Fact or Fiction?
July 1, 2011
Do you know the answer to this riddle? A man and his son are in a terrible car accident. The father is killed and the boy is seriously injured. He is taken to a hospital by ambulance. When he is wheeled on a cart into the emergency room, one of the doctors sees him and declares, “Stop, that’s my son!!” How is that possible? If you figured out that the doctor is female and therefore the boy’s mother is a doctor, then you are considered unbound by “gender” roles. If you couldn’t figure out the riddle or it took you a while, then gender stereotyping is alive and well even today. This riddle used to be used in beginning linguistics textbooks or classrooms to gauge how tightly locked into our gender stereotyping we are. Men have traditionally held the position of doctors, so the reader would be confused by this contradiction. How can the father have been killed in an accident and also a doctor in the emergency room? Maybe you came up with your own, more modern family solution to the situation though equally prejudice against genders—the boy had two fathers. Before the “women’s liberation” movement in the 1970s and 1980s, it was known that gender roles were very clear cut and negatively affected women. This leads us to wonder if gender roles are still in effect today and to what degree. If so, we would like to know what the more recent manifestations are in social arenas such as politics, relationships, the workplace and education. I grew up with clear gender roles in my own family and society. In the 1950s and 1960s, men and women’s roles in Middle-America were very different. In my family, there were 8 children—3 boys and 5 girls. My father had a career and financially supported the family. My mother stayed at home and took care of the house and children. My father’s “manly” duties included going to work, taking care of the car and lawn, and preparing, planting and weeding the garden. My mother on the other hand was responsible for cooking, cleaning, sewing, harvesting and preparing the food from the garden as well as caring for her children and disciplining them. As I was growing up, these roles of my parents almost never interchanged. As a result of these roles, my brothers and sisters had their own different duties around the house. The girls learned to cook, clean, and sew. My brothers helped with the lawn, took out the trash, washed the cars and helped in the garden. When we got ready to go to college, we chose rather gender specific professions too. My brothers were a doctor, an engineer and a carpenter. My oldest sister majored in home economics. I became a teacher. My other three sisters are a medical assistant, administrative assistant and a librarian. There was no doubt that gender roles existed in my house or in the society in those days. However, that was 40-50 years ago! Surely, today the situation has changed. According to most research, that is not the case. Although there has been some progress, it is hard to prove that gender stereotyping has been eradicated. In the US 2004 elections, 8.8 more women voted than men and yet males dominated the field of politics (“Females in Politics”). Although the United States has never had a female president, it has had a female candidate for president and women have held higher positions in government than ever before. However, in the twentieth century Europe has had 16 female heads of state, Asia has had 11, the West Indies 7 and even South America and Central America have had 3 women who led their countries (Gardner 227). In the workplace, there are fewer gender differences than in the past. Today, women are working outside of the home. Of 122 million women in the US over the age of 16, 72 million or 59.2% were labor force participants—working or looking for employment (“Women’s Bureau”). Women today are…