Gender discrimination is inevitable; as a female, I am automatically considered “less”. The way the American social systems effectively marginalize women from the start of their intellectual journeys normalizes feelings of dehumanization. My value seems predetermined based primarily on my gender, and secondarily upon my ability. This unfounded self-devaluation sparked my recognition of implicit gender norms.
Unaware of ingrained gender oppression, individuals fall privy to entertaining systemic societal discrepancies thus perpetuating the toxic cycle of implicit misogyny. Men and women alike instinctively associate the male gender with power, leadership, or superiority. This form of oppression manifests within an individuals’ psyche thus affecting both their implicit and explicit decision-making processes. My subconscious engenders a metric of superiority that has placed me, as ‘female’, on the lower half of the scale.
As an academically pressured child, I constantly felt forced to perform to a certain caliber to justify my worth. As my academic constraints increased, I began to question my identity; at only 14, I felt confined to creating an “academic narrative” that I believed would pre-determine the course of my life. Marginalized by the lack of representation as a woman in STEM, I experienced self-doubt which incited my identity crisis. During this period, I started to reconsider my value system to understand my decision-making process. After substantial introspection in hopes of understanding who I am, I recognized that I am led by my value system as shaped by women. This critical fact fueled my understanding that ‘patriarchy’ is overrated.
Post-realization, I recognize how the modern, societal implications of existing discrimination negatively impact my psyche; conscious and subconscious oppression prohibits me from actualizing my worth. Through this heightened awareness of gender marginalization, I have begun working towards reversing the societal programming that causes me to implicitly question my value. I realize that systemic societal systems are built upon the notion: men are superior. Therefore, the majority of gender marginalization is simply a subconscious byproduct of these ingrained societal standards as opposed to conscious discrimination. Through my intellectual journey, I actualize my role as an equal within society; as a female, I must empower myself through understanding that inevitable social categorization has created implicit gender bias.
Through the hyper-specific attacks made by my humanities teachers during my adolescent education, I developed a disclination that festered into a passionate hatred for literary subjects. As a child, I felt initially drawn to literature’s tempting escapism and fantastic, impossible stories. However, as I grew older my naively passionate spirit died “after my teachers berated my opinions of once-beloved novels and the shackles of hyper-specific prompts dwelling on depressing topics annihilated my literary voice” (Stiplosek). Feeling constrained by the confines of book reports or literary analysis, I constantly struggled to achieve the arbitrary metric that dictates a “good writer”. Further, these critiques crushed my unique voice via deeply personal attacks on my psyche and decision-making processes. The automatic devaluation of my personal voice extended within my mind to trigger self-doubt. I began to associate the novels I held close to my heart with an overwhelming fear of failure. As I dreaded my daily literature classes, I rejected the notion that I could be a good writer and discarded self-confidence in my ability to be a successful humanities student.
Defeated by my insecurity and ‘sub-par’ performance in history or literature classes, I developed an inclination towards STEM. I based my value upon my grades and felt a devastating need to accelerate at something within the highly academic, ‘pressure cooker’, environment my high school perpetuated. My pleasure in school shifted to linear topics like math and science wherein I could use whatever method I chose as long as I reached the correct solution. I enjoyed the subjects in which success is determined by a binary metric and appreciated the ease of understanding what I was doing correctly or incorrectly. As I regressed away from the overwhelming, capricious expectations of my humanities teachers, I fell out of love with linguistic creative expression. The linearity of math and science instead felt manageable and refreshing. The gratification of success within these subjects and my appreciation for this academic transparency was further reinforced through my ameliorating confidence.
As I progressed within my academic career focused upon high-level Science or Math courses, I began to experience the ramifications of being a woman in one of these primarily male dominated fields. I had numerous mentors, coaches, and teachers relay to me that it was not my fault, but rather, “the competition is too steep” and I, “would not be able to keep up with my
peers”. These statements sparked immediate insecurity as I started to question my worth and ability to excel at these subjects; the elevator that had raised my confidence began to freefall.
Social Identity Threat Theory (SITT), as proven by my insecurity, argues that once a person becomes aware of their stigmatized identity, they will automatically survey their environment to confirm or disconfirm the relevance of their stigmatized status. I was not only told I could not meet a success metric, but these feelings of devaluation were further reinforced when I recognized the material gender gap that existed within my thirty-five student Advanced Placement STEM Classes. In Calculus I was one of 3 girls, meaning women comprised 8.6% of the class. In Biology, 5 girls constituted 14.3% of the class. In AP Physics, I encompassed the entire 2.9% of females in the class. The subconscious awareness that I was a pariah within these settings caused me to struggle to find academic confidence in my abilities to perform. The notion that my gender equals innate inability perpetually festered in the depths of my consciousness regardless of the factual evaluation of my true potential.
The obvious nature of female under-representation within my Science or Math classes further subconsciously invalidated my ability. As argued by Bettina J. Casad in A Model of Threatening Academic Environments Predicts Women STEM Majors’ Self-Esteem and Engagement in STEM, SITT explains that if cues exist within the environment that confirms the potential for social devaluation, the individual can experience social identity threat. In this psychological “state of acute stress” an individual may experience “heightened physiological arousal, increased cognitive monitoring, and decreased self-control”. These factors, “work together or independently to deplete cognitive resources and subsequently impair performance.”(Casad, et al., 3) There exists a strong stigma surrounding women in STEM. As one of the few girls in my Science and Math classes, I felt the personal ramifications of this stigma. It was not necessarily my ability that prohibited me or my peers from succeeding at school but rather feelings of social devaluation which implicitly caused me to perform at a lower level.
While consciously combating feelings of self-doubt, my subconscious manifested SITT; my impaired cognitive performance led to academic failure. This idea extends to explain the lack of representation of women in STEM. SITT theory explains an inherently toxic cycle: the few
women in STEM are stigmatized which impairs their performance, yet the only way to remove this feeling of devaluation is for more women to excel in STEM fields. Through listening to my superior’s comments, which simply reflect ingrained gender success metrics, I automatically questioned if I deserve to be in these classes. This insecurity was further propelled by social devaluation that personally manifested into impaired academic performance.
Hyper-concerned about my success due to arbitrary expectations imposed by both myself and my parents, I became entirely lost when I failed to perform in both STEM and humanities. I had abandoned many of the creative outlets I had previously enjoyed and entirely devalued my love of reading and literature. Additionally, I was marginalizing myself in Science and Math subjects by forfeiting self-confidence in my ability to perform well. After building my identity upon the numbers I produced, I faced an identity crisis when I could no longer identify my value in grades or academic success. I realized my discretionary metric of “value” as defined by academic success comprised my persona. Without the laurels of “good grades” to rest upon, I was entirely lost in who I was, who I wanted to be, and where I belong as a woman within modern society. My insecurity extended beyond academia and propelled me to question my identity when not defined by my stats or the label: “good student”.
During this period of self-doubt, I reflected upon my past experiences and realized the choices I make must be defined per the values I prioritize. I decided to claim my role in society based upon my personal interests and in accordance with the people I want to emulate as opposed to my value resting solely upon academia or GPA. After reflecting upon key interactions of my past, I recognized women largely shaped my persona. Further, the women that modeled these traits have not only overcome adversity, such as gender discrimination, but also represent academic, emotional, moral, or spiritual success. By actively embodying these core characteristics, I started working towards being a ‘successful’ person based upon my personalized metric curated according to the women I wish to emulate.
Through “Moral Kaleidoscope”, a medium publication archiving my intellectual journey, I cataloged several key experiences that shape my core values and guide my decision making. Melanie, my childhood nanny, relayed to me her fundamental rules of “being a good person”.
Through cooking, my Grandmother shared stories of the adversity she has overcome as a refugee during World War II. By exploring the idea of fear via her chronicles, I learned the importance of bravery and relentless compassion. During my countless hours in dance classes, my teacher, Barnaly Pande, reinforced the importance of discipline, hard work, and tenacity through the phrase, “an individual will never regret preserving through a situation”. (Stiplosek) More recently, my Moroccan host sister, Zineb, humbled my perspective on the significance of opportunity through her consistent positive, charismatic character regardless of gender discrimination or economic hardship. The values I have learned from these women and traits I aspire to engender primarily comprise my metric of being a “successful person”.
Through actualizing that my core values are centered around the successful women I want to emulate, I have become more acutely aware of gender oppression. The revelation that the characteristics I wish to engender entirely fulfill my success metric and entirely originate from female role-models prompted me to consider my innate gender bias. I struggled to understand why men are ‘better’ when I have clearly defined my value system that is entirely fulfilled by females. This period of misunderstanding evoked my heightened awareness of implicit misogyny. Through questioning societal constructs, I began to actualize daily marginalization, objectification, and devaluation. Further, this idea of implicit misogyny enlarges the innate discrepancies between men and women.
Gender discrimination is bred from human’s inevitable categorization of the people around them. As explained by Jo‐Anne Dillabough in Class, Culture and the ‘Predicaments of Masculine Domination’: Encountering Pierre Bourdieu., French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu argues “that social practice is a practice of classifying: it is a practice ordered and structured according to systems of classification. One of the most powerful classifications is that of gender.” (Jo‐Anne Dillabough, 4) Because there are countless, easily differentiable characteristics of men and women, social matriculation is entirely expected and easily achieved. This separation between sexes has grown exponentially in tandem with the progression of time and is the genesis of gender discrimination.
Men and women are fundamentally different. By leveraging innate genetic characteristics to their advantage, men have historically self-assigned leadership positions. As noted by Dr. Virgina Schein, the tendency to associate the mental picture of a typical leader with the male gender stereotype can be summarized by: “think manager — think male” (Braun, Stephan, et al, Sec 1.3). Due to aggressive agentic tendencies, men have self-proclaimed to be the “better” gender and thus built arbitrary, leadership “success” metrics. These historical, social, political, economic, and educational systems are fundamentally designed to empower the individual with the most overtly masculine traits. By placing such high value on masculine traits, inherently female and communal behaviors are automatically devalued. Innate differences between males and females have been further pushed apart through categorization; thus, society has placed inequitable emphasis upon masculine characteristics.
Systemic categorization causes all people, including myself, to devalue the communal traits of women. As Judith Butler writes, “The social construction of the natural presupposes the cancellation of the natural by the social.” (Butler, Bodies That Matter) Through self-assigned social superiority, men have devalued ubiquitous natural equality. Thus, the male gender has doctored a societal implicit assumption that XY chromosomes automatically equals overall supremacy. The notion of “Patriarchy” is an overrated farce created by the male category who associate power and success with overtly ‘strong’ or masculine agentic characteristics. These male-dominated, historical social hierarchies have ingrained a success metric within all individuals; in reality, male traits are not congruent with ‘success.’ I have realized that implicit misogyny is merely a byproduct of systemic categorization.
Through the empathetic understanding that gender discrepancy is an ingrained system within society, I accept the idea that these attacks are not personal but rather a byproduct of years of systemic inequality. I actualize my value through my understanding that the strengths men and women have are inherently equal. The notion that women cannot overcome our biological differences is reaffirmed by Pierre Bordieu in La Domination Masculine; he states that gender “dualisms [are] deeply rooted in things (structures) and in bodies, do not spring from the simple effect of verbal naming” (Bourdieu, 1998a, pp. 102‐103). Through attempting to foster an acceptance for implicit categorization, I have come to terms with the understanding that gender
discrimination I face is not a modern practice. Instead, there is innate programming within all individuals of society that causes men to devalue women and women to question their value. I now understand that I am of equal value and my marginalization is rooted in historical, social categorization.
After achieving the realization that gender discrimination is inevitable, I have become empowered to combat systemic marginalization. As Jo‐Anne Dillabough states in Class, Culture and the ‘Predicaments of Masculine Domination’: Encountering Pierre Bourdieu, all individuals “occupy the elusive liberal position of being able to choose whether they will oppress or not” (Jo‐ Anne Dillabough, 2). It is an individual’s personal responsibility to recognize and combat these subconsciously ingrained gender norms and conscious gender discrimination. Until understanding this concept, I allowed normalized, implicit misogyny to consciously and subconsciously devalue my self-worth. Through discerning that these societal norms are chronically ingrained historical constructs, I have recognized that I am not being personally marginalized but rather it is the category “woman” I fall under that subjects me to discrimination. I have claimed my equality by actualizing my personal value via the understanding that implicit misogyny is systemic.
Through my identity crisis when I failed at STEM, I recognized my worth should extend beyond my statistics and thus began to actualize my value system. When deciding what key values are more important to me, I recognized these lessons all originated from women. This revelation propagated my further realization that the golden “male patriarchy’ is overrated. Thus, I became hyper-aware of gender marginalization. This impetus allows me to empower myself through my understanding of systemic inequality.
The realization that patriarchy is overrated coupled with my understanding of the fundamental differences between men and women has propelled me to work towards combating my own implicit gender bias. Outward oppression is decreasing in recent years, but systemic oppression is ubiquitous. Theories like SITT explain that this implicit bias and feelings of devaluation biologically impair cognitive performance. My understanding that these social and psychological systems are created to devalue women has empowered me to actualize my responsibility to free myself from the shackles of implicit misogyny.
I am empowered as a female. I am equal as a woman. This is not because gender inequality has been solved. Further, gender discrimination has not disappeared, “by an act of performative magic” (Bourdieu, 1998a, pp. 102‐103). Rather, I am empowered by my understanding that I am unequal as a product of systemic patriarchy ingrained into every modern institution as a means of dividing power. My understanding that this marginalization is entirely incongruent with my value or true abilities has enabled me to actualize my place as an equal within society.
Braun, Stephan, et al. “Think Manager — Think Male, Think Follower — Think Female: Gender Bias in Implicit Followership Theories.” Shibboleth Authentication Request, 25 Apr. 2017, onlinelibrary-wiley-com.libproxy2.usc.edu/doi/full/10.1111/jasp.12445.
Jo‐Anne Dillabough. “Class, Culture and the ‘Predicaments of Masculine Domination’: Encountering Pierre Bourdieu.” British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 25, no. 4, 2004, pp. 489–506., doi:10.1080/0142569042000236970.
Casad, Bettina J., et al. “A Model of Threatening Academic Environments Predicts Women STEM Majors’ Self-Esteem and Engagement in STEM.” Sex Roles, vol. 80, no. 7–8, 2018, pp. 469–488., doi:10.1007/s11199–018–0942–4.
Stiplosek, Charlotte. “My Fear of Books.” Medium, Writing 150 Fall 2020, 6 Sept. 2020, medium.com/writing-150-fall-2020/my-fear-of-books-241d807f3147.
Stiplosek, Charlotte. “Volume 3: ToomanyBALLsintheROOM.” Medium, Moral Kaleidoscope, 8 Oct. 2020, medium.com/moral-kaleidascope/volume-4-toomanyballsintheroom-39de1bbdc6c4.
Bourdieu, Pierre. La Domination Masculine. Seuil, 1998.
Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: on the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. Routledge, 2015.