Gender blindness can refer to a few different concepts.
As an ideology, gender blindness is when somebody chooses not to see gender and the differences between gender.
Gender blindness could be a worldview or a description. For example, a gender-blind hiring process is one where an employer might not take gender into account when reviewing resumes and cover letters. This is meant to reduce gender bias.
In terms of sexuality and orientation, someone might refer to themselves as “gender blind” if gender doesn’t factor into whether they’re attracted to someone or not. They might be pansexual, bisexual, or another sexual orientation.
Gender bias is the tendency to favor one gender over others or to make assumptions about someone based on their gender. It can lead to gender-based discrimination, which is when someone receives different treatment because of their gender.
Gender bias is often the result of gender essentialism, which is the belief that a person, activity, or trait is inherently masculine or feminine. A gender essentialist view would be to assume that women are naturally better parents than men because caretaking is a feminine activity.
Gender essentialism and gender bias can harm all people, no matter their gender.
Examples of gender bias include:
- Women being paid less than men for the same work
- Doctors dismissing women as dramatic when they describe their symptoms
- Women being encouraged to do one kind of work while men are encouraged to do another
- Men’s bathrooms not having diaper changing tables
- Paternity leave being shorter than maternity leave
Gender bias is often discussed in the context of the workplace, but it can also be prevalent at school, at home, in community groups, in medicine, and in other areas.
In some ways, yes.
A 2017 study looked at gender blindness in couples who stayed together when one person transitioned later in the relationship. The couples seemed to stay together because they cared for one another as people, not based on their gender. So, while they faced challenges during and after the transition, they remained committed to one another.
One study looked at the impact of downplaying gender in the workplace. The study found that women who were gender blind in the workplace were more confident than those who were gender aware. It also suggested that gender blindness might help women take actions that could reduce gender disparities.
Gender awareness refers to the ability to see and acknowledge societal expectations for different gender roles and understand how these expectations disproportionally affect each gender.
Gender-blind laws can also be helpful. Previously, certain laws about domestic violence and sexual violence made an assumption that the victim was always a woman and the perpetrator was always a man. Laws that do not specify gender, in this case, can help protect victims of any gender.
Gender blindness in hiring practices might help reduce the chances of someone being hired or rejected based solely on their gender. However, some experts believe that gender- or race-blind hiring practices don’t eliminate bias.
People face gender-based discrimination on a regular basis.
Sometimes, choosing not to see gender means you’re choosing not to acknowledge the discrimination people face because of their gender. For example, if women and nonbinary people are never promoted to senior management within a company, ignoring gender means you don’t notice this instance of gender bias.
In order to combat gender discrimination, you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist — you need to recognize it and address it when possible.
In some cases, having a gender-blind approach might cause someone to view reasonable accommodation as “special treatment.” For example, a pumping room at work or in malls for nursing parents might seem biased, but it’s a necessary accommodation.
While the terms gender blind and ‘gender neutral’ are used interchangeably, the terms don’t mean the same thing. Gender blind usually refers to an ideology or approach, while gender neutral can describe objects like clothing, places like bathrooms, and more.
For example, gender neutral can refer to:
- Clothes that aren’t associated with one gender
- Mixed-gender sports teams
- Bathrooms that are not divided by gender
- Names that are used for any gender
While one can downplay gender, it’s difficult to be truly gender blind in your approach to everything.
For example, you can attempt to have a gender-blind hiring process, but when someone is interviewed, their gender (or perceived gender) might become obvious to the interviewers.
Sometimes, gender blindness ignores issues that need to be gender-specific. For example, a support group for new fathers can address the issues and discrimination new fathers face. Because gender bias still exists, these accommodations are often still necessary.
Unconscious biases can play a role without folks realizing it. Even people who consider themselves to be progressive may hold discriminatory views without realizing it. In order to address these views, you first need to be aware of them.
Gender awareness is an alternative to gender blindness. This includes being aware of the biases people might face and taking action to address discrimination.
For example, if someone has gaps on their resume, this might be off-putting to employers. Since women are often expected to do caregiving work (such as caring for their children or elderly family members), this might affect them more. A gender-aware approach might be to take this into account, and not dismiss applicants with gaps on their resumes.
Another example: if women in your company leave more quickly than men, a gender-aware approach would be to ask why. Are they facing discrimination at work? If so, is there a way to address this? While gender-blindness would tell you that gender isn’t a factor, gender awareness encourages you to investigate whether discrimination is taking place.
While a gender-blind approach might seem like a solution to gender discrimination, this is not always the case.
Instead, you might find it helpful to be aware of gender discrimination around you. Notice when your friend always talks to women with a condescending tone, or if your child’s teacher tends to stereotype children based on their perceived gender, or if your company’s parental leave policy isn’t fair to new fathers.
Self-awareness is also key. Many people were exposed to sexism growing up, and many find it hard to unlearn gender bias. By recognizing your own biases, you’re taking the first step in unlearning them.
Once you’re aware of gender discrimination, try to take action to address it. This can be a difficult task in itself, but it starts with awareness.
Gender blindness has some potential benefits as well as some drawbacks. In order to address gender discrimination, people need to be open to noticing when it happens. This means you can take action to address it.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Grahamstown, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.