Gender Stereotypes: This Is How They Reproduce Inequality

The mirage of gender equality that we find ourselves in today’s society in which we think that inequality is a thing of the past or of other countries, despite the existence of gender violence (the maximum expression of said inequality), the wage gap, the unequal distribution of household chores and child-rearing, the economic and political spheres that continue to be predominantly male… etc., show the continuity of this problem and the need to analyze the factors that cause and perpetuate said inequality.

At the base of gender inequality there are, among other perpetuating aspects of the problem, gender stereotypes as we will see.

How is gender inequality inherited?

One of the theories that analyzes these aspects is the theory of differential socialization proposed by Walker and Barton (1983), which explains how people, in their process of initiation into social and cultural life and based on the influence of socializing agents, acquire differential gender identities that entail stereotyped attitudes, behaviors, moral codes and norms of the behavior assigned to each gender. That is, differential socialization based on sex generates gender inequality.

This differential socialization uses different socialization agents to transmit stereotypes that contribute to maintaining gender inequalities. Furthermore, these stereotypes persist, since continue to be transmitted in the socialization process at all stages of development.

During primary socialization in which one’s own identity is constructed, the boy or girl, through family models, observes how the father plays certain roles while the mother plays others, at the same time will be incorporated into a reference group according to their sex, thus building their own identity. After this initial socialization, the socialization process continues in school (secondary socialization), at which time differences in the socialization of men and women begin to consolidate and which in turn contribute to the maintenance of gender stereotypes.

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In this way, belonging to one sexual category or another will determine both the differences in the identity of each one as an individual and the different social realities that occur in interaction with others. Both determinations will condition future behavior, that is, future life choices, and of course subsequent professional performance.

So, The woman will assume family functions of maintaining the home caring for children and the elderly, tasks that given differential socialization will have to be made compatible with their work.

Gender schemes

The term “mental scheme” refers to the organized structure of knowledge or information that is built due to the existence of a need for knowledge as an evolutionary form of adaptation to the environment. Its elaboration and development presents a close relationship with the socialization processes.

Thus, when we talk about gender schemes We refer to the set of knowledge through which shared traits are organized and those that are differentially assigned to women and men.

Gender schemas, like the rest of cognitive schemas, have an adaptive function since they provide information about the environment to confront it and adapt behaviors to it. However, all cognitive schemes, including gender, involve a process of schematization of knowledge or information with which is simplified and nuances of reality are lost since the basis for its organization focuses on two rules: distortion and accommodation.

Thus, authors such as Monreal and Martínez (2010) indicate that these gender schemes contribute to the maintenance of differences between men and women through three dimensions:

Gender and sexual stereotypes

In scientific research prior to the 1970s, sexual differences were considered based on stereotypes, considering masculine characteristics attributed to men as positive and those characteristics considered feminine, attributed to women, as negative. However, authors such as Bosch, Ferrer and Alzamora (2006) show that starting in the 1970s, this consideration of sexual differences began to be questioned and criticized for different reasons:

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Based on these contributions, the presence of stereotypes in the various investigations began to be considered and detected. The term stereotype refers to the system of beliefs about certain characteristics or attributes common to a certain group or society. Specifically, the sexual stereotype It refers to the set of socially shared beliefs that attribute certain characteristics to each person based on their belonging to one sex or another.

The sexual stereotype includes personality traits, behaviors, and occupations that are considered typical of women and men.

The stereotype of the feminine

Traditionally, the female stereotype has been shaped by characteristics that attribute inferiority to women with respect to men, supported by the argument of the moral, intellectual and biological inferiority of women.

Although this argument lacks scientific foundation, it is used culturally and socially in order to maintain the patriarchal system in which women continue to be considered based on the feminine stereotype, assigning them roles and behaviors typical of the private sphere, motherhood and care tasks.

Monreal & Martínez (2010) explain how stereotypes originating in previous times and transmitted through education maintain inequality because stereotypes present a prescriptive and normative nature formed in society by which people will guide and adapt both the representation of themselves as a man or woman, their identity, expectations, beliefs and behaviors.

This nature of the stereotypes allows their perpetuation, since in cases in which the person conforms to the normative gender stereotype, that is, to the imposed and internalized social norm, the stereotype is corroborated, and in those cases in which those in which the person does not conform to the imposed gender stereotype will receive “social punishment” (reprimands, sanctions, lack of affection…).

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Inequality today

Currently, reality and the social situation have been modified through various structural changes that attempt to eliminate gender inequalities. However, the stereotypes have not been modified and adapted to the new social situation, which produces a greater distance between it and the stereotypes.

The gap between the stereotype and social reality increases due to the self-fulfillment effect and the strong resistance to change presented by stereotypes Therefore, the differences between both genders continue since men and women automatically internalize their own stereotype, with the corresponding values ​​and interests of each gender, values ​​that will be reflected in the roles they perform.

Although stereotypes fulfill an adaptive function that allows us to know reality and the environment that surrounds us quickly and schematically, they are characterized by attributing the feminine and masculine as two exclusive groups, in a dualistic way, as two dimensions represented in opposite poles in which the masculine exercises its dominance over the feminine, producing clear maladaptive effects.

Thus, both gender schemas and gender stereotypes produce a vision of what can be considered a man and a woman, influencing from the identity and decisions of each person as well as their vision of the environment, society and the world.

Despite the characteristics presented by the aforementioned gender schemes and stereotypes, their influence is not deterministic and immutable, so by modifying the socialization process and its transmission through socialization agents, a process of change could be achieved with which adapted stereotypes to society, allowing the current mirage of equality to become a social reality.