The Complexity of Gender Bias in the Modern World

3081 words (12 pages) Essay in Sociology

08/02/20 Sociology Reference this

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Sexism is prejudice based on an individual’s gender; it primarily effects women and it can be conscious or unconscious and manifest in a variety of ways. In today’s society, there are more complex definitions of gender that need to be taken into account. The psychological processing that underlies stereotyping can be explained through the social role theory because it emphasizes observable behavior of other group members (Koenig & Eagly 2013). The process of learning social attributes of a person’s own gender is known as gender socialization (Coman 2016). Gender bias in academia has been acknowledged but has not improved much over the last two decades. The different factors that contribute to women being underrepresented in the higher ranks of the academic world will be discussed along with the gender identification theory and medical model. There is a dissolution between what America actually offers and the failure to do so. Throughout history, practitioners in the field of psychology and law have disregarded diversity as a worthy factory (Barongan 2006). Gender and gender identity are controlled by societal norms and the school system continues to be divided on how to address those challenges (Miller 2018). The complexity of gender issues has put pressure on lawmakers to implement equality under the law.

Keywords: Gender, Academia, Identity

The Complexity of Gender Bias in the Modern World

The goal of psychology has previously been to understand and pinpoint explanations for human behavior that are universal (Barongan 2006). The social role theory has focused on understanding key gender stereotypes and their impact but it is extremely binary. Women not only face a glass ceiling but also a sticky floor which keeps them in follower positions; they are at a disadvantage before even considering a leadership position (Braun, Stegmann, Hernandez, Junker, and van Dick 2017). The gender identity theory is an educational approach to understand and reduce the gender gap in education (Vantieghem, Vermeersch, & Houtte 2014). Currently, the education system has inherited all the gender norms and the attributions that follow. Anti-bullying laws have made strides, but the policies need to focus more on equality and that means recognition through the curriculum (Miller 2018). Most research has focused on gender differences in high school students even though the gender gap is notable in higher educational settings (Vantieghem et al. 2014).

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In the seventies, there was an emphasis on low educational achievement of young girls; their poor performances were because of a deficit framework (Vantieghem et al. 2014). It was attributed that girls do not obtain certain qualities and the ones that are possessed are low confidence, leading to anxiety and a strong fear of success (Vantieghem et al. 2014). Studies have shown that young girls attribute their failure with lack of ability versus young boys that attribute the failure with lack of effort (Coman 2016).

Young girls who did the hard work and scored the same or better than young boys were considered to have passive and compliant learning styles (Vantieghem et al. 2014). The young boys were characterized as having active and curious learning styles (Vantieghem et al. 2014).  The researchers back in the seventies said that textbooks lacked positive role models for girls and that it was no surprise they would be less confident and docile (Vantieghem et al. 2014). Family structure is the main resource in which children begin gender socialization; mothers teach their daughters that they will have maternal or reproductive roles in the future (Coman 2016). The underlying reason for women underestimating their own abilities is the result of gender stereotypes enforced by society (Coman 2016). Women are defined by rational terms while men are defined by occupational terms (Coman 2016). Men’s success is defined and explained through internal causes while women’s success is based off external or circumstantial abilities (Coman 2016). Women are predisposed to believe that their success is dependent upon luck while men are equipped naturally for success (Coman 2016).

During the nineties, the attention shifted to the boys and it was the first-time research showed girls outperforming boys with higher grades contrary to all expectations (Vantieghem et al. 2014). Research started to become focused on non-cognitive skills that would explain the gender gap in academic performance (Vantieghem et al. 2014).

The culture of masculinity and femininity has been engrained in American society and has a profound impact on future generations of men and women (Vantieghem et al. 2014). By the end of the nineties, masculinity and femininity were considered multidimensional and multifactorial which meant that these traits were found in all aspects of life (Vantieghem et al. 2014).

Gender socialization is how children learn the norms, expectations, and rules of how to behave in context with their gender. Studying gender roles and bias is not met with adequate appreciation. Therefore, there is less grant funding and fewer publications for research in this field. Does academic psychology have a gender bias in the modern world?

Gender bias exists worldwide and is seen through research grant review processes; underrepresentation of women in academia is not uncommon (Morgan, Hawkins, & Lundine 2018). This results in lower funding for women and adds to the perception that men are stronger leaders (Morgan et al. 2018). Gender stereotypes and the lack of support in policy changes keeps women from positions of leadership and publication; this is a manifestation of historical and systemic gender bias within academia (Morgan et al. 2018).

The structure of most academic careers falls in line with a traditional model geared towards men; it is one that is time-flexible with a spouse at home (Mayer & Tikka 2008). Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden have parental leave policies that help female academics balance family and career life, which have been suggested as models for the United States to emulate (Mayer & Tikka 2008). Family-Friendly policies foster gender equality because the policies include things like paid maternity leave for both parents (Mayer & Tikka 2008).

The representation of women varies depending upon country and which study of discipline; there has been a steady increase in women obtaining their doctorates across every discipline over the past two decades, but female academic staff has not seen any improvements in the past decade (Mayer & Tikka 2008). It is not a surprise that women in the social sciences are more represented than in other areas like engineering (Mayer & Tikka 2008). Globally, women are expected to be caregivers and are punished for doing so. Women also experience societal stereotypes which result in unfounded biases (Mayer & Tikka 2008).

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The social role theory serves as an explanation of gender stereotypes; people’s beliefs about social groups within their society are directly related and derived from their experiences with those group members in their normal or expected social roles (Koenig & Eagly 2013). There is a common misconception that changes in group roles equates to changing stereotypes (Koenig & Eagly 2013). A role is a certain set of expectations that are usually associated with some type of social position, given context, or type of setting (Koenig & Eagly 2013). Behaviors have been categorized and organized into social roles throughout daily life (Koenig & Eagly 2013). People observe behaviors using social roles because social life is understood as which occupation is held, type of family, how friendships are formed, different leisure actives, and other roles that are inherently associated with specific behaviors (Koenig & Eagly 2013). Stereotypes are formed from the observations of behavior within certain groups reflecting social reality (Koenig & Eagly 2013). The social environment is structured by social roles; thus, people learn to ascribe different roles to specific social groups (Koenig & Eagly 2013).

Gender socialization is the main component to understand how gender-related attitudes become internalized; gender stereotypes continue to be enforced through century old concepts and it limits representation for women in almost all social institutions (Coman 2016). This process takes place through family settings such as children’s interactions with parents and their formative years (Coman 2016). The powerfully driven social representations of gender stereotypes specifically limit women’s rights to express negative or aggressive feelings, claim professional achievements based solely on their level of competence or skill sets, and the right to create their own standard of beauty (Coman 2016).

There is an overlap between social roles of women and bias (Braun et al. 2017). Policymakers and social scientist continue to be concerned about the underrepresentation of women in the STEM fields (Stoet & Geary 2018). The STEM fields encompass science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Sex differences and academic strengths are correlated with certain attitudes pertaining to STEM degrees; more women have been in pursuit of STEM degrees than in the past and have forced an increase in gender equality (Stoet & Geary 2018). However, countries with high levels of gender equality express the largest gender gaps which has been coined as the educational-gender-equality paradox (Stoet & Geary 2018). It has been found that women and men have near similar abilities and academic strengths but yet there is still a relationship between sex differences and college graduation rates (Stoet & Geary 2018). Women obtain fewer college degrees in STEM related disciplines because of gender roles and stereotypes; there is a loss of women’s capacity somewhere between high school and university (Stoet & Geary 2018). Countries with less gender equality produce more female STEM graduates than those with policies in effect that encourage women’s empowerment in the educational field (Stoet & Geary 2018). Sex differences and their impact vary from country to country, but there is a definitive link between measures of gender equality and educational gaps (Stoet & Geary 2018).

The promotion of equality tied in with social justice has encouraged some of the progress made in regard to women accessing higher education through different legal policies (Loots & Walker 2015). However, studies are still reporting that systemic gender bias and inequalities are prevalent in higher education (Loots & Walker 2015).

The education system has yet to address gender identity from kindergarten to university levels (Miller 2018). Educators are left severely unprepared and in a grey area on how to address gender identity (Miller 2018). With more awareness on the topic, schools can liberate gender identities and take away the stigma (Miller 2018). How is gender identity defined? It is how an individual wants to be seen through the eyes of others in the world; it has nothing to do with biological sex. Gender identity is self-determined, it is not singular, and does not conform to strict boundaries (Miller 2018). The education system is set up to produce members of society that will function within a specific set of guidelines; the system unintentionally forces conformity (Miller 2018). The school system holds a mirror to America’s social, cultural, and economic climate (Miller 2018).

Gender dysphoria is a condition where an individual experiences distress with their own biological gender and feels a strong connection with the opposite gender; this should not be considered a disorder because it implies there is an abnormality (Miller 2018). The medical model focuses on binary identities for sickness and mental health (Miller 2018). How does this country begin to reframe gender identity? If policies can be implemented to encourage attention on the topic of gender identity in the school system, it could lead to increased capacities for understanding rather than simply tolerance (Miller 2018). 

The gender identity theory assigns individuals based off masculinity or femininity, bypasses the standpoint of purely biological sex, and therefore can accurately be utilized to study both sides of gender order (Vantieghem et al. 2014). Western society has evolved and with the influence of feminism, women have total freedom to take on more masculine traits (Vantieghem et al. 2014). It poses the question, is there a relationship between gender identity and academic motivation? Present research should focus on both sexes and include both men and women in the sample at the same time. It would be beneficial to focus on the experiences of gender typical people versus those who do not conform, gender role conformity and sex differences, along with the pressure of societal norms (Vantieghem et al. 2014). It is because of this that the gender identity theory could explain achievement, motivation, and interest differences between boys and girls and how it connects to the outside world (Vantieghem et al. 2014). The gender identity theory does not focus on biological sex, instead it emphasizes the impact of masculinity and femininity impact on culture (Vantieghem et al. 2014).

Humans are conditioned to assign gender roles and with that comes stereotypes. Women are talked about more than men because they are underrepresented and the research backs that up. However, men suffer from gender bias as well in regard to what traits they are allowed to have. Even in this modern world, it is looked down upon if a man is a stay at home dad. The best place to start overhauling the complex topic of gender bias is within the education system. Western society is one where opportunities are supposed to be endless but women are still limited. The education system does not need to be afraid to talk about gender identity or gender bias. The academic curriculum needs to include these topics.

Policymakers need to focus on implementing laws that provide citizens with an open dialogue. It is important that western society shifts perspectives and actively tries to stop perpetuating gender roles and stereotypes. The demand for conformity in the modern world is astounding. Women continue to remain in secondary positions in American society because of the traditional attitudes concerning gender roles. The rise of different women’s movement has brought attention to the issue of gender bias but is not shedding the right light to elicit change. The current climate is quite hostile. Outside of the western world, there is a lack of historical data which makes the development of gender equality hard to study (Sani & Quaranta 2017).

Undermining the gender hierarchy occurs when individuals behave in ways that challenge current gender norms; scholars do not know the actual conditions that cause changes to the gender system (Pierotti, Lake, Lewis 2018). Gender equality is more likely to occur when the country is stable; high levels of economic security are tied to favorable and important social changes (Inglehart & Ponarin 2017). Research on parents and their perspective on gender roles and stereotypes suggest that those who have children abide by a strict set of guidelines, they do not want to deviate from traditional roles (Endendijk, Derks, & Mesman 2018). The way society operates right now suggest that little change is going to occur. It may be as good as it gets.


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