During the late 18th and early 19th century, women were discouraged from working. Young girls were groomed to get married and find a suitable man to marry and carry on their lineage. When Charlotte Bronte sent a selection of her work to Robert Southey, a renowned poet, he responded that “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be.” Charlotte and her three sisters all used pseudonyms to publish their work and Charlotte and her other sisters could only reveal their true identities after Jane Eyre was published and became a major success.
Women were also questioned and discouraged in many other disciplines including music. Fanny Mendelssohn who was born in 1805 in Germany was a wonderful performer and a composer. However, she faced several obstacles and barriers to publish her music. Therefore, many of her music compositions were published under her brother’s name including her famous Italien. In 1952, when the Boston orchestra wanted to diversify their team, they conducted a study in which a screen was put in front of the musicians and the judges or the hiring personnel. The results showed a slight increase in the number of females, but this number was not sufficiently large to confirm that there had been a gender-biased hiring. However, when the musicians were asked to remove their shoes and walk to the podium to perform, a much greater proportion of women were selected. This is because the sound of the women’s heels provided a clue that the candidate was a female and thereby adversely influenced their selection.
In The Second Sex (2015), Simone de Beauvoir argued that women are not necessarily born with innate feminine qualities, but society and culture impose stereotypical gender assumptions. “They empower the gender frame to become part of the cultural rules by which workers are expected to interpret and carry out their workplace activities” (Ridgeway, 2011, p.96). In examining Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Portia had to dress as a male lawyer to save the life of her lover’s friend. Literature composed by men often stereotypes women as the weaker sex, who needs protection of men to free them from the evils of the society. Consider the fairy tale, Rapunzel. The princess is locked in a tower and is only freed after the prince helps her to escape her evil mother.
Why is all this still relevant? Many of us have read the Harry Potter books. While they have entranced readers from many age groups, it might be surprising to many of you that the author was recommended to use the initials J.K. instead of her first name, Joanna, to avoid the sales of the book being negatively affected because the author was a female (Larsen, 2013). In 2015, a female author who did not get positive responses from publishing companies, decided to submit her manuscripts using a male pseudonym. Within a short period, she received multiple offers. A publishing company who had previously rejected her manuscript, even requested if the manuscript could also be forwarded to a senior agent (Nichols, 2015). However, some authors also try to hide their identities, which creates enthusiasm and speculation about them. For example, The Neapolitan Novels by the Italian author Elena Ferrante were consistently best sellers, and the mystery of the author’s identity added more to the popularity of the books. Notwithstanding, research by Weinberg and Kapelner (2018) has demonstrated that books published by women are often priced lower than books within the same genre but authored by men. In some cases, the disparity is as high as 45%.
There is also the question of whether female researchers receive appropriate credit for their contributions. A recent study (Ross et al., 2022) on 128,859 people who worked in over 9,000 teams confirms that women are given less credit for their contributions in science related fields compared to their male counterparts, a phenomenon called the Mathilda effect. Results from a study, which explored the gender order in publications where two or more contributors from different sexes contributed equally, demonstrated there most of the time, the male author was listed first (Broderick & Casadevall, 2019).
Biases against women are also apparent in many face-face interactions. Dr. Jessica McCarty who serves as the Associate Professor of Geography at Miami University shared how during a NASA Earth meeting; she was interrupted by a student who dismissed what she was saying and advised her to read McCarthy et al. She gently pointed to the name tag on her shirt that read, McCarthy (Marais, 2021). The student had erroneously assumed that McCarthy was a male. In another instance, Dr. Nancy Langston, an American environmental historian recalls being interrupted several times when she was discussing the history of the ponderosa pine fire. When she asked him where he was getting his information from, his reply was from Langston’s Forest dreams paper (Mani, 2022).
The Evolution of Language (EvoLang) conference is an international conference with a focus on how language is evolving. The 11th EvoLang conference used a double-blind review (DBR) process for submitted papers. Roberts and Verhoef (2016) have claimed that female authors were accepted and rated higher when subjected to the blind review process. Benson et al., (2022) utilized data from a large North American retail chain tracking approximately 30,000 employees who were eligible to be promoted to a manager position. Although women received higher performance ratings than their male counterparts, they received lower ratings for future potential, which made it less likely that they could advance to the next level.
Sexism also exists in sports. When Katinka Hosszu set the new record in the 400 m swimming medley, the NBC commentator Mr. Hicks said: ”There’s the guy responsible for turning Katinka Hosszu, his wife, into a whole different swimmer.” Similarly, when Corey Cogdell won a Bronze Medal in the women’s trap shooting, Chicago Tribune tweeted, “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics” (Sommers, 2016).
Compartmentalizing people’s accomplishments based on their gender can diminish their accomplishments and rob our youth of the opportunity to identify suitable role models. It is time to start cutting cords with patriarchal societal norms and curtail the Matthew Effect so that everyone gets an equal chance to succeed. Will someone promote the NFLB policy, or will women forever remain invisible?
Beauvoir, S. D. (2015). The second sex. Arrow.
Benson, A., Li, D., & Shue, S. (2022). Potential and the gender promotion gap. MIT Management. https://danielle-li.github.io/assets/docs/PotentialAndTheGenderPromotionGap.pdf
Broderick, N. A., & Casadevall, A. (2019). Author response: Gender inequalities among authors who contributed equally. eLife. https://doi.org/10.7554/elife.36399.025
Larsen, K. (2013, July 18). Why J.K. Rowling used a pseudonym.
Mani, A. (2022, May 7). A no-win situation – ‘Man smart, woman smarter’. FijiTimes. https://www.fijitimes.com/a-no-win-situation-man-smart-woman-smarter/
Marais, Z. (2021, February 23). Nevertheless she persisted. Pioneer Educational Trust. https://www.pioneereducationaltrust.org.uk/nevertheless-she-persisted/
Nichols, C. (2015, August 4). Homme de plume: What I learned sending my novel out under a male name. Jezebel. https://jezebel.com/homme-de-plume-what-i-learned-sending-my-novel-out-und- 1720637627
Ridgeway, C. L. (2011). Framed by gender: How gender inequality persists in the modern world. Oxford University Press.
Roberts, S. G., & Verhoef, T. (2016). Double-blind reviewing at EvoLang 11 reveals gender bias. Journal of Language Evolution, 1(2), 163-167. https://doi.org/10.1093/jole/lzw009
Ross, M. B., Glennon, B. M., Murciano-Goroff, R., Berkes, E. G., Weinberg, B. A., & Lane, J. I. (2022). Women are credited less in science than men. Nature, 608(7921), 135-
Sommers, J. (2016, August 8). Newspaper’s response to claims its tweet about Oylmpian was ‘Sexist’ went down badly. HuffPost UK. https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/olympics- tweet_uk_57a8d0f8e4b0fc59d952a529
Weinberg, D. B., & Kapelner, A. (2018, April 9). Comparing gender discrimination and inequality in indie and traditional publishing. PLOS. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0195298
About the Author
Fawzia Reza, Ed.D. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager received her Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) in May 2013. Her thesis topic, which explored the experiences and expectations of immigrant Pakistani parents regarding parental involvement in schools, has highlighted the social justice shortcomings that have been faced by these parents in the light of recent world events. A book based on her thesis, The Effects of the September 11 Terrorist Attack on Pakistani-American Parental Involvement in U.S. Schools, was released by Lexington Books in 2015. Her first children’s book, Mary and Her New Friends, which was released in 2019 by Austin Macauley Publishers, addresses themes related to South Asian culture and helps young children develop empathy for those with special needs.
Dr. Reza continues to be an active researcher on topics related to education. She has written several research based and peer-reviewed articles that address social justice issues of immigrant parents and students and she recently served as a guest editor for Diversity and Inclusion in Educational Institutions by Cambridge Scholars Publishing which was released in January 2022.
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