Gender Bias Essay

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Gender bias refers to the socially constructed preference for one sex/gender over the other. The practice of gender bias can be unconscious or conscious. For example, in a grade school classroom, a teacher (female or male) can be gender biased by calling on young boys more than young girls to answer questions or to encourage boys’ participation in class discussion. The teacher’s gender bias may stem from the belief that male students might have more to contribute to the classroom environment than females. As a social problem, gender bias can appear in various social contexts: the educational system, the work environment and economy, families, the criminal justice system, politics, religion, and medicine. Even how spoken and written language is structured reflects gender bias, such as use of the pronoun he as the generic word to represent both men and women. Although instances occur where gender bias favors females over males (e.g., mothers awarded child custody instead of fathers in divorce proceedings), research shows that gender bias disproportionately affects women, mainly because of the patriarchal system embedded within the social structure of a given society.

Gender-Based Stereotypes

Notably, gender bias does not occur in isolation. Often driving gender bias in society is the influence of gender-based stereotypes. These are socially constructed overgeneralizations of particular behaviors attributed to a group, and they play a significant role in the formation of gender bias. These “traditional” gender stereotypes reflect expected feminine and masculine attitudes and behaviors attributed to women and men. Female stereotypes generalize women as emotionally supportive, irrational, physically inferior, and economically and socially dependent upon males. Conversely, male stereotypes generalize men as rational, intelligent, physically superior, and independent. These gendered stereotypes become part of a larger cultural belief system within a given society and serve as templates for how women and men should and should not behave in society. Simply, gender bias represents the culturally formed predispositions that individuals, groups, organizations, and societal institutions place upon women and men.

Consequences of Gender Bias

Economically, workplace gender bias contributes to the gender wage gap that exists between women’s and men’s earnings. For instance, in 2006, women earned 77 cents for every dollar a man earned. Women receive less pay than men, even when both have the same educational and occupational achievement. Another manifestation of gender bias is overlooking individuals for promotion or tenure. At universities, for example, when compared with male faculty members, female faculty members experience fewer opportunities for promotion and tenure. Female faculty members are also less likely than men to hold high-level administrative positions. These differences are especially significant when female faculty work within “male-oriented” fields of study, such as math and science. In addition, women collide with the “glass ceiling,” an invisible boundary that prevents them from moving up the occupational ladder. This happens in the workplace because of the patriarchal assumption that women provide child care; in turn, many women are overlooked for promotions and pay raises because employers do not want to “invest” in a worker who is going to leave the workforce temporarily or permanently.

Gender bias also has noneconomic consequences. First, there is a lack of prestige attached to certain social roles in society, depending upon who fills the role. For example, men in female-dominant professions or roles—such as nursing, cosmetology, elementary school teaching, child care, or stay-at-home parenting—are considered less masculine and are therefore viewed as less valuable in society. Second, gender bias affects self-esteem. For instance, educational studies have shown that young girls and young adult women who experience gender bias in the classroom have lower self-esteem. As a result, females construct negative self-perceptions, believing that they are not as intelligent as males.

How Gender Bias Can Be Reduced or Eliminated

Since the 1960s, the U.S. government has implemented anti-discriminatory policies to ensure the equal treatment of women and men. One such policy is the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which states that employers should pay women and men the same salary for doing the same type ofjob with similar skill sets. Another example of federal policy is Title IX, implemented in 1972, which disallows sex discrimination in educational environments that receive funding from the federal government. Federal affirmative action policy (Executive Order 11246) prohibits sex, race, religion, national origin, and color discrimination in the workplace. Moreover, under affirmative action policy, employers must actively seek out women (and other minorities) to reinforce equity in the work and educational environments.

Despite the implementation of the aforementioned policies, these measures have not been sufficiently enforced to completely eliminate gender bias as a social problem in U.S. society. Although reducing gender bias in specific social contexts is vital, the overarching solution would be to radically transform the existing gender-based stereotypes defined in contemporary society.

Bibliography:

  1. Acker, Joan. 1990. “Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations.” Gender and Society 4(2):139-58.
  2. Bielby, William T. 2000. “Minimizing Workplace Gender and Racial Bias.” Contemporary Sociology 29(1):120-29.
  3. Frawley, Timothy. 2005. “Gender Bias in the Classroom: Current Controversies and Implications for Teachers.” Childhood Education 81(4):221-27.
  4. Heilman, Madeline E. 2001. “Description and Prescription: How Gender Stereotypes Prevent Women’s Ascent up the Organizational Ladder.” Journal of Social Issues 57(4):657-74.
  5. Renzetti, Claire and Daniel J. Curran. 2008. Women, Men, and Society. 6th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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