The Persistence of Gender Stereotypes in the 21st century and what we can do about it
AbstractIntroduction: Query any group of undergraduates and you will discover that most of them do not consider themselves to be feminists and will quickly repudiate the title. They see feminism as either reflective of a man-hating attitude or as an outmoded social cause of the 1970s—the distant past. While the opportunities for girls and women have multiplied in many arenas of life, from sports to academic careers to such professions as engineering, the law and medicine, we still witness rigid gender roles subversively at work in schools, workplaces and society at large. What has changed is the way we speak about it. Now the language emphasizes choice and women declaim that they are choosing to adopt certain pattern of being women, often without realizing the iron fist of cultural expectations on these choices. In this paper we will first examine the gender roles and expectations set upon girls and women in contemporary society. A major force today is the media as we shall explore in its influence through toys, television, movies and the creation and sustaining of a celebrity culture. Secondly we will examine the extent to which the educational system has risen to the challenge of educating beyond gender stereotypes, if indeed it has. We will trace the inherent difficulties in introducing these ideas to elementary and secondary students in an atmosphere of cultural and ethical relativism. The main thesis of this paper will be the claim that we need to construct ways to engage young people in careful and nuanced reflection on gender and that philosophical inquiry offers us just such a methodology. In addition to taking a look at materials already accessible, we will sketch out some ideas for the development of materials that will further the enterprise of freeing young men and women to examine with a critical eye the gender roles assigned to them by their culture. However, in doing this, we acknowledge a need to be sensitive to a multitude of perspectives based on our nationalities, religious beliefs and practice, and cultural “homes.” What directions can and should we explore to work against the juggernaut of media and society’s pressures on girls and boys to adopt a particular view of gender and how can we remain open to plural modalities of gender without succumbing to unreflective acceptance of tradition for tradition’s sake?