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Questioning Gender Assumptions

Posted on November 30, 2019


Leslie Knope Acting Surprised

Today’s Buzz is by Alisha Janes (Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn)

What I’m Watching: Watchmen

What I’m Reading: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World


Thanksgiving in my family has typically been a gendered holiday. Most of my female relatives make their annual contribution to the food. My grandma cooks the turkey and makes amazing buns. My aunt makes delicious side dishes. And, because this is South Dakota, there are several varieties of “salad” served. All of the salads are delicious, but none of them contain any leafy greens and most would be best classified as dessert.

So as we digest our turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, let us take a minute to recover from what traditionally has been a very gendered holiday and talk about questioning some gender norms.

Last April, the League of Women in Government shared this article from the Harvard Business Review in their newsletter, and I have been thinking about it pretty much ever since, so I figured it was about time to write about it too.

While you should make time to read the whole article, the gist is that the premise that men and women are fundamentally different is just not supported by scientific evidence.

Are women less confident than men? – Nope

Are women poorer negotiators? – Nope

Do women take fewer risks – Also a nope

So, not only are our perceived differences among men and women, just that, perceived, but the way those differences are often touted as a means to supporting women, is also flawed. Women benefit more from a focus on the similarities between men and women.

Yet, even though the intention is well-meaning, we often unintentionally reinforce the premise that women and men are fundamentally different. I think that is why I keep coming back to this article. Since I first read it, I have become more aware of just how often I was perpetuating unfounded presumptions of gender differences instead of thinking through how society and systems have helped to create and reinforce different experiences for women. Don’t get me wrong, I still make a habit of pointing out systematic bias, I am just careful to do so in a way that calls out that it is society that is perpetuating differences instead of biology.

So, if you excuse me, I need to go catch a flight home and support some women-owned small businesses.

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