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.

2 thoughts on “Revisiting gender”

  1. Hi Alice,
    I love how your blog discusses very deep political issues that I am interested in. “This means that to tackle pay inequality we will probably have to:
    encourage girls to join fields they are traditionally discouraged from joining” This part drew my attention, particularly because I was studying into gender identity and its effect on child development. Do you think girls should be actively encouraged to join male dominant fields? I think girls these days are very much empowered to join the male dominant industries without much intervention in Australia.
    The school I’m teaching at is strongly encouraging girls to go into STEM industries by facilitating girl’s coding programs etc. However, I still teach girls who could be labelled as “backwards” in this modern age, as they aspire to be the best stay-home mums in the future. Should I be discouraging their idle aspirations? I would love to hear your advice 🙂


  2. Hi Anna – thanks for the comment! I think as a teacher there is only so much you can do. I lot of gender norms (I think) are expressed by parents and family.

    I think that we shouldn’t discourage girls if they want to be stay-at-home mums, but I’m also aware that if they were a boy would they express the same desire to be a stay-at-home-dad? What I’m saying is that it’s hard in our society to make a decision like that completely divorced from societal expectations. What we really need to do is allow people of both genders to make these decisions without being fettered by gender-specific pressures.

    I also think that girls and boys pretty much start on an equal footing with respect to STEM education throughout primary school, but that girls are increasingly discouraged from STEM in senior high school years and at university. Discouragement comes from small cues like only 7 girls studying VCE physics in my all-girls’ high school, and being one of three females in a maths class at uni. I think we need to encourage girls in the later stages of their education while at the same time make sure male-dominated industries welcome females and include them on equal terms. Sometimes, how you are treated and perceived by your peers at uni and in your career will affect how much you want to work in that area.

    It’s a tough issue 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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