It all started with a conversation about writing style.
“Did you know that there are a bunch of free tools out there that can guess the gender of a person based on a writing sample?” someone said.
I promptly found a few of these sites and pasted in some writing samples – both professional (like these blogs) and creative (various excerpts of my novel draft).
The results kept coming back… male.
More accurately, the word choice and phrasing that I use is more commonly used by men.
What other gender tests are out there?
It turns out – a LOT of them. There were all sorts of tests that claim they measure if your brain is male or female through a series of questions.
Naturally a took a bunch of them.
Shoes or sports?
To be clear, there was nothing on most of these sites about validity of the results – many were little more than “what harry potter character are you” or “who is your dream date” (in other words, they were crap). But they were extremely telling in one thing, the biases around gender.
Many of the tests featured questions about:
How much you like shopping?
Do you prefer clothes or technology?
What subject was your favorite (math or art)?
Do you prefer building or baking?
As a kid, did you value video games or stuffed animals?
Do you like watching sports?
Are you interested in the history of war?
Do you prefer chocolate cake or a hamburger?
Are you getting offended yet? It gets worse…
There were behavioral questions to determine male or female:
Do you like talking about your emotions?
Do you understand or care about the emotions of others?
Do you lead or follow?
Do you get moody or have anxiety?
Do you cry?
Trapped in “The Matrix” of genders – built not biological
Most of these questions measuring ‘if my brain is male or female’ are around social constructs (in other words, the attributes society has assigned to the gender). These constructs (i.e. created by us) are then reinforced by self-fulfilling prophecy.
Take the following social construct: men enjoy football more than women. Is it because someone is a man that they are naturally more likely to enjoy football OR is it because someone is a man that they were more likely to be exposed to football and told that they should like it, and therefore do?
Here’s the problem – the social constructs of what it is to have a female or male brain (i.e. to act like a man or a woman) result in inaccurate biases for those who fit the patterns and marginalize those who don’t.
How is that fair or useful?
It’s a girl who thinks like a boy… or maybe a boyish girl or girly boy or…
As bad as the questions were, the results were worse, not for what they said, but for the conclusions they drew.
For each test, the results flashed up in big letters or colorful images. And they were all the same… I have a male or “male-leaning” brain. And why is my brain male or male leaning?
Here were some of the reasons given:
I don’t like talking about my feelings
I like technology and facts
I have confidence
I have stronger special awareness
I am a problem solver
Or I am balanced because I can take the lead and make good decisions, but I also understand people’s emotions and remember details.
Thanks to these social constructs, if you like technology or are confident, you act like a man, but if you like to shop or are empathetic, you act like a woman. Now if that isn’t the biggest load of bull poop…
Take the red pill - ditch the gender constructs and just be you
It’s time to end this cycle of cultural constructs that drives stereotypes and marginalizes those who don’t fit them. Everyone should be free to be themselves independent of their gender identity – there is plenty of room across the genders to love shopping or watching football, to favor Star Wars, Die Hard, or Pretty Women, and to have a knack for science or literature, etc. What matters is not jumping to conclusions about individuals because of their gender identity.
Avoiding these gender-construct biases is critical when it comes to finding your next great hire. Not only can employers jump to the wrong conclusion about an individual based on social constructs (“a guy… he can’t be empathetic enough to be a pediatric nurse”), there is also a danger in coloring candidate responses based on those social constructs (“she will get input from others first, I knew she doesn’t have the inclination to be a strong leader”).
Fight that little gender-bias voice that we all have, or better yet, hide the gender of the candidate all together, so that voice doesn’t have a chance to speak. That is what we do at career.place – withholding knowledge of the gender identity of candidates to avoid employers jumping to conclusions or coloring responses.
So let’s all ditch the constructs and celebrate one another for who we are – sports and shoes and all.