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The Differences Between Men and Women--Part II: Stereotyping and Its Effects on Product Perception

By: Guy Lewis, PhD
Posted: June 6, 2008, from the February 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Young children are very impressionable to the world around them, and they absorb information from their environment more profoundly and deeply than imagined. They pick up incoming information that either is sent directly to them or which they vicariously sense.

The development of sex role stereotyping begins early in young children. They also learn from environmental indicators how they are expected to act and react in light of incoming information. Although the multidimensionality of gender roles has been well-established, few researchers have investigated male and female roles individually.There is a significant difference in the way male and female roles are portrayed in our culture, and therefore boys and girls may think and learn about these roles differently.

The male role is defined more clearly, more highly valued, and more salient than the female role; thus, children’s cognitions about these two roles may be expected to differ. A study showed that at 36 months, boys were less able to label gender and less knowledgeable about gender roles than were girls. Boys knew more about male stereotypes than female stereotypes, whereas girls knew considerably more than boys about the female role and as much as boys about the male role. Boys and girls were found to be similar in gender schematicity.

Gender roles

It’s recently fashionable for books and articles to enlist neuroscience in support of the view that men and women are essentially and unavoidably different, not just in size and shape, but also in just about every aspect of the way they see, hear, feel, talk, listen and think. These works tend to confirm culture’s current stereotypes and prejudices, and the science they cite often is overinterpreted, and sometimes seems simply to have been made up.

An example: Women are qualitative; men are quantitative. Parents have lower expectations for girls in math and science. Some educators use the math gene as an excuse for their own gender-biased classroom behaviors. Research also has shown that biology is used to justify the smaller number of girls on math and science teams, and the smaller number receiving math and science awards.