When many people in modern society think of gender inequality issues, they often think of radical misandrists burning bras and giving men a hard time. Despite this stigma, gender inequality still presents legitimate challenges in modern society. On March 3, Dr. Cecilia L. Ridgeway from Stanford University visited Weber State University to give a lecture discussing these issues. Her lecture was titled “How Gender Inequality Still Exists in the Modern World.”
Dr. Ridgeway stated that contrary to popular belief, rapid improvements for gender inequality stopped in the 1990s, but the pattern of regression in gender equality is one she is familiar with. “The question I want to ask is: how? How does gender inequality persist despite all the things that work against it in the contemporary world? How can a society totally reorganize itself and recreate something like gender inequality?” said Ridgeway.
In her lecture, Ridgeway explained that the existence of gender inequality is indisputable especially when one examines employment statistics, but also when viewing the results found in studies and surveys on how men and women are viewed. “In the U.S., sex, race and age are the primary ways of categorizing a specific person. We sex-categorize instantly. We can’t not do it—our pre-framing of others by sex never quite disappears from our understanding of them and ourselves in relation to them,” said Ridgeway.
This natural categorization can be problematic because, according to Ridgeway, people match the categories with commonly-accepted stereotypes. She said, “Our beliefs about what most people thinks affects behavior and judgement even if we do not endorse them.”
Ridgeway is aware that not everyone sees these stereotypes as negative or wrong. However, she addressed this point of view when she stated, “You might say men and women are different. This doesn’t mean unequal, but the way we understand difference implies inequality.”
She expounded on this, saying that in studies, it was found that women and men were associated with very different qualities but that the qualities women possessed were seen as ones that would make them less competent in many situations. Ridgeway said that the disadvantage this difference in trait value creates is easily identified in the work force. She said that even in mixed or gender-neutral settings, beliefs that men are more competent and status-worthy gave them a slight advantage over women and, “men are advantaged for all authority in all settings.”
Because these gender stereotypes are so innately ingrained in our culture and our minds, Ridgeway stated that there is not a lot that can be done on the grand scale. Rather, people need to individually notice when they are conforming to and accepting stereotypes based on the assumption that others in their community believe it. She further stated, “sites of gender innovation tend to be small interpersonal relations.” In this way, she believes the big cultural beliefs about men and women can change.
Senior Karen Gossner, a social work major, said this about the lecture, “One thing I like what she said about stereotypes is that everyone thinks everyone believes them so we just play along.”
Ridgeway said her passion for gender inequality comes from “(her) own life and lives of others around (her) and the desire to see people live up to their full potential.” She knows that the fight for gender inequality is a tough one, but she believes that with constant collected effort it can be done. “You can’t move a sand bar with a shovel, but the ocean can by constantly beating against it.”