might seem obvious – and harmless on the surface.

    In my experience with men, for example, they tend to be seen as more authoritative and I, as a woman, more communal in orientation. In the workplace, this readily led people to expect and defer to male counterparts in charge – and to look at me to carry on routine group maintenance efforts though I was more qualified to handle the task. Another example, when I was unemployed I was approached by the same company as a university male classmate. We had the same qualifications and university education, yet he received more offers and accepted a mid-level position while I was labeled “not as ambitious, appears weak and timid.”

  4. So much information to take in and try to develop a more informed opinion than the one I already had!
    What I have noticed in grown men with a good work ethic is that they struggle to see their female partner achieve a higher status than them. Even if they act supportive, you can see it in the way they make life harder. When they go to work, they think it is only them that they have to sort but when a woman gets a job, then it is her job to organize the child care, take the day off work if the child is ill, or indeed, as I do, work from home instead. Which ever way it happens, the children seem to still be the mother’s responsibility or at least it was in our house when I was in my 20s.

    I mention my age because now I am in my 30s, I am much more demanding of my husband to accept his part in parenting, so if I go to the gym or work, he does the laundry, cooks the meals and gets the kids to bed. He still can’t go 50/50 and doctors appointments or parents evenings are still my responsibility.
    This is a power balance issue and not one we argue over but one that is ever defining itself. My husband changed his actions when our daughters started growing and showing their own personality. I would simply ask him to think if he would want his daughters to be treated a certain way or would he agree if it was their partner leaving them to do the work and funnily enough, he started to help more.

    His father who is in his 60s would constantly add pressure by stating that certain things were a woman’s job, to which I would state, maybe it was years ago when he worked 18 hours a day down a mine but my husband works 8 hours a day and I work more, so he can pull his sleeves up. So my husband was being pulled by two different opinions.

    There has been an adverse effect with the male/female role association and the new opportunities with non manual labour in that men are constantly now portrayed as women’s puppets and are dumbed down, that they are led by their genitalia. This simply is not true. My husband is forever saying that I am brighter academically than he and whilst that is true in many areas, he has knowledge and wisdom in different areas. I truly believe in the saying
    “If you judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it ‘s stupid!”.
    Same with men and women. They believe what social pressure and media tell them they are. In that respect, the best thing we can do for children is keep them away from the television.

  5. I think how things started was based on the hunter/gatherer societies that started off in this world. Men would go out and hunt, while women would stay with the children and pick smaller type foods. The world allowed that standard to go on forever it seems. Instead of hunting, men would go to work and women would stay at home with the kids and clean and make sure dinner was ready. Now that women are finally getting jobs and becoming independent.

    I blame it on everything that has been done in this world since the dawn of man and woman. I think people expect the norms, which have been around for so long. I believe people tend to see women becoming more independent as a threat, but that’s because they don’t understand that the world is changing and that women are finally realizing we don’t need to rely on men and we don’t have to follow what women are “supposed” to like.

    We women realize we don’t need to be mothers, or get married too. In this day and age, the world is changing extremely fast and I am happy to see women becoming more independent and more in control in this world.

  6. Women don’t need to get married or be mothers…but I think the idea of family and marriage is important to both men and women. It has more of a career/life impact on women because we’re the ones carrying, delivering, and often staying with our babies. But I’m okay with that — women are given something so powerful in the ability to carry life, and I’ve known men who are actually jealous that they can’t. Personally I don’t know that I want to have children biologically, but I have no problem with women who do and who want to be stay at home moms. The sides don’t need to be so polarized.

  7. I love this post and I really do think that this is a debate which needs to continue! I recently was forced to examine this issue form a new angle which I hadn’t considered…..

    I am a mother to boys and girls and grew up with brothers and of course we are different but obviously not all men are the same and not all ladies are the same.

    At home my husband does the cooking and I do the cleaning – because I get satisfaction from having a clean house and my husband enjoys cooking – win/win. We teach our children about equality and that they can do/be anything they want.

    I became increasingly frustrated when my son came home from pre-school talking about pink for girls and football for boys because I had certainly never taught him anything along these lines……..when I discussed this with his teachers they explained that far from encouraging gender stereotyping they are encouraging a child’s natural instinct/desire to ‘group’ and ‘separate’ everything in their world.

    In order to make sense of their world children see what is similar about certain things and what sets them apart…..which is fine of course…..I just hadn’t expected.

  8. I would have to say that my scenario is a win/win as well. My boyfriend likes to cook a lot, so he does all the cooking. He does it because he gets real joy out of making good food and seeing that I love his cooking. I do most of the cleaning with the exception of washing dishes (I dry and put away) because I like my home to be neat and tidy. I get agitated and frustrated when it is not clean which causes fights of course.

    As far as gender stereotypes, I really do think men and women are different but within their personalities, likes, dislikes and morals. I don’t necessarily think we are born differently, but become different through our experiences and what is expected of us throughout our lives.

    With this said, I work from home. I don’t enjoy the “real jobs” as people call them, or working outside of the home. I’m not really a huge people person.I am quiet, opinionated and a book reader. I like doing things on my own, not that I can’t work in a team as I can (I play sports like soccer and basketball), I just prefer to work alone. My boyfriend is more than accepting of this and wants me to work from home if that’s what makes me happy. He works outside of the home because he likes it, it gives him a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. So we’re different in our preferences and understand that we have different roles despite what the stereotypes say.

    The reason why I am replying to the above comment, is I never thought I would hear a teacher say that they are teaching them to separate out into groups based on their natural instinct or desires. Part of me wants to say this is wrong as a child at that age may not know what their desire is, they’re more likely to get torn or follow what their friends are doing. So these experiences will be influenced by a ton of different external factors. But at the same time, it might be really good as a child can then try what they think they will like and discern whether it really is an interest to them or not. Like a girl seeing that she doesn’t like the colour of pink when she looks in the mirror or a boy who decides football is too rough for his liking.

  9. I feel like gender stereotypes persist because it’s easier for people to go along with what they assume works rather than question whether or not standards and expectations that we apply to each other are actually damaging or stifling. In my own life, I’ve come to realize that my father subtly taught my brothers to disregard me and my mother when our presence, thoughts, or feelings are inconvenient, but never to do that when such an inconvenience is coming from another male. With this came the realization that I was taught this as well; I have to catch myself when I’m being overly dismissive to other women.

  10. I loved reading the comments here as much as the actual article. You all have given me much food for thought.
    Whilst yet, social culture has shaped what defines both stereotypes and also social history,I do believe we get it wrong at times. Like Rachel stated the reason we accepted the different roles was that Hunter/gatherers, where the men went hunting and the women stayed back and took care of the children but this has been disproved and it has been said that now scientists realized the females hunted the same as the men back then.

    I do think there is some connection back to a time where our biological differences meant survival but that time has long gone and unless we enter a dystopia of sorts, I can’t see us needing that difference back again. We have essentially made males feminine. Is that a bad thing? Not if that is what is needed to adapt and survive and that is all that matters.Survival isn’t just about the elements, it is social survival too.
    Why would social survival need effeminate males? Because women are gaining headway and men need to be less aggressive to keep being accepted. Or maybe females were actually always the more aggressive gender, so temper and aggression made up for male strength?
    In a world where more women are deciding to not have children and they can work for themselves, maybe there is less of a difference now as roles are redefined?!

  11. Love your history behind where gender stereotyping stems from. Cultural bias is definitely the key issue in regards to this topic. We are pre conditioned from birth to think and act in a certain way. If mom is a stay at home mom or works in an office while dad is out doing construction, we automatically assume that these are the roles of man and woman.A lot of people refuse to believe that gender stereotyping is still an issue in America today, but it is! I recently heard that a fire station still rarely hire a woman. Another example is the army. YES, there are females in the army. However, from my understanding of a person who actually served in Iraq, women aren’t given the same responsibility as a man. For the most part, they stay on the back burner. Also, men do still get paid more than women in a lot of jobs.
    I’m a teacher, and I’ve seen with my own eyes certain parents not wanting their children in a classroom with a male teacher. That right there is gender bias against man. I believe that as much as we may want this to change, it probably never will. I do think it will get better as time goes on, but It’s always going to exist in our society. Culture, media, and upbringing all play a part in this, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

  12. Wow that is intense! When I think about gender stereotypes I think of the kinds of messages I am sending to my kids but you are right that this comes from so many different sources and a whole lot of it is out of a parent’s control. It’s kind of overwhelming to think about. It does start from being a baby when names are chosen and the way parents dress up their children. By the time I was 5 years old I had a friend that was a boy and his favorite color was hot pink which I thought was a little strange for a boy to like pink. I never teased him for it or anything I just thought it was odd and let it be.

    When I was probably middle school age I was seeing Kinect and Magnetix advertised on TV and I used to beg my parents to get them for me and I remember them telling me that they were boy toys. I told them that I didn’t care and I really wanted them anyway. I did eventually get the Kinect set and loved it. I would play for it for hours at a time. I was kind of lucky in a way that my dad never had a son and I used to like hanging out with him when I was little while he worked on projects around the house. Many times he let me “help” him and watch him work.

    I eventually learned all about using all different kinds of tools to build things or how to work on different parts of a car. When I was older and on my own I thought it was so great that I could do so many things that most girls don’t know how to do. I could change my own brakes, oil, hoses etc on my car. I also was able to do construction work and wiring. I worked with my dad flipping houses and was able to do pretty much any home improvement projects on my own without having to hire a contractor or as a man for help which is great!

    Now I have my own kids and one example I have is when my teenage son asked for an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. If he would have asked his father his dad probably would have told him no and picked on him for wanting one. When I was little I had one of my own that was red which is considered to be a pretty gender neutral color but there is no way any boy was about to ask for one back then. Baking was something that girls did. Now they come in two colors – pink and blue. Well I got him the blue one but it is still only being marketed to girls so the box had only girls on it. Before wrapping the gift for him I grabbed a Sharpie marker and drew beards and mustaches on all of the girls. I do have to say though that if it only came in pink or he asked for it in pink I would have gladly still gotten it for him. It’s so important to support your child’s interests, ambitions and dreams because it will give them a sense of who they are and confidence when they get older.

  13. This article was interesting in its effort, exploring the reasons for gender discrimination in different cultures through the historical context of agriculture. I’m not sure that I can agree with the idea that nurturing is the main reason for gender development, I think in the case of my child it was definitely “nature” that shaped her gender identity. I am very much a “tomboy,” a “butch lesbian” that dresses androgynously, and my 7-year-old daughter is a super-feminine, pink and tutu loving little girl. She was never directed towards girly things, but she definitely chose them for herself. You could also take transgendered children as an example of nature’s work. Why do some transgendered children come from gender-conservative families? These families in no way influence their boy children to feel more girlish, and their girl children to feel more boyish, yet these children do indeed feel that they are not meant to be in the body of their original gender. I think much of gender is determined by genetics and the fate of nature. Which is why I feel it’s important to not force gender on a child as they grow, as some parents do. Because children are who they are meant to be, and suppressing this is hurtful to their individual identity. That’s why, as a liberal mom, even though it kills me, I have to let my daughter play with dolls and wear pink, because this is who she is, and only she can determine that.

  14. I like that you mention culture being a factor contributing to gender stereotypes. This has a huge impact on how children are treated and raised. In college I took a cultural anthropology class and we discussed and studied some cultures that are actually matriarchal, for example: the Mosuo in Tibet, the Minabgkabae in Indonesia, or the Nagovisi of New Guinea… as an American girl growing up in Middle Eastern countries (such as Egypt, Oman, and the UAE) I only thought that men were supposed to be the head of society and in charge, because that’s all I knew–it never even occurred to me that their could be anything else. I also had to no problem with it, mostly because my parents were wonderful and raised me well and I didn’t really have negative experiences.

    But, the point is, growing up I wasn’t really consciously thinking about gender stereotypes until I got to college and took classes which shed light on my own prejudices and gender stereotypes. My family environment and the cultural environment both had a great impact on me because that was the norm and those two things, plus the media subconsciously shaped my views. I’m not saying that either matriarchy or patriarchy is better, but I am just confirming that culture and the structure of a society has a grand impact on gender stereotyping. AND media in Western culture reflects and perpetuates those societal structures.

  15. I never thought of gender segregation as part of religion until now. It’s been so ingrained in my brain that it’s just the way it is I don’t think that I ever questioned it. I know that sounds rather shallow of me, but it’s ingrained in me. I’m rather sad that I haven’t thought about it like that. Silly isn’t it?

    Though I have thought about it (gender segregation) back in the ‘good ole’ days’ when the woman stayed in the house and were barefoot and pregnant.

  16. I’m not sure, are we saying that these gender stereotypes are bad or not? I think they are a necessary part of our culture and as long as they are not taken to extremes as they are in some countries around he world, I am supportive of that. For the very religious people out there, the stereotypes are set deep in their belief systems and for many others, it is more of a boy vs. girl thing that they don’t think twice about.

  17. I know of several parents who are committed to raising their children gender neutral. It will be interesting to see the outcome. It’s not something I attempted consciously with my children, because as you mentioned, it would take a huge concerted effort to push back against gender biases in all the impressionable environments they will be exposed to.

    I do, however, allow my children to choose and express no judgement. I have a 3 year old daughter and two year old son and one day I bought her toddler nail polish and well of course they both wanted their nails done and so I did. I didn’t think twice about it. My 12 year old son came into the room and I asked him if he wanted some and he answered with a laugh, “no thanks.”

    I received mix reactions from family members: “why are you trying to humiliate him?” to “aww, that’s cute.” I challenged that it does not humiliate him. And doesn’t that also make a bigger statement that to be “like a girl” is humiliating or lessening. Hm…How will these reactions affect him in the end? We will see…
    Once again, wonderful post and engaging content…too engaging, I can’t seem to stop having opinions! 🙂

  18. I was reading an article the other day about gender disappointment (when parents think their babies will be one gender & they’re the other) and while I totally get the emotional component, I was weirded out by how horrified the article seemed to be at this story of a newborn boy who had to sleep on pink sheets, like it was this huge tragedy. I grew up the oldest of eight kids, and my youngest brothers had four older sisters, so I PROMISE you they wore some hand-me-down pink at some point in their life, and they seem to be OK.

    However I do know a lot of people who are almost offended at the idea of NOT doing the gender stereotyping. One guy told me in no uncertain terms that he would be very upset if his son decided he wanted to wear pink one day. That’s such a silly idea to me — and while I obviously don’t think it’s wrong if a boy wants to play with trucks or a girl wants to play with dolls, sometimes it gets into uncomfortable territory where girls who don’t like makeup or dresses (aka me growing up) feel like there’s something *wrong* with them because they’re not very girly.

  19. I deal with this everyday the male/female stereotypes at my job. We have job titles where I work and the male is always considered the “Business Manager” and the female is the “Business Managers Assistant”. It goes back to the Boss & Secretary setup in an office. Keep in mind that the BMA (Business Manager Assistant) does the majority of the work while the BM (Business Manger) is entertaining the Client at lunch. The BM returns from lunch and wants the paperwork and the BMA hands its over to him and he needs the BMA to explain what it is and how it works. Meanwhile, the BM makes over 30K more than the BMA…she barely makes enough to support her and her kids.

    Why does it persist? I DO NOT KNOW!! Thankfully I am not a BMA and have advanced in this company to a higher level but because people need their jobs, to ever hold a “petition” and have a BMA walkout to show the gender stereotypes, people would lose their jobs.

  20. Very interesting academic exploration of the origins and proliferation of gender roles and responsibilities. I think gender roles persist because we accept them. We talk about them as if they are a problem and then we still operate within the context of those gender roles. I don’t think gender roles are inherently bad. People make gender roles bad when they begin to limit individuals who wish to operate outside of prescribed gender roles to those myopic gender roles.

    I think that is why it’s so important for women to begin owning businesses instead of working in them. Women have to take a more proactive role in shaping their reality.

  21. Interesting article. I really like to go through such articles, as I get a chance to share my opinions. God has created males and females equally, but it is us who have created such a huge difference between the sexes. Segregated by gender might be cool and handy in clothing stores, but it can really hurt feelings when done in countries and among races. We all breathe air and eat food, drink water. Color, languages, body shape does not change anything. Before men and women we are humans. If anyone sees any difference among a boy and child then seriously he/she needs to change. Girls have to face differences from the day they enter the world which they don’t deserve. It is the time to end gender stereotyping.

  22. I agree, there are drastic differences in the sexes from a biological standpoint. The media and society are notorious for taking these differences, regardless of how overlooked, or insignificant, and putting them center-stage.

    Here is an example. How many times have we gone into a toy store, and seen a separate isle for boys, and another for girls? I can understand categorizing toys by age group, but I think that it’s a little much to market different toys based on the gender of the child.

    What I find a little depressing is that the toys that are marketed to girls are ones that provide pretend play in areas such as cooking, housework, and baby care, while the ones marketed towards boys provide war-like play, cars, and professional careers.

    What are these toys teaching our children? As a society are we really paying attention to the subliminal messages we are advocating, such as a girl is predisposed to grow into a woman who stays home and raises children while boys are better suited to work professional jobs to support their families?

  23. Great article, and, Angie, great comment as well. With the holiday season fast approaching (today was the first that I heard carols in the stores – I do wish they would wait until after Thanksgiving at a minimum), the issue of gender stereotyping and toy selection once agains is playing out across America.

    Each year our family is paired with an anonymous family in need through a local nonprofit. As we do our holiday shopping for our own family (my husband and I are in our 40s and we have two teenage daughters), we shop as well to support this family. This year, family 118, with which we were paired, consists of a wife and husband, their own three children, and two additional children living with them. All five children are between 9 and 11 and there are 3 boys and 2 girls.

    I was reminded again of the multiple contributors to gender stereotypes when I received the family’s profile page. It gives the age and gender of each family member, as well as clothing sizes (the primary purchase requests are for winter clothing in our region). For each child, we also get a bit of information about toys or other fun items that they would like.

    The girls each had crafts and dolls or stuffed animals beside their names. The boys had sports equipment, video games, and nerf guns. My husband teaches science. Our oldest daughter is a college sophomore studying computer engineering. We’re a geeky little family. In shopping for the girls, we contemplated getting both a craft set, full of markers and paper and paints for each girl. Then, we’d purchase a snap-circuit set as well, where you can use plastic units (a bit like legos) to build electronics projects. In our house, they are both a type of craft, if we think of craft as being using resources to create something new, and both were loved by our own girls.

    But the more I thought about it, I kept wondering – who was responsible for the list? Did the girls want only the animals and art tools? Had mom and dad steered them in this direction? Was it right to give something that wasn’t what they wanted? Who was I to presume and foist my suppositions on them?

    Oh well, a bit angst-ridden, but the girls are getting the art sets and the circuits. Do what they will with them. I feel slightly subversive.

  24. It appalls me that we are still adhering to an archaic, no, older than archaic, system concerning boys and girls. But it is so ingrained in people to follow that it will be extremely hard to fix this huge problem.

    Since I was little, I can remember hating playing with cars because they were for boys, and I just wanted to be a pretty little girl. I wanted to be beautiful and feminine since I was little, which I believe is from all the attention I received about my beautiful (not to brag) hair. I loved this attention, and I wanted it to continue, and I thought the only way you could get attention was for being pretty. I fear this is something that happens in a lot of young girls, and that sickens me. Looking back, I was vain and honestly, stupid. We need to fix a society that does this to young girls.

  25. There is stereotyping and there is natural instinct. Men were created to be strong, out going, thinkers, ect. and women were created to be more emotional, nurturing, and understanding. Look at the animal kingdom. Most females are the ones who care for the babies and stay to guard the home while the males go out and hunt, gather, and fight. No, we are not animals but we sure can learn something from them. I am all for women doing what they want but I am so over the women thinking they can be just like men. They can’t. Try and try again, and fail some more. I am old fashioned and feel women should be the care givers of the family. The ones who raise the kids, care for the home, and keep everything organized and the man should bring home the bacon, so to speak. I am not saying it should be this way for everyone, but making women like me feel like I am lazy for wanting to be a stay at home mom is a bunch of horse crap. Women get made to look lazy for “just” raising a child and not having a job and the ones who go out and try to have a job and be a mother are made to feel like bad moms. There is no win in this.

  26. See, I would argue that we are more different than similar – and that it’s more nature than nurture. i know many will disagree, but I’ve been really digging into researching the WHY and HOW different roles exist for men and women now, and why they did in the past. I think what so much of the research is missing is the ‘problem’ of children. In a species with such an absurdly long gestation period, children were and are so reliant on their mothers. I think this has had a profound effect on our evolution that is not going to disappear in a matter of one or two generations. In a world where from a few months of being pregnant to around four years after giving birth means a woman needs to be dependent, typically on a man, this effects our evolution. I am so happy to see a blog that acknowledges this.

    I recently read a feminist blog where she lamented how she didn’t want to hire more women and recounted her experiences with the female staff she had chosen, deciding that in her own life, at least, it’s women’s behaviour and lack of equal ability to men keeping them out of the workforce in the higher levels. But when people started commenting to her about sexual dimorphism, psychology of the genders, etc? She deleted 63 comments as ‘spam’ for daring to suggest the differences.

    I don’t know the full picture, but I do know that the idea that gender is 100% socially constructed is a damaging lie.

  27. “Even if a child’s parents do not adhere rigidly to gender stereotypes, the pervasive nature of the media inundates children with preconceived notions about gender.”

    Great article, the author has hit the nail on the head with this truth. To further the conversation, if anyone here has read Boserup’s “Woman’s Role in Economic Development”, it’s proof of what the author is talking about. Through Boserup’s sound analytical lens, you will see the deep seated nature of the problems women face as they enter the workplace – from professional classes right through to unskilled labor. And, yes, it is rooted in an imbalanced, almost ideological dialogue that begins in the home. This is true for both European and non-Western contexts. As a 32 year old mother and aunty, there is a negative trend in media culture and it needs to be addressed seriously at both local and national levels of Government in my opinion.

  28. I don’t think gender sterytopyes are necessarily releveant in the sense that while you could say most girls are into “feminine” things and most boys are into “masculine” things, you can’t say that it’s true for each and every boy and girl. You can have a girl be really into “masculine” things while a boy can be interested in “feminine” things. By encouraging the steryotypes I feel that it’s teaching kids they have to behave and like specific things or they’re doing something wrong. I think children should just be able to like what they like and leave it at that.

    An example of this is how Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt raise their daughter, Shiloh. She has shown a preference for “masculine” things, so they allow her to enjoy those things without being labeled or judged.

  29. As a 42-year-old mother of six girls and two boys (okay, one isn’t born yet), I find this topic fascinating. Personally, I love gender differences. Life would be dull if we were all the same. There are definite differences between all my children, but the difference between my boy and his sisters is the greatest variance of all. That could very well be, of course, that he follows the gender example set by his father, despite the enormous female influence in his home.

    My readings on the topic aren’t quite in line with yours regarding the hard-wiring of genders. Here is a 2013 study, which is written up in many reports:

    http://www.pnas.org/content/111/2/823

    Ultimately, it shows obvious differences in the neurological wiring of the brain which explains why men and women excel in different areas. (Whether this occurs naturally as hormones are released during the maturing process, or if this wiring is caused by nurture, I don’t know. I believe it’s both.) One of the researchers remarked that those strengths fall in line with the gender stereotypes we generally have in our society. Is it wrong to stereotype based on consistent observation? I guess that’s the issue.

    I get a little, shall we say, “amused” when people speak of the equality of the sexes in every single area that exists. I can tell you 100%, despite my having and avidly supporting the goals and dreams of my six highly capable daughters, that if I’m ever unconscious on the second story of a burning builder, I absolutely want a man carrying me down. The vast majority of men are stronger than women. Yes, women have the strongest muscle in the human body, but you can’t open a jar of pickles with your uterus. I can’t anyway.

    I’m not a scientist–I haven’t even played one on TV–but I find this topic fascinating. Thanks for the article.

  30. It is so interesting to learn about a lot of modern gender bias stemming from early day argricultural practices. That blows me away where it started and how it became so engrained into our culture. I’ll be honest, the first thing I thought about when I saw this post was the toys. How as we grow, boys are given things like legos and erector sets and told to build things and girls are given dolls and told to nurture. It all comes back around and we grow up thinking that that is what we are meant for. I grew up thinking I always wanted to have children. The longer I went without having one as an adult, the more grateful I became. I realized, it wasn’t actually something that I wanted, it was just something that was programmed from the very beginning. I am trying to comb over a lot of other things that I think represent me as a person and see what things are actually just what society told me I wanted. Great post! Very interesting!

  31. This article is from 2014, and it is still heated and important today. There was recently outrage about Target taking away girl/boy distinctions in the kids toy aisle. Personally, I’m proud of them for doing so, and based on the evidence of this article, we all should be. Many of the comments on the article have been saying well, men and women just are different! And we feel that in our gut because, as you said, we are forced to see differences and stereotypes from a very young age. These images overwhelm and consume us (consumer society, ya know). It’s honestly infuriating to see so many people respond that it just is – no it’s not! It’s there because we reinforce it by just accepting! Girl/boy distinctions can be important for our identities, but we should first let identities develop before we push boy or girl labels on to them. Children, as your article has shown, don’t have the chance to discover or explore who and what they want to be before they are forced into a label based on their genitalia. It’s horrendous how much emphasis we put on private parts because men were physically better at using ploughs. We are all strong and intelligent enough to have moved beyond a world of hand ploughs so let’s do ourselves the service of letting our children prosper from our development – let them chose who they want to be! I am frustrated as I read the comments but relieved to be reading articles as articulate and necessary as yours is. I wish more people could read the greater message of it and let identity become more fluid.

  32. A very interesting theory about gender but I don’t think is accurate when it posited that it starts at childhood. I had several friends that became gay or lesbian at a later age in life. When I asked them if they felt that kind of tendency earlier on in their childhood, they answered in the negative. They said they’re honest that it just started at a much later age.

  33. I think that men & women should be treated equally. The dress codes against females is far more ridiculous then guys. Females can’t even show a little bit of skin without getting yelled at or told to change.

  34. It’s interesting how the gender determination of who they want to be starts at such a young age between 5 and 7 and are long lasting after that once they get to adolesence

  35. I think that there is a huge difference between boys and girls but not in a bad way at all. Boys are better at somethings and girls are better at other things. Equality is a huge problem nowadays and no one sees that it’s destroying society. People get treated like trash, and people don’t do anything about it. They wont back them up, protect them, nothing. They laugh and think that it’s funny to pick on people when it’s not. People commit suicide because they get bullied and due to bullying the world is a scary place. Everybody needs to learn how to treat people the way they want to be treated instead of treating someone different than someone else. Everybody is equal and that’s what everybody needs to learn.

  36. I feel that both genders should be equally treated even if not fully equal and that’s what everybody needs to understand. We may not all be equal because that’s virtually impossible, but if we treat each other as equals the world would be a better place. You don’t need to make fun of somebody for being themselves, just like if you were doing something that made you happy and somebody was laughing at you for it, that wouldn’t make you feel good about yourself. If everybody could just be kind and accepting I think that would be the answer to all of our problems.

  37. You can’t categorize a whole group of people with labels and assume they’re all the same. Racial stereotypes are not ethically or morally okay so why are gender stereotypes okay? But I do think environment is a big reason why people think the way they do. Say your parents are against girls going to school, if you are around that that is all you know and you may not understand others opinions, but I believe there comes an age where kids can decide for themselves and use their own brain to decipher right from wrong.

  38. Gender stereotypes have probably been more negative than they have been positive. I believe that people should do what they feel like they would like or things that they find interesting. For example, if a male wants to do something that society labels as feminine, but it makes him happy, he should be able to do it without being biased against, and the same goes for females, and anyone in between. My younger brother used to ask me to paint his nails when he was around 7 because he thought that idea of nail polish was cool and he wanted to be like me and our sister, and at first other boys made fun of him at school, but he ignored them because it made him happy and that’s what he wanted to stick with. That’s how I think society should be instead of stereotyping everything because of someone’s gender or gender identity.

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  41. It has been proven time and time again that the differences ARE acquired. Although it’s a tad frightening to think of a sort of sci-fi world where neutral colours are mandatory, and names could offer no suggestion as to what one’s gender really is … imagine what both men and women would be capable of? The strength and intelligence of women leading..the creativity and sympathy of men building bridges. Makes me think of Katniss and Peeta. haha As silly as that sounds, post apocalyptic seems to be the ideal world for a fresh start. I gave my five year old nephew flowers when he finished a hockey tournament. You should have seen his face! Not too impressed, and kind of embarrassed..even though no one was around. I felt sad for his fate of not being able to feel the beauty of flowers, and annoyed with my brother for being such a ‘dudely’ dad. I wish parents were more aware that as harmless as choosing a bunch of pink dresses or monster trucks really seems to be.. the lack of balance in both strong and sensitive purchases is only going to prevent their children form being able to enjoy more of the great things in life. : (

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