Posted by: alexacampbell15 | January 17, 2018

The Gender Role Spillover

As we discussed today during class, we as information-processing beings utilize a categorization tool called schemas to translate stimuli and organize data within our minds. These schemas allow us to differentiate between dogs and cats, comfort foods and fine dining, and, of course, groups of people. Of course, schemas can initiate some negative or derogatory stereotypes, which we (should) actively try to eradicate. Gender schemas are those stereotypes that can be both useful in understanding gender differences but limiting due to gender biases and sexism.

Schemas play a critical role in the development and maintenance of gender roles. Last Monday, I went to the ER (don’t worry – I’m totally fine) and spent most of my time waiting on nurses, doctors, and test results. Around hour five, I asked the receptionist for any updates regarding my X-ray results, and he informed me that he would send a nurse over to give me more information. After a few minutes, a nurse approached me and said that a doctor would be with me shortly to discuss the results. I then began to respond: “When he comes over -” and, before I could finish my question, the nurse interjected “or she.” I laughed, slightly embarrassed, slightly proud that she caught the blunder, and then reflected on the weight of this seemingly-trivial scenario which had just occurred.

Obviously, I am aware that both men and women have the potential of becoming ER doctors this day in age. Then why had I automatically assumed that the doctor would be male? I think that this represents the gender role “spillover” which occurs in other social roles, particularly within the professional realm. Explicitly, both men and women have the ability to go to college, get a medical degree, and attain a job as a doctor. Implicitly, however, traditional gender roles are so deeply ingrained in our mental schemas that we often have difficulty in consciously correcting such stereotypes.

This also heavily pertains to the idea of women as leaders because we often associate typical leadership schemas – domineering, driven, gallant – with men. Thus, women in leadership roles are often times forced to adopt a more “masculine” style of leadership and can even receive backlash for not maintaining their feminine characteristics. I think that both men and women in leadership will not be forced to adhere to these restrictive gender roles if there was a widely-held public view that it is okay for women to be aggressive and men to be sensitive. These traits, among many others, should move away from their conventional associations with gender and should be utilized as individual descriptors instead.


  1. Being corrected reminds of a riddle I’ve heard before: “a father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!” Explain.” I remember the first time I heard this question. I was with a group of people and some of the solutions they came up with were gay dads, or a parallel universe, or the dad was a time traveler. It astounded me that it was more likely supernatural than coming to the conclusion that the doctor is the mother of the child. I reflect on this a lot since I also fall victim to assuming doctors or women and then feeling especially foolish since I am pre-health and a woman. I am trying to be more conscious about women being in strong leadership roles without questioning their presence or competence. I attend women’s marches and women lobbyists days and identify as a feminist and I get very frustrated that I still fall prey to societal standards of professions stereotypes.

  2. Spanish is an interesting language, especially when it comes to referring to other people. In any situation involving men, even if there is one man among a sea of women, the ending of the word will become masculine. For example, if I were to say “hello everyone” and refer to an all-female crowd, I would say “hola todas.” But if a man were to walk in, I would say “hola todos.” Some of my Spanish professors in the past have found a solution to be more inclusive whenever they write emails by saying “hola tod@s.” This is a good start to becoming more inclusive, but there are still many differences between languages.

  3. It happens more often than we realize when it comes to assigning an identity to those we are unfamiliar with. We almost always expect our nurses to be females and our doctors to be males, we expect our children to have female teachers and male administrators, and we definitely have yet to see a female president in our lifetime. This identity issue to saved at a young age to the point where young girls may not feel they are able to do things that is not “normal.” When I was younger, I wanted to be a firefighter after a field trip at the local fire station. My (oh so supportive) brothers were quick to tell me it was a man’s job, and that’s stuck with me since. We need more female leaders in fields such as those to give young girls hope for change.

    • I don’t think it is necessarily a problem that we have these schemas or that we automatically assign certain identities to a specific group of people. I think it’s more of an issue when people can’t adjust to things that are out of (what is considered to be) the norm. To assume that a doctor will be a man isn’t really a negative thing, but if an individual expects a male doctor and then responds negatively when they realize the doctor it is a women, that is where the problem lies. Especially if they react negatively as a result of thinking that the women doctor will be less competent than a male doctor.

  4. I am a Neuroscience major so I find this aspect of women in leadership very interesting. It is true that we have these schemas developed from a very early age and once they are developed, they are very difficult if not impossible to overcome. This is largely because almost everything we process is processed subconsciously. The best way to fight these gender schemas is not letting our implicit bias affect our thinking or our actions. We must make ourselves aware of this bias and that our schemas are not always accurate so that we can more accurately re-analyze our implicit bias. In the end, if you can overcome your initial bias by educating yourself and putting the effort in. This class has already done such a great job at bringing up certain issues that it has already changed my perspective (2 weeks in!) and made me realize that I was subconsciously judging women leaders more harshly than I would male leaders. I am now working on consciously reminding myself of this whenever I evaluated leadership styles now. I try to make sure I have common standards established and don’t expect certain leadership styles from certain genders.

  5. I am seeing how there is a connection between these schemas and the language we use to address them. Just like my post titled “Guys,” it can be difficult to know what to say during a conversation as well as simply being aware of the possibility of a situation that goes against these gender norms. It seems like a difficult feat to actively change your day to day process of thinking and to conform to these new schemas, but without being aware and attempting to think in a new, open-minded way, society won’t progress to be the way we wish it could be. With every new generation the difficulty of adopting new, more accurate, schemas will become easier and easier until there ceases to be an obvious split between gender and our social schemas.

  6. This is a perfect example of second generation gender bias that we have discussed in class, as well. Whether we like to admit it or not, the silent rules that society enforces shape the way we think, act, and believe, even if we consciously try to act against it. I often catch myself making similar errors in judgement, and will often assume certain personality types, political ideals, or beliefs based on where people come from, their job, and their gender. Stereotyping is something that occurs naturally, and it’s important to try and catch when it happens.

    Even though these assumptions, such as the schema that only men fit the leader role, go on in our thoughts, it is easy to overlook how damaging they still might be. If we want change and equality in our society, we must also recognize that we ARE society, and change comes in the way we think, and frame our internal dialogues. I know I have shifted a lot of my preconceived ideas that were founded based on ignorance. With education and an open mind, we really can shift the way we think, and shift society as a whole to become more inclusive.

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