“Better” and “worse” gender

The pursuit of true equality between men and women is based on overcoming the many stereotypical and archaic ways of thinking, which are firmly rooted in the culture in which we live. No one is born with prejudices or definitions of femininity and masculinity – they are variable in time and dependent on culture. Children, by observing adults and the environment and receiving information, prohibitions and orders, learn what is considered “appropriate” for each sex in their environment, and construct a “gender schema” on this basis.

Sandra Bem[1], who discovered this mechanism for the development of gender identity, also noted that culture is permeated by three “meta-messages” concerning gender, which are a barrier to the equal treatment of boys and girls, men and women. She called them “the lenses of gender” because they distort our perception of and thinking about others and affect our behaviour and relationships.

The first of the lenses is gender polarisation, i.e. the belief that all human features and attributes can be assigned to one of the sexes, i.e. they can be described as more or less “male” or “female”. Hence the popular belief that men and women come from two different planets. It is also a source of tendencies to emphasise gender differences, assign different roles and tasks to men and women, perceive them as people with different personality traits and expect different behaviours from them. Gender therefore becomes the central principle of describing human beings, although in reality it is one of the many components of our identity, and neither gender has a monopoly on any feature of human personality.

The second lens is androcentrism, which carries the message that men and everything in culture that is referred to as “masculine” are treated as more important, stronger and better. In other words, a man’s perspective and experience are treated as a neutral norm, a standard, and women and femininity are defined as different and worse. Hence the number of prohibitions and orders, rights and customs that depreciate girls and women, attribute lower social status to them and limit their possibilities of deciding about themselves and acquiring resources. Androcentrism is at the root of all forms of discrimination and violence against girls and women.

The third lens that strengthens and justifies the previous two is biological essentialism, according to which differences between men and women and male dominance in all spheres of life are determined by biology (or a “divine plan”), and thus are “natural” and inevitable.

Men and women are very different, men are a “better” gender, and all this is due to nature – and these three ideas, permeating our culture and our thinking, are based on the traditional system of gender roles: that is, the distribution of attributes, activities and the assigned meanings in the world (better - worse) depending on gender. These ideas contain a fundamental inequality and contradict not only modern knowledge about human development, but also the principles of justice, equality, and democracy. The problem is that this anachronistic way of thinking, which is a fundamental source of barriers and human harm, is still passed down from generation to generation. The transmission channel for these beliefs, stereotypes and prejudices is education and socialisation in all their agendas: the family, the closest social environment,peers, in institutions and the media.


[1] S. L. Bem, The Lenses of Gender: Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality, Yale University Press, 1993.


Iwona Chmura-Rutkowska

Iwona Chmura-Rutkowska, PhD – pedagogue and sociologist from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, author of the book “To Be a Girl, To Be a Boy – and Survive. Gender and Violence at School in Teenage Narratives”.

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