Gender stereotypes and cultural norms maintain gender and sexual inequalities in society. Differential treatment on the basis of gender is also referred to gender discrimination or sexism and is an inevitable consequence of gender stereotypes. Sexism varies in its level of severity. In parts of the world where women are strongly undervalued, young girls may not be given the same access to nutrition, health care, and education as boys. Further, they will grow up believing that they deserve to be treated differently from boys (Thorne, 1993; UNICEF, 2007). Gender stereotypes typically maintain gender inequalities in society. The concept of ambivalent sexism recognizes the complex nature of gender attitudes, in which women are often associated with positive and negative qualities (Glick & Fiske, 2001). It has two components. First, hostile sexism refers to the negative attitudes of women as inferior and incompetent relative to men. Second, benevolent sexism refers to the perception that women need to be protected, supported, and adored by men. There has been considerable empirical support for benevolent sexism, possibly because it is seen as more socially acceptable than hostile sexism.
With regard to sexuality, there is a substantial body of evidence showing that homosexuals and bisexuals are treated differently than heterosexuals in schools, the workplace, and the military. Much of this discrimination is based on stereotypes, misinformation, and homophobia — an extreme or irrational aversion to homosexuals. In the United States, major policies to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation have not been enacted until recently and are largely the result of local changes rather than national or federal policy.
Reducing Gender Bias and Inequality
As we learned in earlier chapters, biased attributions lead to negative stereotyping and discrimination but being aware of your personal biases, as well as situations or contexts where you experience bias helps reduce cultural. It is important to remember that biases are not permanent and can be shaped and changed to limit their impact on our thoughts and behaviors (Dasgupta, 2013). In addition to self-awareness, demonstrating empathy (understanding and sharing the feelings of someone else) and taking a culturally relativist perspective is another way to reduce gender bias. When we consider the experiences of people who are different from us, we are less likely to make negative and hasty judgments. Challenging and correcting gender stereotypes in everyday activities is another way that we can reduce gender bias as individuals.
To further reduce gender inequality at a systemic or global level cultures should work to reduce infant and mother mortality, close gaps in health care and education among girls and increase employment opportunities and living wages for men and women (World Economic Forum, 2019). Increased enforcement of existing laws against gender-based employment discrimination and against sexual harassment will also reduce gender and sexuality-based inequality in the workplace. Globalization and cultural transmission has facilitated improvements in gender inequality but more can be done to challenge traditional possibilities and increase the opportunities for both females and males.