Gender roles – these words automatically revert me to thinking about the structure of a household. I imagine a 1950’s home with the children are surrounding their father as the wife ensures that the supper is laid out for the family and . Take a look:
Gender roles have always been society’s attempt at maintaining the security and happiness of a household by designating responsibility to each member of the family. This has largely been questioned by many organizations and leaders. As we make our way in the 21st century, many of us believe that gender roles are archaic and few of us in the “developed” world apply these principles to daily life.
In an NPR-Morning Edition story, I was surprised to find that we subconsciously apply gender roles! New research has shown that gender roles are not only applied in household or workplaces, but during various levels of education, especially college/graduate education. In a recent database created by Benjamin Schmidt, a professor at Northeastern University, male and female teachers were evaluated by students (total of 14 million reviews!). The resulting text was stratified by gender, meaning that each adjective used to describe a teacher was recorded based upon whether it was used for a female or male professor. The study results can be viewed Here – an interactive chart showing the frequency of adjective use for female or male professors, also stratified by discipline of the student (ie. Philosophy, Fine arts, Economics, etc). As NPR reports, Schmidt found that “men are more likely to be judged on an intelligence scale, while women are more likely to be judged on a nurturing scale.” Through this review, Schmidt did not find a difference between genders for the overall rating of a professor. In a separate 2014 study, Schmidt also contemplates the idea that online-students were likely to rate male professors higher in comparison to female professors. Albeit the n of this study was low (43 students participated), the combination of the two study begs the question whether we subconsciously carry our gender roles with us beyond the boundaries of our home and office?
Since the turn of the century, we have seen the rise of female leaders in all disciplines, so much that perhaps we may elect a female US President within the next decade! In the 1990’s various small studies reviewed children’s perception of gender roles. It would be interesting to return to this field and compare the perception of gender roles among the children of today and 20 years ago.
When it relates to medicine, the study of gender roles and perceptions is significantly pertinent. Physicians and patients are uniquely compelled into creating a strong relationship based upon the patient’s trust and confidence in a provider’s ability. If the provider is unable to attain and secure this confidence, the two can suffer from an unsatisfying patient-physician relationship. One can imagine that this influences the ability of a physician to encourage patient compliance, adherence, and satisfaction with treatment plans. As we venture into more complex medical management, the effect of gender roles is more likely to emerge to the surface.
Thus, the conversation continues for another day, year, or decade!