Are Women Complicit In Their Own Inequity?
Welcome to my weekly Q&A feature. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)
If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions — tough questions, brave questions, you name it. The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. Each week I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.
The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusion.
- Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.
- Inclusion: bringing others along on the journey.
In What Ways Are Women Complicit In Gender Inequity?
Are women complicit in their own inequity? For example, self-selecting into lower paying jobs.
(Curious about something? Ask your question here for a chance to have it answered in an upcoming edition of Brave Souls®.)
If you’re interested in gender equity, then you’ll probably appreciate the concept of social conditioning. And if you like exploring emerging research, you’ll probably appreciate what I’m about to share with you even more.
Researchers built and trained a machine learning model that could predict the gender of a baby based on temperament. The team collected data on 2,298 boys and 2,093 girls across 14 temperament dimensions (e.g. smiling, level of activity, anger/frustration, fear).
The accuracy of the model in predicting the baby’s gender reached 57% after 48 weeks of life. Why? Because gender impacts how parents socialize their children. And the model picked up on the effects of this gendered socialization within the baby’s first few months of life.
Whereas sons are taught to seek out competence and autonomy (be fearless!), daughters are taught to avoid situations where they might fall or fail (be fearful).
Women are complicit in their own inequity insomuch as their environment conditions them to be.
Social Conditioning Creates Inequitable Conditions For All Genders
The research parallels previous studies showing how children are conditioned to obey and embody the de facto rules of the gender binary, such as that men are inherently smarter and more talented than women.
In one such study, girls and boys were told a story of a non-gendered individual who is described as “really, really smart.” They were then shown pictures of men and women and asked to identify who they thought the person in the story was. At age 5, boys and girls chose their own gender. Within two years, though, the children were more likely to choose men over women.
Society sows the seeds of gender norms early, and these seeds grow with children as they age. By the time children reach their teen years, girls outperform boys in STEM subjects yet they are taught to be less confident in their STEM abilities.
Now stick with me because there’s an important detail we need to discuss.
Local Versus Global Equity
The study of gender equity is done at the global level. No, I’m not talking about geography or the 156 countries analyzed in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report. When I talk about “global equity,” I’m talking about a population-level analysis as opposed to an individual-level analysis.
An individual cannot be labeled equitable or inequitable. A society can. An individual cannot be assigned a level of inequity. A society can.
Humans are social creatures, so when we talk about gender equity, we need to talk about the environments they inhabit. Women are complicit in their own inequity insomuch as their environment conditions them to be.
As the studies above demonstrate, our environment shapes our beliefs, and our beliefs shape (sometimes constrict) our behavior.
Environment → Beliefs → Behavior
Women’s power and the freedom that power facilitates is relative to other genders within a given population. That said, there are times when choosing freedom and stepping into power would lead to unfavorable outcomes. For example:
1. Say a woman experiences sexual harassment in the workplace. (81% of women report having experienced some form of sexual harassment, with the workplace being the second-most frequent location of violation.)
2. This woman wants to report the incident, but she’s afraid she’ll be fired for doing so. (64% of people who filed sexual harassment charges with the EEOC between 2012–2016 lost their jobs after filing the complaint.)
3. She can’t afford to lose her job because her family depends on her wages for food, shelter, and clothing. (71% of US families depend on moms for economic security.)
4. So she decides it’s in her and her family’s best interest to stay quiet. (70% of workplace sexual harassment survivors don’t report their cases for fear of retaliation.)
Is this woman complicit in her own inequity?
The point I want to make is this: We can’t ask the subjects of inequity to fix a system they didn’t break.
To be clear, we don’t need to vilify men or guilt-trip them into pursuing equity. Instead, we need to reframe gender equity as an environmental condition that benefits everyone.
Men Benefit From Gender Equity, Too
When we make gender equity all about women, we leave behind the other approximately 50%.
In the US, men account for 79% of all suicides and have a lower life expectancy than women, largely as a result of strict gender norms. Moreover, 48% of working fathers aspire to stay home with their children, but again, restrictive gender norms hold them back.
When we achieve gender equity, all of us will be afforded the opportunity to step into a life the size of our dreams. Gender equity means that we will no longer be silenced in the workplace, slaves to the second shift, or socialized into specific career tracks.