Posted by: hannahcroyle | January 22, 2019

Gender Riddles

One of the aspects of this class that has struck me the most throughout these first few weeks is how many people “do gender” without even realizing it.  This was explored in one of the first article readings, when Lorber discussed the man on a subway that was caring for his young daughter, noting how many people in their minds would silently applaud him.  I realized how true this was for me, and although a bit dated since that is a more common sighting in today’s world, my mind still goes right away to the place where I congratulate the man without realizing what I am doing.  I think it will take some time before the reversal of the male and female roles are completely accepted in society, to the point where people do not bat an eye at a stay-at-home dad or a high-profile business executive mother.  

This topic of people subconsciously “doing gender” reminds me of this riddle: “A father and son get in a car crash and are rushed to the hospital.  The father dies. The boy is taken to the operating room and the surgeon says, “I cannot operate on this boy, because he is my son.” How is this possible?”

The answer to the riddle is that the surgeon is the boy’s mother.  This has stumped many people, because the first place the typical mind goes is for the male figure to be the surgeon or doctor.  Since the father died, the mind does not even think that the mother would be the surgeon. Although this riddle is dated, things have not changed very much over time.  Doctors, many businessmen, presidents, lawyers, etc. are still considered very “manly” jobs, while teachers, secretaries, nurses, etc. are more typical positions for females. It makes me think how our mind goes to what is the “obvious” answer, because it is known – it is what we encounter in our daily lives and are used to.  However, because times are changing, is it wrong to assume these things about individuals, or be stumped by this riddle?

This innate ability we as humans have to think that people have certain “roles” has been shaped by our previous experiences, but is also very influenced by social norms within society and the media.  For someone to branch out from the way things have been in the past is bold, brave, and risky. Thanks to this women and leadership course, I have already been much more cognizant of the gender-related things I am thinking about throughout the day.  I am cautious to jump to conclusions, categorizing people in the groups to which I assume they belong. Do you think we have made progress as a country overcoming these stereotypes the past few years? Are there any things we can do in our day-to-day life to change our mindsets?  We talked about Shonda Rhimes, and the prominence of women in important positions in the medical field that she was able to depict in Grey’s Anatomy. What are your thoughts on how that plays into this riddle? Do watching shows such as Grey’s consciously or subconsciously influence our views on gender?


  1. I really enjoyed reading your post. I think the riddle was a perfect example of the point you were making. I absolutely hate to admit it but I was completely stumped on this riddle. I would say I advocate for gender equality but the society we live in has shaped our minds to much to think a certain way whether we like it or not.

    Overall I do see that our culture has come a long way. Now, thinking of women not being able to vote seems insane to me but there was a point in history that this was the case. We now have had females run for high positions in government which broke many barriers. Although, the fact this class exists and there is so much to discuss on women and leadership, shows that we have not come far enough. I believe there will be a really long road to complete equality and non gender stereotyping but I also believe the people before us have helped so much in paving that road.

    Awareness is a great way to start changing our mindsets. I think many of the men that treat females unequal in the work place do it subconsciously. Because men have also grown up in a society where men are seen as superior to women they can automatically think that way. If men and women become more aware in their daily lives of gender stereotyping then they will notice more of their own actions resulting in a possible change.

    We should be thankful for people like Shonda Rhimes for promoting more gender equality in the media because as people we are so influenced by the media and the subtle breaking of these barriers in media (Grey’s Anatomy…etc) will allow people to see women in high leadership roles as a normalized concept.

  2. I loved your post and how relevant it is in today’s society. While I do think our culture has come a long way, especially in the last few decades, we still have a long way to go in terms of our perception and overall understanding of gender roles. History cannot be changed, but we do have the ability to change the future and the mindsets of people around this country. In the past, women have typically been seen as caretakers and stay-at-home moms, but this concept has definitely been changing recently. I think in our day-to-day life, we can do simple things like you suggested, such as being aware of our thought processes and possibly trying to change them. It is still more common to see mothers taking care of their kids, but that doesn’t mean fathers are not equally as capable or willing. I agree that it will take time to rethink these gender roles that have been ingrained in our minds, but it certainly can and should be done however we can.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post as it was well written and very relevant in today’s society. The use of the riddle was a great way to show how people “do gender”. In these first few weeks of this class, I have been able to become more aware and mindful in how I perceive people “doing gender”. It’s not always easy to catch yourself in the act of doing it because it has become part of our normal routine without us even knowing it. The society we live in has created these gender roles, stereotypes, expectations, norms, or whatever you want to call it, that we have become accustomed to. A lot has changed in the decades that have passed since the women’s rights movement and women’s suffrage movement, but even today, I believe there is still a difficult road ahead to successfully achieve change and allow for gender equality. Because this class has taught me to become more aware of how I perceive and think about gender, advocating for simple changes, like this one, will help start the process down the path to equality. Although these ideas of male and female are drilled into our brains from society, the small awareness of how men perceive women and women perceive men is a great start. Shonda Rhimes is the perfect example how the mindsets of people should be about women in leadership. I think by allowing a show to demonstrate that typically male positions can be filled by strong women is a great way to influence the younger generation since media plays a huge role in their lives today.

  4. I completely agree with you that “doing gender” is something that is so ingrained in our minds as a society that it really takes hard work to separate from this mindset and realize that gender roles are something of the past. Things that I feel should be commonplace such as men taking care of kids and women as successful business leaders are still considered “groundbreaking” and unique, which goes to show that people still subconsciously “do gender”. I do feel as though society within the country as a whole has become relatively more accepting of changes to gender stereotypes, but there are still subsets of the population that are vocally against changes to norms. Something that I think is really useful and helpful is like your example where one needs to be cognizant of what they are doing and thinking in regards to gender and stereotypes. By having more women in male-dominated roles, and men in women-dominated roles – not just leadership examples, we as a society will grow and be less assuming of people based on their outward appearance. I also think that Shonda Rhimes and other creators are doing a great job at bringing powerful characters that do not adhere to gender norms into mainstream audiences, showing us that “doing gender” is not something that needs to be done in this day and age.

  5. I loved your post, and the riddle you added is a great example of the point you were trying to make. I will be honest: in the first article we read, the concept of “doing gender” seemed foreign to me. I didn’t quite get it until I read more of the article and I realized that yes, we really all do gender. I also don’t think this is a fault of our own to an extent. Society shapes us via the media, our parents, and our peers to believe certain things, and these beliefs are often ingrained within us no matter what. I also believe that the responsibility to fight these gender stereotypes is growing. As our society changes and becomes more progressive, I think it’s becoming more and more important to challenge these stereotypes that our parents grew up with and that we grew up with. Women can and should lead, and that’s an idea that should be pushed forward more frequently in a number of sectors.

    Your post also reminded me of some of the innate biases we hold as humans, and I think we may have touched briefly on this in class. These innate biases stretch beyond just gender, we also hold them when it comes to race. We can truly believe that we feel one way about a subject, but these innate biases that often originate at a young age may sway us in a particular direction whether we are aware of it or not. While it can be hard to fight these biases, I think the best way to combat them is to be cognizant of them. When a decision is being made about whether a man or a woman should get a job, are these biases playing a role? What other factors are involved in this decision? I feel as though these are important questions to ask when being faced with these innate beliefs that may fall in our subconscious.

  6. As we have been talking about “doing gender” and gender stereotypes, I have been really interested in how our brain literally handles, processes, and views stereotypes. It seems so simple, but it has been really interesting to me thinking about how within a split second of seeing an individual we have already categorized them into a gender and already have an opinion of them. I think stereotypes often stem from what is represented in society so I do believe as women in leadership becomes more normalized these stereotypes will change. I also feel that it is interesting in today days in age how much media has an effect on society so I do think shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Shonda Rhimes’ initiative plays a roll in how women’s roles in society are viewed.

    • Hi Jess, while growing up on the rise of media, young men and women have been directly impacted by the effect media has on today’s society. As children, we were susceptible to an enormous amount of influence because our brains at that young of an age are just like sponges – soaking up everything we hear. Looking back on your own experiences, do you think that “doing gender” has been more influenced by the media or by the social context in which you were raised?
      I am not an avid fan of Grey’s Anatomy, but from what I have seen and heard, there have been a lot of strong female leads throughout the show. Do you believe that normalizing women leaders through media would be helpful to influence today’s society? Or do you believe that we should do something more as a society to try and break out of these gender stereotypes our brain instantly generates?

  7. The first reading about “doing gender” was definitely eye-opening. Strictly speaking by stereotypical terms, I “eat like a man”, “sprawl out like a man” and “greet my friends like a man”. Just today a friend jokingly commented how I always greet my friends with a “dude head nod”. I thought this was pretty funny because he was unknowingly reinforcing gender stereotypes and had not even read the article! I have always considered myself more of a tom-boy yet my greatest passion, dance, is seen as a very feminine sport.
    I agree that both genders should be able to do certain actions without being labeled as the girl who greets her friends with a “guy head nod”.

    But my main question (and slight problem with labeling stereotypical behaviors as male or female) is to what degree are our differences merely due to our personalities. I have said personality that incorporates male tendencies, but why do I have to be labeled that way. Why can’t we forget about the gender spectrum for a second and say, “Oh, that’s just Elise.”

    For me, watching powerful female figures in Grey’s Anatomy is just a testimony to the diversity of humanity.

  8. Wow, I really think the riddle you mentioned about the boy’s mother being the surgeon was a perfect example of how we “do gender”. Honestly, it took me a minute or two of pondering “how could this be?” before rolling my eyes at myself for not even considering the mother to be the surgeon. As you mentioned on a day-to-day basis, men and women “do gender” without even realizing it. The immediate response I had was clearly because of the schemas and stereotypes I have been exposed to throughout my life. I believe one thing that would help society to get out of this assumption of gender would be to normalize our thoughts about women leaders and women in male dominated fields. Of course it is difficult, but even catching yourself while you make an assumption helps normalize the idea of women being in positions of power. We have come very far over the past few years when raising awareness over gender roles and how they can negatively impact society… but there will always be more problems based on gender we will face.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: