Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ask a Feminist: Gender Stereotypes

Today one of my roommates had a homework assignment that I, for one, find fascinating: gender stereotypes. For this assignment she needed to interview two different individuals and get their take on these issues. After she interviewed me, I asked her to forward her notes, and I'm including them here.

  1. What do you think of the idea that “the more prevalent the stereotype, the more the stereotype reflects reality”?
    1. That makes a lot of sense to me, actually, because reality can reflect stereotype. If a stereotype is really strong then people start to live it out or act it out. They think if they follow it, it’s because they’re just built that way.
  2. Do you think all gender stereotypes are false?  If so, why?  If not, what gender stereotypes do you believe are accurate?
    1. It depends. If you’re asking if any stereotypes are true for everyone, then absolutely not. but if you're asking if some stereotypes are true in general, as a pattern, then absolutely. Some stereotypes reflect general patterns. I don’t think many gender stereotypes are true around the world-- a stereotype that is accurate in one culture may not be true in another.  I think of it in terms of overlapping bell curves, where you'll find a few people in the extreme on either side, but mostly you'll find that men and women are in the overlapping area, which usually incorporates about 90% of each bell curve.
  3. What would you classify as benevolent sexism?
    1. Restricting someone despite your good intentions, and without realizing the way it’s affecting them. For instance, a man might tell a woman she can't be involved in politics because it would demean her, or a woman might tell a man he can't cook or clean because it's not in his nature. It is sexist, and it is a false way of seeing things.  It really is causing damage, and restricting someone, but it’s done in the name of helping them.  it is a way of restricting that is hidden or disguised by the name of benevolence.
  4. What would you classify as hostile sexism?
    1. It's a lot more open in its intent to inflict harm.  You see it more when someone is openly devaluing someone, saying "You don’t have a right to do this," or "I have a right to treat you this way because you are a man or woman."  but I think this can be disguised as benevolent when someone does something harmful and says they’re doing it for your good.
  5. Do you think either benevolent or hostile sexism is worse than the other? Why?
    1. I think they’re different. Hostile can cause more damage and be more painful, but benevolent is hard to fight because if they honestly think they are helping someone then they don’t see the damage.  Benevolent can be really dangerous because it’s hard to get anyone to take you seriously when you’re fighting it, whereas hostile people are more open to helping you fight it.
  6. What do you think some main gender (not sex) differences are?  How are these not stereotypes?
    1. That’s hard. I know there are some generalizations like, women are better at multitasking, and men tend to be better at focusing on one thing and tuning other things out. But I also know that there are a lot of exceptions to these things.  I myself tend to be on the masculine side of how I do things, and I know other women who are as well, and it would be a logical fallacy not to think of them as women just because they have masculine traits.  some women are emotionally clueless and some men are very sensitive.  Sometimes men don’t think things through because they are oversimplifying, and sometimes women see things because they are more roundabout.  Men also tend to be more hierarchical in their communication, and women tend to downplay hierarchy and try to even things out. But again, there are exceptions to everything.
  7. Do you think there are any benefits to gender stereotypes?
    1. No, I think there are benefits to understanding some general differences between men and women so that you can adjust and accommodate different perspectives. I've done some research on how men and women communicate differently, and sometimes we say things that mean one thing to men and different things to women. As a teacher I have found that I have to adjust the way I teach to reach out to men.  Once I learned about how hierarchy changes communication I figured out how to change my teaching methods.  You should never take a generality and assume it to be true, you should do research and see if you need to do some adjusting.


  1. Well said. I'm really interested in your last comment, on #7. What did you have to adjust to reach out to men more? How did your teaching methods change?

  2. Maddie, you can find a longer discussion here:

    (as well as a list of sources you might find interesting).

    I had to adjust in a couple ways, though, in order to reach out to male students. I had to be more authoritative in some ways but draw attention away from my position of authority in others. So, talking more confidently, providing more definitive answers to questions (sometimes in lieu of more nuanced responses) made a difference. I also started giving students a couple options about what to call me. Instead of telling students to call me Ms. Belanger, I began inviting them to call me Emily, or even Sister Belanger - Sister put them into respectful, church mode, and my first name helped them feel like they weren't being unfairly shoved lower in the totem pole.

    Because ultimately, some of the teaching issues I experienced during my first semester as a teacher seemed to stem from male students who felt they should be at my level in the totem pole and that they were being somehow degraded by having to address me as Ms. My approach to rectify things was to do more to come across as someone deserving of a high place in the totem pole, as well as providing them with options of how to address me. Plus, these days - if a student tries to talk back, I call them on it. It can be as easy as saying, "I'm sorry, what was that?" After they've mumbled something rude to a nearby classmate.

  3. I think it's so interesting that you've struggled with this at all. My best, and typically most respectful, students have almost always been male. I have much more angst dealing with the girls. *shrugs*