The Perpetuated Myth of Gendered (Dis)ability

Once biases are in place, can a mind ever change?

I feel as if I should be used to this by now, but it still surprises me whenever I witness the effects of our patriarchal society.

It happened again just last night. I was at my recently acquired job, working with someone I had just met. The shop wasn’t busy, so I was catching up on some of my readings for class. I was reading about the policies and practices of Title IX, more specifically about its successes and shortcomings. My co-worker asked what I was reading, so I gave her a brief synopsis. I expected her to act politely interested for a couple minutes, and then the two of us would move on to more commonplace small-talk. But she was genuinely interested.

However, her interest was far from encouraging. She was highly critical of what I had to say. I’m not saying everyone should agree with me. What worried me was that her beliefs were so consistent with the gender stereotypes perpetuated in our society. She didn’t understand why so much effort was spent on encouraging women to go into the natural sciences. She’s an engineer, and she told me she knew from personal experience that men were naturally better at math and science than women. She also explained that she grew up in China, and as a child grew up with the impression that being a scientist was one of the best things you could be, but a woman just wouldn’t be as great of one as a man would be. Her disbelief in her ability and the ability of women everywhere was almost frightening.

I went on to explain how that’s what we’ve been told all our lives, but is it because it’s the truth (doubtful) or because it’s a perpetuated myth? She countered by telling me that men have been the head of the household for so long, and that there must be a natural reason for this. Nothing I said could convince her otherwise. She was so sure that men were naturally at an advantage in so many things- meaningful things, more often than not.

The only encouraging outcome of this conversation was the fact that despite her strong opinions regarding gender stereotypes, she is still learning to be an engineer. While I sat there reading about gender and women’s issues, she worked on her physics homework. It really helped me understand why the Title IX coordinator in the reading believed it would take so long for the effects of Title IX to truly have a meaningful impact: it’s going to take generations to rid these gender myths from the minds of men and women alike, and only then will we have significant and sustaining change. It’s just disheartening to see women like this have such an outlook on the world. If she had more faith, would this affect her work ethic today or her success level in the future? I believe it would. There’s just no easy way to make her see this when the myths are so deeply ingrained in her mentality.

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