Have we really come as far as we think we have in combating traditional gender stereotypes over the years? As it turns out, maybe not.
Women and men have undoubtedly seen changes in the activities they do and how they are represented. But according to new research, gender stereotypes haven’t actually changed at all in the last thirty years.
In fact, one study finds that people are even more likely to believe that men avoid “traditional” female roles. The study, published recently in the Psychology of Women Quarterly (PWQ), finds that while we might have changed, our beliefs have not.
Changes didn’t alter beliefs
In comparing men and women thirty years ago with men and women today, you would likely spot a number of differences. But change alone hasn’t been enough to completely free us from gender stereotypes.
"Those changes apparently have not been sufficient to alter strongly held and seemingly functional beliefs about the basic social category of gender," said researchers Elizabeth L. Haines, Kay Deaux, and Nicole Lofaro.
To reach this conclusion, the authors compared data from 195 college students in 1983 to 191 adults in 2014. The question: rate the likelihood that a typical man or woman has a set of gendered characteristics.
Stereotypes still alive
The researchers found that even though the 2014 crowd was more diverse, people still have firmly held beliefs on what defines a man or a woman.
Participants still believed gender stereotypes about their own gender. They were also likely to believe that each gender should present themselves in a certain way as far as personality traits, gender role behaviors, occupations, and physical characteristics.
The belief, for instance, that a man should be the one to “repair and maintain the car” hasn’t changed since 1983. Men are still perceived as less likely than women to engage in female gender roles, such as housekeeping and taking care of the kids.
As to why we have such strong beliefs on how men and women are different, the researchers say two reasons are likely:
First, an unconscious bias might distort the way we perceive -- therefore, we remember gender atypical behavior as more stereotypical than it actually was. Second, men and women might tend to shy away from cross gender behavior in order to avoid the backlash that usually comes with it (e.g. wimpy men or powerful women).
For those in therapeutic or advising roles, the researchers say it’s important to be aware of how gender stereotypes might affect the goals of their clients. They also recommend doing away with gendered criteria on job descriptions and boosting the awareness of gender stereotypes in the workplace.