This paper aims at discussing the impacts of gender norms for boys and girls in their adult life. More specifically the impact from learning at school to the work environment.
The Country under analysis will be Italy, ranking at the 26th position of the Gender Inequality Index (United Nations development programme, 2016), at the 50th position of the Global Gender Gap Index (World economic forum, 2016), while ranking at the 8th position of the World Economies (World bank, 2016).
In the first part of the paper, I will present a selection of gender norms taught at early age that will later have impact on adult behaviour. Children development includes objective categorization processes (Bornstein, M.H. & Arteberry, M.E. 2010), in which sex biological difference is an abused categorization method. I will provide examples of wrong conservative taught gender norms.
In the second part of the paper I will present real work environment situations displaying behaviors resulting from wrong gender norms learnt during childhood. To do so, I will benefit of the media reports and will analyse some of the linguistic choice taken.
Eventually, I conclude by highlighting the need of a long-life education plan on gender norms.
Learned norms: life-long educational mistakes
Since newborn age the brain of an individual is processing information and being subject to actions that affects the behavior. A social division based on the sexual biological difference is imposed on people and has an impact for the rest of their life; this can be the consequence of everyday gestures that summed up compose the gender norms. Their influence in children has been demonstrated with studies proving that they strongly believe in the association of colors with gender because of market strategy and method in place since the second world war (thelist.com).
This section will provide examples on taught gender norms transmitted in first parts of life, such as childhood and teenhood. The first is about textbooks used in italian primary schools. Italian school books content and terminology have been observed to demonstrate frequent gender biased content. Many exercises and examples are often displaying scenes that are familiar and contextually affected by the author’s views and stereotypes. This sequence of events often unconsciously enters the pupil subconscious and is saved in her or his memory as the correct model of thinking about things and society. Irene Biemmi, researcher in science of psychology and social pedagogy, analysed sexism, sex and gender in the most used book published for primary school in Italy (Biemmi I.). In her study, she reports the problem of feminine invisibility. She statistically proves that in Italian children tales “every ten female protagonists, sixteen are males”. After a quantitative analysis, she reports the most used adjectives used for both genders. I report them below in original language and translated into English in the table:
Most used adjectives for male characters
Most used adjectives for female characters
According to our society beliefs, the adjectives assigned to male characters are positive in 21 cases out of 23. While for female ones only in 4 cases out of 23. The adjectives used for males represent the ideal of the strong man, the hegemon figure, the leader (Talbot, M. 2010). As if men should represent this ideal only. The adjectives used for females describe on the other hand the household keeper, the loving mum, the complaining woman, competent only for taking care of the house and the sons. Creating therefore a vision in young females where the men are those who must be ‘decisive’, ‘audacious’ and that can be “authoritarian”, “furious” and “brute”. This, represent the mark of an old and conservative society where females should, on the other hand, be “understanding”, “silent”, “delicate” and “delightful”.
Sexism, sex and gender as textbook features are also well reported by Dalia Association (Murgese, E. 2017), in Rome. Dalia’s project, started in 2013, aiming to destroy bias and stereotypes about women. Regarding sexism, very often in Literature and History female figures are impossible to find and the same happen with Physics and Biology. Even more frequently we have the same situation with mathematical problems in which, for instance, it is always the mum and not the dad going for the shopping or cooking. Regarding Sex and Gender, when it comes to describe the different types of job roles, most of textbooks do it only in the male gender noun.
The above examples aim at showing how the current italian education system is systematically shaping young minds with wrong gender norms. This is a big issue of today’s life that creates in the society a social constructed binary division based on biological sex difference and it affects all individuals for all their life (Talbot, M. 2010).
The second example I would like to present references to children toys, theirs gender assumptions and marketing. Blakemore and Centers study reported that girls’ toys were associated with physical attractiveness, nurturance, and domestic skill, whereas boys’ toys were rated as violent, competitive, exciting, and somewhat dangerous. The toys rated as most likely to be educational and to develop children’s physical, cognitive, artistic, and other skills were typically rated as neutral or moderately masculine (Blakemore, J.E. & Centers, R.E. 2005). Buying toys specifically labelled for boy or girl is widely common in western countries and this may result as fundamental in gender disequilibrium. For instance, this behaviour is a consequence of more than seventy years of advertising it as the correct idea by firms and businesses, supported by big designers and retailers who promote bicolour campaign (thelist.com). Based on business interest, toys firms create a gender constructed belief and make room for gender discrimination in childhood. Toys are one simpler representation of a possible reality and limiting children choices means depriving their potential and creativity by forcing them to develop only one possible reality of the world (Rahman-Jones, I. 2016). This is also true for videogames, highly gender categorised and full of gendered characters venerated by children that try to imitate them. The main toys of the 21st century are videogames. They are produced for both genders but advertisements are mainly focusing on males. Videogames often promote violence, courage and adventure. The titles of the best seller video games immediately provide an image of these properties: “Call of Duty”, “Grand Theft Auto”, “Need for Speed”. While promoting the idea of violence, competition and criminality, the fact that videogames are targeting mostly males creates the idea among children that using computer and game-consoles is something for boys. That interest in video-graphic, electronics, audio-sound and programming (considered the work of 21st century) are reserved to males.
Adulthood and working-environment: the unfolding of the wrong norming, learned in early age
In the previous part of the paper I explained wrong gender norms contained in primary school textbook in Italy. We have seen that one of the result is that “silent” and “delightful” girls and women grow up with the assumptions that they should be told what to do by “authoritarian” men. I argue that educational model impacts in later life. Dramatically, this attitude is observed in the italian working environment also in relation to sexual inappropriate behaviour and harassment. Indeed, there are several media accounts that discuss the reasons why in Italy there have not been a considerable reaction following the Hollywood and Weinstein scandals. An interesting media account from “valigiablu.it” (Torrisi, C. 2017), reports that Italian women are “ignorant” about the behaviours that can be considered harassment even though the latest data, as old as nine years (!), revealed that 8.5% of italian women workers have been harassed in the work place (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica, 2009). The media account reports also that over 50% of Italian women do not denounce the fact (ibid). Another useful example of adjectives interpretation is their reflection on how sectors of work are perceived and implemented: family work is done for the 76% of times by women (quotidianosanita.it, 2012). These examples demonstrate how much the adjectives used in school have impact on adulthood. In other words: systematic use of gender-biased adjectives can lead to cases of sexual abuses.
Amidst all the denounces taking place around the globe, some right-wing italian newspaper describes as “non-elegant” the hashtag adopted in France to denounce abuses: #balancetonporc, translated: #throwyourpig (Gala, C. 2017). This shows, that in mainstream media, conservatives’ views are still prevalent.
In the previous part of the paper I also described how gendered toys convince individuals of specific gender roles in society. I argue that divisive selection transit from toys choice to job choice. I argue that a large category of jobs is nowadays believed to be reserved to man. The Italian online newspaper Il fatto quotidiano reports that in coding sector the female employees are 1 on 5. In Italy, the female programmers are only 9 on 100 (Dimalio, P. 2015). The same media account tells the story of the sex discriminating episodes of two young women who founded a feminine based start-up called “Nemoris” where they often are asked from new clients if they really are the ones who wrote the code.
Another example of linguistics applied to women in gender assumptions is the sentence in the article by Fabrizio Bartoloni titled ‘the videogames and the discriminated programmers’: “le ragioni di un disamore del gentilsesso per una carriera nel mondo I.T.” translated: “the reasons of a non-love of the gentlesex for a career in IT world”. Clearly, it is a situation of associating the “love” word with women representing men discourse and talk. Then the word gentlesex, giving the idea that women have to be and/or are the gentle ones leaving space to men to be rude.
In the first part of the paper I explained how wrong gender norms contained in school text book in Italy. We have seen that one of the result is that girls and women grow up with the assumptions that they should be told what to do by men.
Serafini accounts also on the percentage of women committed in the game industry, which still is coding, in Italy is equal to 11%. How would be a world where only 11% of women could not write? In a world where change is made with technology I propose the innovative campaign that Google, accused for its sexism and gender discrimination among workers, has launched: “change is ‘Made with code'” addressed to women in order to destroy the idea that programming is only a job for males (Porcu, V. 2016).