For years the perception of boys as unemotional and girls as fragile has created rigid gender stereotypes that continue in our everyday lives.
In fact, according to a recent study by Yale psychologists, adults who are shown a child’s finger being pricked think the child is in less pain when it’s thought to be a girl.
Brian Earp, the study’s lead author, revealed that male observers rated boys’ and girls’ pain closer together than women observers did in their respective ratings of the pain. He says it’s like they thought, “For a boy to express that much pain, he must really be in pain.”
This study backs up research by Maya Dusenbery in her 2018 book, Doing Harm, where she addresses the sexism present in women’s healthcare. She says, “women are more likely to seek care for pain more readily. This doesn’t mean you should take it less seriously when they do seek care. What happens in the real world is that women are seen as overstating pain rather than just being more accurate in describing it.”
Globally, this attitude toward gender-specific stereotypes starts young. Around the age of 10 or 11, children are influenced by their school, their parents, and even the media to behave certain ways. In fact, by the age of 15, it is often too late to change children’s perceptions of gender stereotypes.
While these stereotypes may stem from good — though misinformed — intentions, they can lead to substantial harm. Girls are taught to work based on others’ demands and not take risks, while boys are taught to be brave and strong.
These attitudes are damaging for boys and girls, leading to consequences like depression, child marriage, substance abuse, suicide, and exposure to violence.
These consequences also transfer to the business world. As women try to work up the ladder, they are often told by their male colleagues to be less “bossy” or more “likable.” When women conform to these demands, they’re likely selling themselves short.
Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, a book about how to be a kick-ass boss, notes this important struggle. “When women are thought of as “abrasive” they tend to fall behind their male counterparts. This “lost generation” means less income for women and their families – and a world where women are shut out of leadership positions that are (and remain) overwhelming male,” she says.
In the end, these toxic gender stereotypes create a vacuum where young children are incapable of truly expressing themselves and their potential. While this problem has been around for years, recently companies have been working to change the message from the media, like with Gillette’s ad. The controversy surrounding the ad shows just how much we’re still divided on the concept of gender stereotypes and what behavior is acceptable in today’s society.
This study on the perception of pain in children is yet another example of the many roles gender stereotypes play in our society and offers insight on how we can move away from them in the future.
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