Revisiting gender

This is a postscript on two articles that I previously wrote – gender issues are complex and my understanding of them is ever-evolving.

Where’s the gap?

In Where’s the gap?, I said this:

I think it’s unproductive to focus on the overall statistic that on average, women earn less than men, because that puts too much focus on the gender, and I don’t think gender is the real cause of the gap (though I stand to be corrected), the real cause are factors such as career choice, parental leave and so forth. These issues need to be solved by policies targeting the specific factors.

However, I’ve come to realise that gender can factor into our career choice – I would go so far as to say that in most cases, it does. When a person is exposed to gender norms/social cues over a long period of time, it can affect what job they choose. When society continuously suggests to a young girl that maths is very hard, she is probably less likely to study maths in the future.

This means that to tackle pay inequality we will probably have to:

  • encourage girls to join fields they are traditionally discouraged from joining
  • remove gender-based expectations on what boys and girls should study
  • make sure all industries are gender-inclusive

Unfortunately they basically come down to one thing – shifting our norms.

Why do we have gender?

Many females feel trapped by the female stereotype that their families and society has imposed on them. And there are other drawbacks to being female – you are more likely to be paid less men; you are more likely than men to experience sexual or domestic violence or abuse. This is why transgender people presented a challenge to Germain Greer’s feminism. A man claims they feel female. But what does it really mean to be female? How can they claim that they feel female when they would never have been exposed to the sort of social conditioning that females receive all the time?

I wrote this partly because, as a male, society gives you certain privileges that it doesn’t afford females (and vice versa – although because female voices feature more in the gender debate, we don’t hear as much on the privileges afforded to women that are not afforded to men). However, I recently watched an episode of ABC’s ‘You can’t ask that’ where they spoke to transexuals. Their responses both challenge and support my view:

  • A trans-female who had not received any hormone therapy or surgery said that as a male, she had never received any male privilege anyway. People picked on her because of the way she dressed and looked.
  • A trans-female who had undergone surgery said that as a female people take you a lot less seriously and sometimes you are immediately shut out from a conversation.
  • A trans-male who had undergone surgery and hormone therapy said that his facial expressions were no longer a commodity, ‘you can be as frowny and loud as you like’, others said that assertiveness was rewarded and you were generally given more room to speak.