Week 6 Write Out: Gender and Stereotypes

In Tuesday’s (16 Sept) lecture, we asked ourselves a rather defining question: “Who am I?” This question has left me thinking ever since, and I struggle to come up with an answer that I am totally satisfied with. Is our identity just a race, gender and occupation? I believe it is definitely more than that, and agree with Prof Paul that it is indeed complex and dynamic. However, she left us with one interesting thought at the end of the lecture: that many of the things that we think are intrinsic may have been labels that we simply internalize.

We also learnt about stereotypes, where we analysed the reasons they exist, their power, stereotype threat and its consequences. I found one point particularly interesting, which was how males generally tend to have higher starting salaries than women. I researched on it and found that it applies to one in four firms in Singapore, reason being that men have gone through two years of National Service and hence this measure “helps male graduates to catch up with their female counterparts, who would have a two-year corporate-work experience advantage over them”, according to Mr Victor Chan, regional manager of global management-consulting firm Hay Group. However, is it really fair to say that all men would have been able to gain the same work experience in the two years as the women? Wouldn’t that be discrediting the hard work of the women, who have worked their way up?

We then ended off the lecture with intersectionality, which is the argument that group-based oppressions are linked and can be solved independently. (For a fun cartoon explaining intersectionality: http://miriamdobson.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/intersectionality-a-fun-guide-now-in-powerpoint-presentation-formation/)

In seminar, we continued our unanswered questions about gender from last Friday. One question was: “Are ‘abnormal’ chromosomal arrangements genetic disorders?” The group tackling that question had a hard time defining what exactly was a “disorder”, and we concluded that it is something that hinders one’s day-to-day functioning. However, I found this question particularly intriguing because it was a question I had from the Gendered Worlds readings as well. When I read that, I was wondering if being the minority means nature has made a mistake. However, if nature did not make a mistake, then why are there only so few of them?

Another question that was discussed was: How many gender categories should there be? While one group of thought was that gender should be a spectrum, not categories, there was some discourse about that. One issue is that should male and female be at the opposite ends of the spectrum? What about octagonal characteristics that exist in varying degrees within us? Also, would society be comfortable with the ambiguity of the spectrum? One question that I found rather interesting was that if there are too many classifications, wouldn’t they become arbitrary? To me, I would find this an over-rationalization of the situation. Take the 71 gender options on Facebook for example. I did not even know that half of those options existed, such as two-spirit person, neutrois and cisgender. Hence, is there even a point in having so many options when people don’t even know what the differences between each one are?

Lastly, we also discussed about where we should draw the line on gender, sex and sexuality legalization. We agreed that as long as there is informed consent (excluding sex with minors and Zoophilia), it can be legalized. However, we also discussed about the pragmatic reasons behind the non-legalization of gay marriage, such as maintaining the birth rate. The issue of human trafficking, where people would buy sperms or eggs to create a family and whether or not this was acceptable was also raised. However, it was not covered in much depth and I hope that it will be brought up again when we study about markets!

The second half of the seminar was about stereotypes. We considered the different ways to neutralise stereotype threats in schools, which included having high standards, presenting intelligence as malleable, and creating an environment of trust with sharing sessions. I found the ‘imposter syndrome’ especially interesting, where through these sharing sessions, it was revealed that the students do not actually know what they’re really doing, but they are just appearing to be. I find this to be the case as well in Yale-NUS, where my classmates encouraged me to speak up in class just like they do, saying that they do not know exactly what they’re speaking about but they say it anyway. However, I find that this might not be such a bad thing after all because at least it encourages people to speak their mind and make room for mistakes. Without being so self-conscious, everyone’s guard is lowered and we can focus on learning instead. This is exactly what neutralising stereotype threats is all about.

However, I was also wondering if we could consider anonymity as a way to neutralise the effect of stereotype threats on the stereotyped as well. In the Steele reading, it was mentioned that the Black students were under stereotype threat when their teacher made them attach a picture of themselves to their essay, which meant that he was aware of their race. When their essays were critiqued, they saw them as biased and were less motivated than White students to improve their essays. Hence, I think if the essays were anonymously written, the Black students would have more trust in the marking and criticism, seeing that it purely critiqued their work and nothing else.

We also discussed if we would recognise these stereotype threats if we are not affected by them and brought up the idea of priming in the process. Priming refers to an implicit memory effect in which exposure to one stimulus influences a response to another stimulus. We also questioned if the nation’s values matter in determining the extent of stereotype threats. One example was Malaysia’s Bumiputera policy by Mahathir Mohamad. (Prof Paul has uploaded a blog post about this as well)

[Sorry for the extremely late post!!]

2 thoughts on “Week 6 Write Out: Gender and Stereotypes”

  1. hi Nicole
    The question you raised at the end of your post is very interesting. What do you think of the idea of grading CSI assignments completely anonymously? So I would have no way of letting my prejudices/biases for or against particular students influence my grading. Do you think that would reduce stereotype threat in our classroom? More importantly, do you think stereotype threat is operating in our class, or at Yale-NUS more broadly?

    Separately, I just wanted to let you know that the term is not 'octogonal' but 'orthogonal' to represent two variables that are not opposites of each other but rather exist independently of each other.

    Great post! And lots of food for thought!

    1. Hi Prof Paul,

      Thank you for your comments! I think the idea of grading CSI assignments anonymously would be great in my opinion, though I'm not sure what the rest of the class might think. My PPT professor has been adopting this practice ever since the first assignment and I do feel that there is less of an expectation to fulfill whatever expectation or break any prejudice she had of me in the class through my essays with this practice. Even though I think the professors at Yale-NUS are fair, I think subjecting students to bias is rather unconscious and cannot be helped to a certain extent.

      I think stereotype threat is something that occurs naturally and is unavoidable. Most of the time, we might not even know it exists, especially in Yale-NUS, which is meant to be a tight-knit community which tries to make sure no one is left out. Hence, people might just choose to keep mum about their feelings of stereotype threat to uphold the image that they are fitting in well with the rest of the college.

      Thank you for the term correction as well!


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