Communicating Disinterest in Gender Issues Perpetuates Gender Stereotypes

September 28th, 2011 | Categories: Gender

Oftentimes when gender issues are raised in a class, even in a class where students are encouraged to be reflexive and critical about how they view these issues, students may seem oblivious to or disinterested in the inequalities that these topics represent for people.

For example, it is common for the idea of feminism to invoke, not proud internalization of the importance of equal rights for men and women, but instead stereotypical images of manly looking brutish women in short haircuts who are unnecessarily angry. Female students in particular work hard to distance themselves from these images, although doing so means they distance themselves from the ideals and values of feminists as well.

Students are oblivious or disinterested in these issues because they have not necessarily experienced their own unequal treatment because of their gender. At this point in their lives students have been (ideally) coddled by their parents and educational environments so that they are safe from the world outside of these. Helicopter parenting, for example, is one concept that describes this coddling that students may experience. Essentially, students often have not had to face the harsh realities of how their gender may affect consequential outcomes in their lives.

Not only are students often oblivious to or disinterested in these topics, but they also help to perpetuate these inequalities in their own behaviors. For example, evaluations students write about teachers at the end of their courses are notoriously biased against women and can result in unintentional discrimination in hiring, retaining, and firing female faculty when such decisions are based on student evaluations.

These consequential behaviors are not the work of isolated individuals who have axes to grind against instructors and knowingly report in false or exaggerated ways, although that occurs as well. More likely these result from mass expectations about gender that have unknowingly impacted students’ behavior. A recent article on gender stereotypes held by 1,000 Canadians aged 12 – 17 demonstrates how gendered expectations, for example, are (still) normal, appropriate, and taken-for-granted. The article provides evidence of the gendered expectations that students may not even realize they hold.

In light of these expectations, the obliviousness and disinterest that students communicate when issues of gender are discussed in class are illuminated to show how they perpetuate and, simultaneously, mask consequential stereotypes of women.

I provide the article here in full for The Communicated Stereotypes’ second Weblog Wednesday! For the original article visit CTV News.

Updated: Thu Sep. 22 2011 10:50:37 Staff

A new report finds some young Canadians still have stereotypical views about the roles of men and women.

International development agency Plan Canada commissioned surveys of the viewpoints of thousands of youth from around the world, including 1,000 Canadian youth between the ages of 12 and 17.

They found that while 91 per cent felt that equality between men and women in Canada is good for both boys and girls, some youth still subscribed to gender stereotypes. For example:

* 48 per cent of the youth thought men should be responsible for earning income and providing for the family
* 31 per cent of the boys felt that a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home and cook for the family.

In the U.K. meanwhile, only 15 per cent of young boys that a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home and cook for the family.

Canadian adults seemed to share similar views about gender role as their younger counterparts:

* 43 per cent of the adult respondents said men should be responsible for earning income and providing for the family
* 24 per cent believe a woman’s most important role is taking care of her home and cooking.

Rosemary McCarney, the president and CEO of Plan Canada, says she was surprised to see that gender stereotypes still persist, even in young Canadians.

“We were shocked. While Canadian boys said yes, they believe in gender equality etc. in large numbers, when you kind of dug down a little deeper, they still conform to very traditional stereotype roles,” she told CTV’s Canada AM.

The survey also found that a full 45 per cent of Canadian youth agree that “to be a man you need to be tough,” compared to just 13 per cent of youth in the U.K. In Rwanda, only 26 per cent of youth think men need to be tough.

“Over half of Canadian boys were saying that to be a man means taking more risks. These are harmful behaviours and harmful thoughts of boys. And it ends up leading to high-risk behaviour for boys,” said McCarney.

“It’s not working. We need boys and girls, men and women, parents and educators to really work on the issue of these traditional roles, because it puts us a lot of pressure on boys and it holds back girls from reaching their full potential.”

The survey also found 66 per cent of youth felt pressure from peers and friends to conform to traditional roles. Nearly half said the pressure came from media, while one-third think it came from family.

The new survey is part of Plan International’s latest report on the state of the world’s girls. This year’s report focuses on how boys and men can be part of the global solutions to gender inequality.

The report notes that poverty places a heavy burden on many fathers, husbands and sons, because in most societies as heads of the household men are expected to be the principal providers in their families.

But research shows that when men treat their wives as equal partners, are active parents, and take an interest in their children’s work, both boys and girls benefit.

“Boys are part of the solution and we need to engage them because frankly, all our research is showing that gender inequality doesn’t work for them either,” says McCarney.

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