If you look closely, you can find gender bias just about everywhere.
What is gender bias?
It’s sometimes called sexism or sexual discrimination. Cambridge Business English Dictionary, published by the Cambridge University Press, defines gender bias as an unfair difference in the way men and women are treated.
Sometimes gender bias favors girls and women, and in other places, boys and men are indulged. In some instances, an institution (such as a school) will favor one gender in one area and the other gender in another. Talk about sending mixed messages!
It’s not that teachers, schools, businesses and other organizations intentionally set out to favor one gender over another. These biases are so ingrained in our society and culture, many people aren’t even aware they are treating one gender unfairly. They do it subconsciously. What’s even worse is that those being subjected to these biases aren’t, for the most part, completely aware they have been treated differently than the other gender. If they do notice it, they either accept it because of our culture’s ingrained gender attitudes, or figure that’s just the way it is and there is nothing to be done about it.
But, to begin to change anything, first people must become aware of their own attitudes and behaviors. Awareness and then action to correct those attitudes and behaviors can start to change this insidious problem.
Gender bias in education
While gender biases may begin in the home, based on a particular family’s structure and how those family members adopt traditional or non-traditional gender roles, schools lay the foundation in children’s minds for gender biases and attitudes in the children they educate.
Even when teachers became aware of their ingrained, automatic behaviors and took conscientious steps to change them, they had to take a new look at the texts and materials and even storybooks they were using in their classrooms. Many of the materials have gender biased wording and overall tone interwoven throughout.
A study conducted in 2000 by four researchers, Kelly Jones, Cay Evans, Ronald Byrd, and Kathleen Campbell, analyzed videotapes of teachers while they taught in their classrooms. They then had the teachers watch themselves on video, while pointing out gender-biased attitudes, language and behavior. Most teachers were surprised to see how much attention they gave one gender over the other and the unintentional gender bias in the classroom.
Typically in public schools, girls receive more attention, encouragement and higher grades in elementary school. By the time the same kids have reached high school, boys are receiving the lion’s share of all the attention and encouragement, while girls are subliminally taught to behave in ways that are acceptable for feminine behavior. This encourages girls to be more passive and silent instead of encouraging them to achieve goals and shine.
The researchers recommended methods for teachers to achieve more gender equity in their classrooms. These included targeted activities to lessen stereotypical thinking by students. Teachers were also encouraged to use worksheets to evaluate themselves and their own progress in reducing language, materials and lessons that inadvertently encouraged gender bias.
The gender biased attitudes that begin in the schools are carried forward into every area of our society.
Gender Bias in Technology
In technology, for example, there are only 17 percent of women holding computer programming and mathematics jobs in the technology sector today compared with around 40 percent in years past, according to a National Public Radio story. Our culture envisions male geeks in these roles instead of women, and, this vision continues to become reality.
Smartphones and other technology devices are typically designed with features that are more attractive to men customers instead of women.
Gender Bias in Health Research
Most health research is geared toward males. Almost universally across the board, more males are studied than females in every area of health research. Even when animals are used in the research, the tendency is to study male animals.
The National Institutes of Health recently announced an initiative to address this inequity. The agency plans to issue $10.1 million in grants for research that will study stroke, migraines, fetal development and drug addiction, among other health-related issues. The studies funded will be required to include an equal number of both genders. Studies will also analyze the data for gender differences in the results gathered.
Gender Bias in the Workplace
An engineer named Kate Van Dellen wrote an article for her blog that was published recently in the Huffington Post about the blatant gender bias she experienced right after graduating from college and getting her first job. Her employer tasked her with answering phones, ordering lunch and arranging meetings for the “real” engineers in the company, all men. At first she believed she was paying her dues. When she talked to the employer about eventually moving up to engineering work, he informed her that would not happen. Her advice to women experiencing gender bias in the workplace is for women to call out anyone who subjects them to biased comments and other such behavior. She said women must bring these instances out in the open and to the forefront. Not talking about these experiences and keeping it all inside does nothing to eliminate the problem.
It’s known far and wide that men are still paid more than women in most workplaces. Far too many companies still refuse to pay men and women equal pay for equal work. Women are typically paid 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid, according to a statistic on the White House’s website. Women add to the inequality themselves by undervaluing their own worth, according to an article in the Huffington Post. Women, on average, ask their employers for $7,000 less than men do for the same job.
Gender Bias in the Marketplace
An article in Marie Claire magazine states that many businesses typically charge women more “for everything from health insurance to haircuts, dry cleaning to deodorant.” Civil rights laws, which outlaw discrimination on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation, do not prohibit this type of gender bias. Businesses get away with it by claiming dry cleaning, for example, for women’s garments cause additional labor because they are not as simply constructed. There are “justifiable reasons” for every additional charge – at least in their policies. Women need to fight back by no longer patronizing businesses that play this game.
Gender Bias in Media
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media cites research that found a gaping gender bias slanted against females in movies analyzed from 11 different countries. Ten popular movies from each country was analyzed and scored. Only 30 percent of the U.S. films analyzed had females that were the lead character or in a co-leading role. France and India had zero films in which women were leading characters. Films that were made by a collaboration of U.S. and U.K. filmmakers also had none. Korea was the only country scoring a 50 percent, meaning that half of the films analyzed had women as leading characters or in a co-leading role, demonstrating true gender equity. China, Japan and Australia all tied as the second highest, each scoring 40 percent.
The percentage of films in each country with balanced casts – an equal number of men and women – had even more pathetic scoring. None of the countries achieved 50 percent. China scored highest with 30 percent. Five countries – one of which was the U.S. – had zero films with balanced casts, along with the U.S./U.K. collaborated films. The other countries that scored zero were Australia, France, India, Japan and the U.S. Interestingly, when the U.K. makes films on its own, without the U.S. collaboration, its gender equity is better, although still not even close to the ideal 50 percent. In the case of films with balanced casts, only 20 percent of the U.K.’s films had an equal number of both genders, which is still preferable to the U.S. score of a big fat goose egg.