Classifying information based on simple and easily accessible categories is typical cognitive shortcut used by human beings to make quick decisions. The simple act of separating people in groups is enough to trigger inter-group discrimination. We categorize others on the basis of obvious attributes such as race, gender or age; and we do so often without realizing it— whether we associate these characteristics with positive traits (such as “women are better at multitasking,” “ Asians are hardworking”) or negative ones (“women are emotional”, “accountants are not creative”). Further, we often stereotype members of our own group (women can stereotype against women). What makes stereotyping so pervasive and difficult to change is that not only do we stereotype, we also tend to reject information that dissonates with our attitudes and we selectively recall information that confirms our way of thinking.
Stereotypes can be defined as personifications which widely accepted and shared among members of a given society and are handed down from generation to generation. Fung and Ma (2000) asserted that stereotype is a subjective perception, which may be an intuition, a prejudice, an imagination, or past impression of what a person has been. It affects the experiences of women leaders and of women who aspire to leadership positions. It also creates different standards form evaluation women compared to their men colleagues. In summary, stereotypes are the mental representation of the characteristics of a particular social or cultural group that are shared among the members of the society (Stangor & Schaller, 1996; Hudley & Graham, 2001). Even though equally qualified as men, women are often not rated equally or promoted at the same rate. Studies on gender and stereotyping attribute these findings to the gender stereotype expectations, since leadership roles tend to align more strongly with male than female gender role characteristics. Unlike gender-stereotyped expectations, research suggests that women tend to lead using a combination of both feminine and masculine leadership styles, whereas men use slightly more masculine styles (Corcoran, 2009; Gardiner & Tiggemann, 1999).
In order to try to understand why gender stereotyping is so pervasive in all over the world, it may be necessary to examine the influences in different culture and beliefs over time. In ancient Greece, Aristotle argued that men should have authority over women because in women the rational element in the human soul is easily overruled by the irrational. He argued that it is natural for the rational element to have authority over the irrational. All men were presumed to be rational while all women were presumed to be irrational. This prized value of ‘rationality’ over other human characteristics was promulgated by philosophers and theologians throughout Western history. Characteristics which were considered ‘natural’ for females were considered to be of less value, and women were deemed to be innately flawed and should therefore be subordinate to men. The assumption that only men are truly human permeated the beliefs and ideologies of writers throughout the Western history.
This ideology of female inferiority and subordination was so deeply ingrained into the values and cultures of Western societies and others part of the world that most women as well as men accepted it without noticing that it existed. The French writer Christine Pizan (1365-1430) described how she tried to counter the assertions of so many male writers, that women are inherently wicket and full of every vice, but found herself agreeing with them saying it was impossible that so many famous men, among them renowned scholars, so clear sighted in all things as it seemed, could have been wrong in their beliefs about and attitudes towards women. Fortunately, Pizan went on to challenge these views and assertions. She argued that women ere not innately inferior to men but their inferior education and training had created the illusion of inequality.
Throughout the centuries, while some women from privileged backgrounds received an education and excelled in various disciplines; entered religious life; and women worked, inside and outside the home; in the fields, in factories; in other’s homes to help support families; a fundamental commonality in all women’s lives has been their subordination to men. Whatever position, work or role undertaken by women, it was traditionally valued less than its equivalent undertaken by men.
Early feminists, such as Pizan, challenged the traditional views of women as being innately inferior to men and argued that their supposed inferiority was caused by their lack of education. They promoted education as the vehicle to make women better human beings and not, as was proposed by some writers, as a means of making them more pious or better wives and mothers.
Humanists, who advocated education for girls, did not intend that it should be for the benefit of the girl. But that it would enhance the life of her future husband. Sir Thomas More, the English Humanist believed that education made wives better companions their husbands and better teachers of their children.
Revolutionary in their views of education of the male, when it came to women the Humanists reinforced the most negative attitudes about the female nature and the way women should be treated. In every way the learned men of this new age intended to restrain and limit, not to encourage or expand the young girl’s or the woman’s talents and the possibilities for her life…even in the young girl, these learned men imagined the negative qualities delineated by classical and early Christian writers: the desire to dominate, a tendency to anger, pride, and idleness, and a propensity to sin and lust-fulness.
While many Western women received an education over the centuries, access to education, and particularly higher education, was not generally available to girls and women until the nineteenth century. Some university did not permit women access until the early twentieth century. Some universities permitted women to attend, but did not grant them degrees. In Spain, four women who had passed their medical examinations in 1882, were refused degrees and instead were issued with certificates which did not allow them to practice as doctors. In some universities, women who attended medical school were subjected to violence and other forms of discrimination. The traditional arguments of the inferiority of women were used by the opponents to their participation in higher education.
Given the long history of prejudice, discrimination, and opposition to reforms in favor of women, it is understandable that patriarchy became firmly established in every sphere of Western societies. As male was considered the human norm, it was men’s experience that determined how societies should be structure and it was their knowledge and theory, constructed within the framework of a patriarchal paradigm of human society, that have been passed down as our intellectual inheritance.
The view that schools transmit our ‘common cultural heritage’ has given way to recognition that out of the enormous range of ideas, values and knowledge available in any culture, only a fraction is selected as suitable for transmission in schools. The question the becomes; what are the criteria behind this selection, which social groups benefit from the inclusion of their forms of thought, and which social groups lose through the exclusion of their forms of thought?
In the book n, Girls Don’t Do Honors, Cullen argues that under the spotlight of feminist scrutiny, one of patriarchy’s most striking characteristics is seen to be its ability to avoid detection and remain effectively invisible.
Obviously it is not invisible in any literal sense. Aristotle and many of the other patriarchal thinkers were only too explicit in the articulation of their views about women. Yet generation after generation of women and men have gone through the formal and informal education system of western societies without ever becoming aware of the patriarchal value-system within which so much of what they learn has been constructed. It would be more accurate to say without ever coming to know it as a named and definable paradigm. This distinction between levels of awareness needs to be examined. It carries serious implications for how we all, women and men, know ourselves and locate ourselves within our culture.