Rachel Savia D’Souza,
St. Xavier's College (Autonomous),
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
“The problem with gender is that it prescribes what we should be,
rather than recognizing who we are.”
Stereotypes including our attitudes, goals, and identity appear to exist at an implicit level. These unspoken associations of our mind are thought to be a series of networks. They connect representations of objects, places, people, concepts, feelings, self, goals, motives, and behavior to one another. We are so often immune to selecting and responding to cultural patterns present in society, media, and advertising that reinforce the implicit associations that we are not a party to. These primed representations start to be readably accessible to influence perception and guided behavior. These associations portray that men are, (more than women) are associated with science, math, career, hierarchy, and higher authority. As compared to this, women are more likely to be associated with liberal arts, family and domesticity, and lower authority. Researchers went on to show that self-perception about oneself affected behavior. The simple, brief experience of imaging oneself as another, transformed both self-perception and through this transformation, behavior. Stereotype threats can do more than impair performance- it can reduce interest in cross-gender activities. In developed societies, even though males and females are born with equal status and entitled to the same opportunities, there is still a lot of gender bias. Since the 18th century, it is seen that men were considered superior as their brains weighed on an average of 5 ounces more than women’s brains. A common misconception is that higher fetal testosterone gives rise to a male brain that is superior in masculine things like science and math while lower testosterone levels lead to the female brain that can show empathy and intuition. However, on reviewing gender differences in affective empathy, psychologists found that women and men are alike are sensitive to social influences. It found that empathy was not dependent on fetal testosterone levels, but the socialization of men and women. The idea that women’s brains or hormones did not suit them for leadership, made them irrational and out of control or good at communicating, but bad at decision making, are completely baseless. Such stereotypes have become the major obstacles to women who are trying to advance in the workplace. They still face a lot of discrimination in workplaces. They are not given the same leadership positions as men, nor do they receive higher pay- the fact being that they are looked at as a liability to the company rather than an asset. Ads that trade ditzy stereotypes of women are found to reduce women’s interest in acquiring leadership roles. Although the fact that women lack the necessary intrinsic talent to succeed in male-dominated occupations become less and less convincing. The existing gender inequality of occupations, the sexist ads, the opinions of society all interact and shape our minds.
We have been brought up with an ideology that there is an innate difference between a male and a female. We are also brought to believe that their brains are wired differently. This leads to stereotyped responses that affect not only our thoughts but also our behavior. Without even realizing it we start valuing boys and girls differently and for different qualities. It is seen that gender stereotypes implicitly held, can affect parent’s behavior towards their children. These gendered expectations disillusion a person’s perception of their physical abilities. It is seen that sexism is so often indirect, subtle, and non-conscious. Sometimes gender-tags - especially conventions for male and female dress, hairstyle, accessories - are helping to divvy up the people around them by gender. Peer responses serve as reminders to us that our behavior may sometimes not follow the gender rules, making it more stereotypical. The media also advises us on the cultural correlates of gender. It often narrows gender roles, sometimes even more than the fixed mindset real world. TV shows and programs still rely on gender stereotypes even in children’s educational programming. Females tend to be belittled on TV and miss out on central roles in advertisements. Even in high-quality literature, subtle stereotypes remain. They portray women as innately compassionate, in domestic servitude. All this has shown no sign of improvement over time. Even at a young age, we are capable of making inferences and gender associations independently. Hence, we can see how neurosexism affects the way we perceive and treat people. Neurosexism assists in self- potentially self-fulfilling, damaging, limiting stereotypes. The effects of neuroscience may be personal as well as political. The proof that the media outlines gender stereotypes that highlights biological factors leave us more inclined to agree with gender stereotypes and to self-stereotype ourselves. Under the seductive facade of low-tech behavioral evidence of gender differences, there is no flexibility in response to the social context. The very concept of hardwiring needs some updating.
Brain development is thought to be continuously rewiring which enables us to perform advanced cognitive functions. According to our understanding, genes on the expression at the right time leads to the development of new segments of neural circuitry. The essential role of experience in development must be acknowledged. Our brains as we have now come to understand are changed by our behavior, our thinking, and our social world. Gene expression accompanies the development of neural structures, and genetic material is itself resistant to outside influence. When it comes to genes, you get what you get. However, gene activity is a completely different narrative altogether. The genes on the exposure of a given environment can switch on and off. Depending on the gene expression, our behavior, even our thinking, can all get changed. Therefore, rewiring such networks can directly change the neural circuits. Biology itself is socially influenced and defined. It changes and develops in interactions with and in response to our minds and environment, as our behaviors do. Biology can therefore be said to define possibilities but not determine them. Many scientists believe that gender differences are hardwired, innate or inherent. However, we must acknowledge the role of experience and environment on these differences. Since the brain constantly makes new connections all through our lives – society plays an important role in bringing about this pragmatic shift. Our choices–and those that are made for us, especially when we are children–are the main forces that shape our destiny. No static, innate tangle of neurons does it, though of course biology does play a role. However, even though much progress has been made towards gender equality, we can see that gender bias still exists in various spheres of life.
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