All around the world, people face prejudice because of their gender. Prejudice put into action is an attack on human rights, including the right to life and safety, the right to housing, the right to education, to healthcare, to decent work, and so on. When most people hear “gender prejudice,” they assume it refers only to the still-prevalent bias against women and girls. However, gender prejudice also negatively affects trans people and people outside the gender binary. It’s an intersectional issue.
What is gender?
Gender isn’t the same as sex. Sex refers to attributes like chromosomes, gonads, and anatomy. Medically speaking, a person can be born as either female, male, or intersex. Even these definitions are not fixed and there can be variations that make blanket statements about sex inaccurate. Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct. People can identify with the gender that society typically associates with their sex (cisgender) or they might not (transgender). Some don’t identify with the binary at all. Terms vary and shift with time, but anything that expands beyond a binary interpretation of sex, gender, and personal identity challenges societal norms.
What does gender prejudice sound like?
Gender prejudice can be overt or subtle. Learning to recognize what it sounds and looks like is the first step to ending it and the discrimination that follows. Here are three common statements that reveal gender prejudice:
“Women are more emotional than men.”
The idea that women are more emotional and men are more rational is a long-standing assumption in society. For years, this justified keeping women out of politics and the workplace, as well as treating them more like children than adults. Because of a woman’s emotions and alleged tendency to be “hysterical,” men were tasked with decision-making, conducting business, working in government, and so on. Even today, stereotypes about emotions affect women’s ability to get good healthcare, be taken seriously at work, and get elected into political office. Anger is an especially off-limits emotion for women.
Seeing emotions as “womanly” and rationality as “manly” hurts boys and men, too. Many boys grow up believing that “real men don’t cry,” which forces them to suppress their feelings. This leads to issues like anxiety and depression. In fact, while more women report suicidal thoughts, men are more likely to die by suicide. The reasons for difference are complex, but it could mean that many men are not reporting their suicidal thoughts due to the fear of being emotionally vulnerable. Research leans toward the conclusion that men and women are both emotional creatures. One study published in Nature followed 142 men and women over 75 days. After tracking their daily positive and negative emotions, the study found that the men’s and women’s emotional stability was more similar than different. This points to the idea that any differences in emotion between men and women are the result of socialization and gender prejudice.
“She was asking for it.”
This statement is frequently expressed in one way or another after a woman is assaulted. It blames the attack on the victim based on any number of factors, such as what she was wearing, if she’d been drinking, if she stayed out too late by herself, or if she’d engaged in sexual activity before. Even people who don’t intend to blame victims often play into this belief by focusing rape and assault prevention on what the potential victim needs to do, such as never leaving her drink unattended, always staying with a group, and so on. There’s little focus on the perpetrators of violence and their choices. The fear of victim-blaming prevents many from reporting attacks.
Consistently ignoring perpetrators affects other victims of gender-based violence, such as members of the LGBTQ+ community. The “gay panic” or “trans panic” defense is a legal strategy that seeks to dismiss crimes because perpetrators felt threatened or went temporarily insane because of the victim’s gender or sexuality. These victims were, according to perpetrators, essentially “asking for it.”
“That’s women’s/men’s work.”
The belief that work should be distributed by gender persists. It excludes women from leadership positions and roles that require physical strength, while stigmatizing men in roles traditionally occupied by women like domestic and caretaking work. Believing that only women should do certain work – work which often pays lower wages – leads to real effects on women, their families, and the economy as a whole.
Gendering certain kinds of work also impacts how much unpaid labor women are responsible for. According to an ILO report, on average around the world women spend 3.2 times more time than men on unpaid work. There is no country where this labor is split equally. This affects women’s ability to participate in the economy. When certain work is seen as “women’s work,” it loses value due to gender prejudice and affects everyone in those roles, regardless of their gender.