“Girls shouldn’t be allowed to play soccer with the boys,” solemnly proclaimed a dad while watching teams of 12-year-olds play. “They could get hurt.” One fierce and fearless girl was playing on the visiting team.
He wasn’t open to a friendly moment to talk about sexism. He didn’t see it.
Everyone sees, thinks, feels, and acts from their own unique perspective. Variety makes life interesting. However, our perspective can become clouded by bias and stereotype, which means we’re like the frog in boiling water that doesn’t notice how the world around us is changing.
If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death. ~Daniel Quinn, The Story of B
We get stuck in the rightness of our opinions and beliefs.
Peter Elbow, a professor who writes extensively about doubt and belief, observes how our beliefs can blind us. “The flaws in our own thinking usually come from our assumptions—our ways of thinking that we accept without noticing. But it’s hard to doubt what we can’t see because we unconsciously take it for granted.”
This dad had once seen a girl injured during a co-ed soccer game. Now he believed girls’ participation should be limited because they, in his opinion, aren’t up to the physical challenge.
Oodles and oodles of thoughts about what women should be and do permeate our culture. Women are tender and sensitive. Women should be cooperative and nurturing. Women need protection. Women make the better teachers and nurses. These concepts may be true for some women, but they don’t apply arbitrarily across the board for all women. Nor should they be used as a list of requirements for being a woman.
It’s when these views create defined boundaries and required actions that bias-based problems begin. Like when co-ed participation is denied to the athletic young girl because she might get hurt. Or when a courageous woman stands up for herself and is ridiculed for not knowing her place.
How can we get out of our own way, be more open-minded and curious, and see how our thinking limits others and ourselves? Dr. Elbow suggests that “our best hope for finding invisible flaws in what we can’t see in our own thinking is to enter into different ideas or points of view—ideas that carry different assumptions. Only after we’ve managed to inhabit a different way of thinking will our currently invisible assumptions become visible to us.”
Changing gender bias and stereotypes isn’t work that women can do alone. We have to partner with men. Women can help men see the world from a feminine perspective while men help us understand the masculine one. By working together, we can change the culturally defined boundaries.
If there’s a fella in your life who has strong views on what women should do and how they should be treated, tactfully invite him to broaden his perspective—“to inhabit a different way of thinking”—so he can gain a better understanding of how certain notions unfairly hold women back.
- Evaluating a woman by only her looks, clothes, or bra size or a firm tushie reduces her to an object. Appreciate her character and competence, too.
- Just because there’s a woman in a business meeting, don’t expect her to take the notes or pour coffee. Who says that’s only women’ work?
- Don’t label a woman who speaks her mind (or who refuses to take the notes) as being bossy or a bitch. Both genders should be able to express opinions without gender bias limitations.
- Women’s success comes from hard work and dedication, not luck or who she may have had a relationship with.
- Let go of the automatic association of men as the ones with careers and women as the ones with families. Both sexes should want, and do, both.
To start changing biased mindsets, there’s no need for argument or force. They don’t work anyway. Sharing insights and education from a place of love, not one of accusation or blame, is the way to help people rethink their assumptions.
That’s a good bridge across the gender gap and ultimately a way to close it completely.
Image source: Pixabay