Our society places value judgments on masculinity and femininity such that masculine traits are automatically considered superior. So, even for those of us who think we judge everyone fairly and equitably, there are some ways we judge people based on gender norms without even realizing it. Certain qualities people possess are widely considered objectively undesirable, and it's only after a lot of examination that we realize we view them this way because they're feminine.
When I say femininity and masculinity, I'm talking about social constructs, not sets of innate traits. But because we ascribe these traits to people based on their genders, praising masculine characteristics often amounts to praising men, and disparaging feminine ones often means disparaging women. When we're evaluating job candidates, potential partners, or potential friends, we're often judging them in this gendered way.
For this reason, rethinking our assumptions about femininity and masculinity can also help us rethink all the other societal values we hold. We end up realizing that maybe being more family-oriented than career-oriented or more accommodating than dominant is not necessarily a bad thing.
Here are a few criteria we often judge people on that you might not realize are actually gendered — and why we should reconsider these values:
1. The Sound Of Someone's Voice
In a series of tweets describing a work-related exchange, Amanda Terkel makes the point that the people we work with often judge how mature and authoritative we are based on our voices. And too often, being mature and authoritative is associated with having a deep voice. This means that women, especially those with high, "feminine" voices, are often deemed less worthy of being listened to. Like the person Terkel says she spoke with, who told her she seemed "young," we talk about this in a coded way, saying someone sounds immature or soft-spoken, when in reality, that's just their voice and there's nothing they can do about it.
2. Someone's Speech Style
Relatedly, we often deem someone a more competent leader if they come off assertive, self-assured, and unapologetic. One study in Psychological Bulletin found that the qualities we associate with leadership are conventionally masculine ones, like forcefulness and competitiveness. The problem with that is we simultaneously teach women to behave in the opposite way. So, by judging people based on these traits, we are unknowingly favoring men. We're also disregarding the potential advantages of having someone in a political or work-related leadership position who is more nurturing, accommodating, and cautious.
3. How Much They Work
American society is kind of obsessed with productivity. The more someone "works" ("work" defined to exclude "feminine" pursuits like housework and parenting), we're taught, the more accomplished they are. This means that, if someone takes a few years off work to, say, raise a few children to be good people, they're not considered as successful as someone who spent that time, say, analyzing the stock market. It's worth asking ourselves why we consider the latter activity more important than the former.
4. How Much They Care About Their Looks
When we criticize people for caring about how they look, we end up criticizing women because this is what women are taught to care about. Bodybuilding is considered a difficult, impressive way to alter your looks since it's associated with men. But perfecting your hair and makeup is considered petty and easy since it's associated with women. Modeling is considered a superficial profession that doesn't require intelligence, while sports stars are considered heroes. A lot of the women we put down for hurting feminism by making money off their looks are actually smart businesswomen who are using the patriarchy to their advantage. We might think we're standing up for feminism, but often, we're really just expressing internalized misogyny when we criticize women for being feminine.