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Study of Gender Discrimination in Psychology: Examples & Impact

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Understanding gender discrimination is an important part of making sense of gender differentials in life outcomes. This lesson discusses the psychology and impact of gender discrimination with the help of examples.

Thinking About Gender

Susan has been interested in gender, or the aspect of identity dealing with how someone thinks of themselves on the continuum as male or female, for as long as she can remember.

Susan identifies as a woman, and she knows she's experienced gender discrimination, or unfair acts, because of this identity. She also has many friends who identify as transgender, and she knows that they experience discrimination frequently.

Susan wonders what goes on when someone discriminates based on gender, and whether this has always been the case across cultural and historical contexts.

History of Gender Discrimination

As she talks with older relatives and does some reading about history, Susan comes to find out that gender discrimination has existed in some forms since ancient times. In many ancient civilizations, it was believed that people's roles were determined by their anatomy, and possibilities were deeply circumscribed for women as well as men. For instance, women were considered nurturers and were discouraged or banned from many physical activities.

As societies evolved and became increasingly agrarian and then industrialized, many of these stereotypes and restrictions solidified. Gender discrimination was not restricted to workplace possibilities; it also contained expectations that women reproduce as much as possible and that men earn wages to support their growing families.

Many societies developed intense power imbalances based on gender, so even within families, it was considered appropriate for men to dominate women and control them physically and emotionally. Susan knows that this is still the case in many families.

In contemporary societies, the extent of gender discrimination varies based on socioeconomic status, culture, education level, and age. Women earn less money than men overall for doing the same jobs and are disproportionately tasked with domestic and childrearing duties.

Women are also raped and abused at significantly higher rates than men.

Susan learns that there are some societies, such as many Native American cultures, where transgender people have always been accepted and even revered. However, in most societies, a binary view of gender has evolved, and people who do not fit into this binary experience tremendous discrimination.

Causes of Gender Discrimination

Susan is really curious about what causes so much gender discrimination. She comes up with the following ideas:

  • Anatomical differences between men and women circumscribe certain roles; e.g., for the most part, women bear children, and men do not. Many roles and restrictions arise from these biological differences.
  • Men have traditionally benefited from discriminatory practices on a financial level, and it can be hard for them to relinquish the power that comes along with these benefits.
  • Gender roles are built into the earliest education we offer children, often unconsciously. This can make it really hard for even well-intentioned people to avoid unconscious biases and discrimination based on gender.
  • Mass media, books, movies, and television shows consistently send messages about what it means to identify with a certain gender, and this can lead to bias and discrimination that we aren't even aware we're taking on.

Effects of Gender Discrimination

Susan can see that gender discrimination can be really hard to avoid, and she wonders how it effects women, men, and transgender people.

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