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Gender Stereotype

Women Inferior to Men in Toughness

By Beena PatelPublished 7 years ago 6 min read

Stereotype is typically defined as a simplified generalization about members of a particular group. And, gender stereotype is a widely adopted concept about different gender attributes. The way our society portrays women as inferior to men in toughness, whether it is courage, physical strength, or intelligence expresses a common gender stereotype. Such portrayals are often carried out by propaganda, entertainment, communities, and cultures in general as we experience it or see it around us. And the reasons for the persistence of a belief that women are inferior to men in toughness are due to scientific prejudices based on biological differences, social barriers of domestication, and the influence of multimedia.

While science is supposed to be an objective field based on facts, it has also contributed to the gender stereotypes. A review of Angela Saini’s book "Inferior” is published on the Independent UK by Chantal Da Silva. According to the review, Saini’s book includes her research on the scientific stereotype of genders. Silva directly quotes from her book: “For hundreds of years, the author writes, it was common sense within the scientific community that women were the “inferior” sex. Even Charles Darwin, known as the “father of evolution,” insisted on his deathbed in 1882 that women were at a lower stage of evolution – and that women 'though generally superior to men [in] moral qualities are inferior intellectually."

Silva adds her paraphrase that such stereotype has been perpetuated by scientists, predominantly males, in the decades since. Saini’s book provides statistical data to support that point: “Early on in her treatise, Saini cites a 2012 study at Yale University in which more than 100 scientists were asked to assess a resume submitted for a vacancy for a laboratory manager. Every resume was identical, except that half were submitted under a female name and the other half under a male name. Scientists rated those with female names significantly lower in competence and hire ability, Saini writes.” (Silva, C. D.)

While science is considered impartial, the foundation of science was based on patriarchy. And, such mindset may affect other aspects of science such as research on gender differences. There have been verified experiments published on a theory that testosterone (predominantly male hormone) is responsible for higher cognition in males than females. However, those protocols did not incorporate all factors. And, a research becomes partial when all factors are not considered for a study. One experiment published on the NIH site examines how partial research has led to misconceptions. “Sex differences in specific cognitive abilities are well documented, but the biological, psychological, and sociocultural interactions that may underlie these differences are largely unknown. We examined within a biopsychosocial approach how gender stereotypes affect cognitive sex differences when adult participants were tested in mixed- or same-sex groups.” (Hirnstein, M., Andrews, L. C., & Hausmann, M. (2014)) The results based conclusions by this study did turn out to be different from other studies.

“Taken together, the present study showed that the cognitive performance of men and women was affected by gender stereotypes and group sex composition. In fact, the present study did not find any evidence for a relationship between baseline T (testosterone) and cognitive performance.” (Hirnstein, M., Andrews, L. C., & Hausmann, M. (2014)) Therefore, gender stereotype itself can affect the cognitive function, not the biological differences of hormones.

The social role theory is another reason for the persistence of the gender stereotype even in the 21st century. According to a Sociology dictionary, any sociological approach that emphasizes the importance of roles and role taking in creating and maintaining society is referred as a social role theory. As part of ancient civilization, women were the primary homemakers while men were the primary bread winners. Men were the heads of their households, and women were their subordinate companions. However, this was simply a man made theory of domestication. The western history does not provide much information about an empowered independent woman. But, an eastern religion like Hinduism has rooted mythological evidence of a tough woman, and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev has explained it well in his blog. “The forms of Devi that we find in temples are generally either Gowri or Kali – the Fair One or the Dark One. The darkness and fairness are neither in terms of skin color nor in terms of good and evil. Darkness and fairness are seen as two different dimensions of existence – both are needed to make things happen in the world. Kali, the Dark One, is a fierce one. Gowri, the Fair One, is a mild one. Mild ones are usually worshiped as a companion for the main deity of the temple. Where there is Shiva, there will be Gowri next to him. He is the main force – she is just there as an add-on because she is a mild, civilized, domesticated woman. Kali is always alone, without a male form next to her. By herself, she is a complete force.” (

Hence, even a religion has represented an example of a tough woman. The stereotype that women are inferior in toughness is again a man made concept of social role theory.

The third reason of such gender stereotype is the influence of multimedia. Psychiatrist Shimi Kang brings up a point about media literacy in her article which is published on Psychology Today. Media plays a huge role in influencing gender stereotypes which still exist, according to the “Gender Gap Index” which quantifies the magnitude of gender-based imbalances of nations using economic, political, education, and health criteria. The author focuses on the hypersexual media culture and addresses the superficial stereotype about the portrayal of women as inferior. She quotes the findings of researchers Kirsch & Murnen who examined seven popular American children’s TV programs, and the most common theme they found was “boys objectifying and valuing girls solely based on their appearance and girls engaging in self-objectification and ego-stroking for boys.” Not only TV programs but videos games and children’s costumes or toys also encourage such biases where boys are shown as tough with weapons in their hands while girls are shown with more decorative and soft tools. While the adults may have more media literacy to differentiate right from wrong or good from bad, children do not. They get influenced by what they see, and that is how stereotypes are formed. (Kang, S. M.D.)

In conclusion, the gender stereotype that women are inferior to men in toughness is woven into the fabric of our societal outlook. It is persistent from the influences of the media, the social role theory, and the science field as well. In my perspective, such influences can lead to an internalized oppression where girls start to believe the stereotype in order to be approved by the opposite gender or the society in general. But, there is hope now that we have acknowledged this problem in order to improvise. We have started to discuss ideas in order to overcome this issue. We have created women empowerment associations, initiated girl education in developing countries, and challenged the areas that contribute to this stereotype. One thing to understand is that there are individual preferences which are not necessarily based on stereotypes. For example, some women prefer to be the primary homemakers. And, the convenient reason for that maybe that women give birth to a child by nature. When it comes to career, it is not that women lack intelligence or physical strength. But, the stereotypical barriers become obstruction which is not worth fighting for all the time as we have other responsibilities. Speaking for myself, I can switch roles easily. As Sadhguru explained about two different dimensions of feminine (Gowri and Kali), I can also work both independently and in cooperation. Therefore, I do not think of myself as inferior. I also do not tolerate oppression based on such stereotypes. Women also have freedom of speech to speak up and stand up for themselves. Regardless, men should not abuse their gender privilege by causing injustice to women. Before we are a man or a woman, we are individuals. It is not only possible but also evident that women can be tougher as we see the emerging female leaders in all fields these days. Therefore, it should be a case by case evaluation mainly when it comes to a professional frontier. As far as scientific research is concerned, an interdisciplinary approach to such research can help to consider all factors and avoid further contribution to stereotypes.


Silva, C. D. (2017, May 24). Inferior by Angela Saini, book review: An enlightening account that shatters gender stereotypes. Independent (UK). Retrieved July 3, 2017,from

Hirnstein, M., Andrews, L. C., & Hausmann, M. (2014). Gender-Stereotyping and Cognitive Sex Differences in Mixed- and Same-Sex Groups. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43(8), 1663-1673. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0311-5

S. (2015, November 23). Sadhguru on How Indian Temple Sculptures Are Made [Web log post]. Retrieved July 3, 2017, from

Kang, S., M.D. (2016, November 01). Superficial and Sexual Stereotypes [Web log post]. Retrieved July 3, 2017, from

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Beena Patel

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