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Gender bias is behavior that shows favoritism toward one gender over another. Most often, gender bias is the act of favoring men and/or boys over women and/or girls. However, this is not always the case. In order to define gender bias completely, we first must make a distinction between the terms gender” and sex.” When we use the term gender,” we mean socially constructed expectations and roles for women and men, and for girls and boys. Specifically, girls and women are expected to demonstrate feminine behavior, and boys and men are expected to act masculine. By sex, we mean biological differences assigned to females and males in order to distinguish between the two. The biological characteristics assigned to females and males often consist of primary or secondary sex characteristics.
The term “gender bias” is often (wrongly) used interchangeably with the term “sexism.” Sexism is typically defined as the subordination of one sex, usually female, based on the assumed superiority of the other sex or an ideology that defines females as different from and inferior to males. Sex is the basis for the prejudice and presumed inferiority implicit in the term ”sexism.” The term ”gender bias” is more inclusive than the term ”sexism,” as it includes both prejudice (attitudes) and discrimination (behavior) in its definition. Studies of gender bias also focus on gender, rather than on sex. Furthermore, the term gender bias could include instances of bias against boys and men in addition to bias against girls and women. This raises an important question: Are boys and men harmed by gender bias? While individual boys and men may suffer at the hands of gender bias, boys and men as groups benefit from gender bias embedded in our social institutions. The narrow benefits of gender bias for some are outweighed by much broader losses for all. And if gender roles and expectations constrain both girls and boys and both women and men, it can be said that gender bias limits the overall development of contemporary societies.
Gender bias is part of almost every aspect of life. The most common areas of gender bias are found in the social institutions of families, education, the economy, and health. Gender bias is also embedded in the media, sports, the state/government, and other social institutions. Gender is so pervasive in contemporary society that we often do not notice gender bias in our everyday lives. However, gender itself is not a variable that stands alone. Our race, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, and other social positions affect our everyday gendered experiences. Therefore, gender bias regularly intersects with other forms of bias such as ethnocentrism, racism, classism, and homophobia.
While it may appear gender bias disadvantages girls and women the most, gender bias, as well as other forms of bias, shortchanges all of us.
- Andersen, M. (2006) Thinking about Women: Sociological Perspectives on Sex and Gender, 7th edn. Allyn & Bacon, Boston, MA.
- Renzetti, C. M. & Curran, D. J. (2003) Women, Men, and Society. Allyn & Bacon, Boston, MA.