Topic 2 Gender stereotypes

Difference and Inequality are not synonyms


Lack of identity, similarity or correspondence between people or things that are diverse to one another by nature or property.  



Relation in which it is stated that one is more or less important than another, or that a quality is more or less than one of the same class.

Gender differences are cultural products and we need to discern between

Sex (biological)

 Gender (social)

    It is defined by chromosomes at birth.

Through contact with social agents we internalise social norms and expectations.

A gender stereotype is a generalised view or preconception about attributes or characteristics, or the roles that are or ought to be possessed by, or performed by women, men and other genders.

A gender stereotype is harmful when it limits someone’s capacity to develop their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers and make choices about their lives.

The content of stereotypes varies over cultures and over time.

These expectations are often related to the feminine and masculine roles that exist within cultures.

Deeply ingrained in society, many people are conditioned by gender stereotyping from childhood, meaning that stereotyping is not always immediately obvious. However, this doesn’t make the issue any less pressing, and it’s become increasingly important to show individuals that gender should not be a limiting factor in the conduct of their lives and should not affect their perception of others.

As we said, a stereotype is a simplified form to describe a complex reality.  But, when this simplification is applied to human reality, and specifically to gender relations, it can become a way of describing not only the complexity but also the many and different features of the male and female worlds, by imprisoning them in rigid models.

If repeated over the time, stereotypes become accepted as being «normal» for what they suggest. Indeed, they convey something that is accepted and are very often conveyed and welcomed unconsciously: it is then important to know how the transmission mechanism works and to make it visible if we want to change the content of messages.

If stereotypes have the function of “simplifying” life, what are gender stereotypes for?

First of all, they contribute to the maintenance of positions and roles expected by society, since the cultural division of labour is perceived not only as fair, but also as natural and inevitable. Secondly, they make it more difficult for women to move away from a system of relationships in which men are assumed to be competent, whereas women are not.

Gender stereotypes are the mostly widespread subclass of stereotypes in society.

When we link, without thinking, one category or one behaviour to a gender, we are using this type of stereotype.

In gender relations, male dominance translates into stereotypes that sanction the superiority of masculine traits linked to the area of competence and relevant to status, while feminine traits recognised as superior to the areas linked to the ability to build and maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships.

These examples may look trivial. This is not the case though, because stereotypes not only influence ideas on groups but also have consequences on society and modes of action. It is not by chance that most of us link an engineer or a chef to a men, whereas in our cognitive maps nursery teachers are usually women. These automatic mental associations are very difficult to eradicate or change.

Some examples:

  • Women are emotional, men are rational

  • Boys are aggressive, girls are quiet

  • Women are good at cooking, men are good at maintenance jobs

  • Women love arts and literature, men love maths and sciences

  • Love is a woman’s aspiration, a career is a man’s aspiration

If a girl plays with toy cars or she likes to play football, she’s considered to be a tomboy.

“If you cry, you are a sissy!”

Source: Photo by Zachary Kadolph on Unsplash

Gender stereotypes, when compounded and intersecting with other stereotypes, have a disproportionate negative impact on certain groups of women, such as women from minority or indigenous groups, women with disabilities, women from lower caste groups or with lower economic status, migrant women, etc.

Wrongful gender stereotyping is a frequent cause of discrimination against women and a contributing factor in violations of a vast array of rights such as the right to health, adequate standard of living, education, marriage and family relations, work, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, political participation and representation, effective remedy, and freedom from gender-based violence.


Video resource:

«I got 99 problems … palsy is just one” Maysoon Zayid


Stereotypes about women both result from and are the cause of deeply ingrained attitudes, values, norms and prejudices against women. They are used to justify and maintain the historical relations of power of men over women as well as sexist attitudes which are holding back the advancement of women.

Sexism = discrimination, devaluation, mockery, gender commodification

Sexism is any expression (act, word, image, gesture) based on the idea that some people, most often women, are inferior because of their sex.

We can distinguish 2 types of sexism:

  • Hostile sexism: based upon the belief that it is fair that men hold more power than women and upon the fear that women may usurp their place. Hostile beliefs are often addressed to women who challenge men’s superiority

  • Benevolent sexism: based on the belief that men have a duty to protect women and should limit their freedom with the excuse of looking after their wellbeing. It’s perceived as emotionally positive by those who express them and sometimes even by women themselves, especially within cultures where they feel most threatened by men. Benevolent beliefs are addressed to women usually taking on traditional gender roles

Sexism does not always assume a form of obvious hostility. In modern societies, on the contrary, expressions of sexism can often become subtle and even take on positive connotations: think, for example, when sexism is expressed in the form of a joke or a compliment (Glick & Fiske, 1996).

Individual acts of sexism may seem benign, but they create a climate of intimidation, fear and insecurity. This leads to the acceptance of violence, mostly against women and girls.

Sexism can be behind the most evident aspects of power, both private and public, that pass through education, schooling, knowledge, communication, language, knowledge of ourselves and the world. In other words, we are facing a form of domination embedded in the whole social system which operates invisibly: through imagination, thoughts, feelings, emotions, mental habits of all people. 

Reading resource

Integration of migrant women. A key challenge with limited policy resources

European web site on Integration:

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