Today, women make up 80% of veterinary jobs, 91% of nurses, and 66% of employed workers for these specific fields of work. Meanwhile men make up 90% of all police officers, 87% of engineers, and 77% of Informational Technology professionals. These are just some examples of jobs that have a clear majority of one sex in a specific field of work, and this can be seen as sex segregation. Sex segregation is when men and women can be seen as separated or if there is a clear majority of one sex in a specific environment. The cause or motivations for the sex segregation is not always recognized or done because of an intended purpose, but is influenced almost unconsciously by society. There are influences that don’t have to be said but our known in society that people may not be aware of. For this project, I am going to be explaining how sex segregation is prevalent in my community, specifically, within the clubs at my school. My goal is to inform others about what causes this sex segregation, how sex segregation can be diminished, and why it’s important to have a gender unified environment.
Causes of Sex Segregation
Sex segregation in co-ed environments is not natural, but a product of society’s influences. Society’s pressures on people based on their gender is based off of the belief of gender essentialism, which insists that males and females are inherently different, and that there are clear distinctions between masculine and feminine behaviors that are a part of human beings’ essential nature. In society, this way of thinking exists and creates a system where there are unwritten rules for each gender, but these rules only exist because society creates them, not because as humans, we are innately born to follow them. Gender theory posits that these social influences are products of cultural construction and that society creates the categorizes such as sex and gender, which are not essential, inborn traits, but rather something created by people in order to categorize people’s actions, behaviors, and appearances. In other words, the culture around us defines what is appropriate for one’s sex and defines the rules of gender for us. “Rather than being innate and inborn, gender is the result of the culture reinforcing in subtle and not-so-subtle ways how a person is supposed to behave based on their perceived sex and/or gender” (GOA Gender Studies Class). This starts as soon as we are born. An example is seen in this image below; girls are assigned to play with specifically pink toys, meanwhile boys usually play with blue or multicolored toys. When we are born there is no evidence that girls should like pink and boys like blue. This idea is simply created by society.
Social influences and pressures for one’s gender plays a larger role in shaping people’s decisions and their interests, especially in a school environment. Because there are strict rules for how people should act, people feel pressures from those around them to conform to their perceived-gender norms, or else they jeopardize their popularity and status among peers. Peer groups at school create an environment where the group becomes the resource and guide to how a girl or boy is supposed to act, and there are constant pressures on these individuals to perform and behave to expected gender norms. Because these social groups create how we should act based on our perceived gender identity, “it can promote fear, bigotry, and violence toward those who do not fit in the neat categories of the gender binary (The gender binary system describes a person’s gender as only two things; male/masculine/attracted to women or female/feminine/attracted to men)” (GOA Gender Studies Class).
Because of these perceived thoughts of how one should act based on their gender, and the threat of losing popularity if one goes against the norm of the gender, this shows how sex segregation is created. There is a tendency for females and males to follow their perceived gender norms because of society’s influences. People feel more interested in doing things that make them looks good socially, which is something that correlates with their perceived- gender rather than what interests them personally. This creates the trend of men and women being in a separated or one gender majority environments.
Why Sex Segregation (within school clubs) is a Problem
- First, sex segregation creates a pattern and trend in which, when there is sex separation in a specific environment, it is most likely that this will stay a tendency. Sex segregation restricts or makes other genders hesitant from joining in, and this pattern continues. For example, girls may feel intimidated or uncomfortable entering an environment with mostly males and vice versa, so it restricts the minority gender in that group from growing.
- Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania proved that on average, men are better at mental tasks while women are better at more intuitive tasks. Male participants tended to perform better at spatial and motor tasks, meanwhile female participants were on average better at nonverbal reasoning and recognizing emotions. This experiment shows that men’s and women’s brain are slightly different, and therefore, men and women can benefit from each other because of these specific skills each sex is better at performing. To maximize the full potential of strategies, decisions, thoughts, etc, in a given group, the most thorough and best outcomes will be created in an environment that has an equal amount of the same sex because of the different perspectives and way of thinking between the sexes. With sex segregation, ways of thinking to may not reach to their full potential if both women and men are not involved.
- Sex segregation ends up reinforcing gender stereotypes. When mostly all the boys who take part in school clubs decide to join an investment and robotics club, and most of the girls join a fashion club, these choices reinforce the stereotypes that guys dominate topics like economics and sciences meanwhile girls are focused on fashion and appearance type interests. The trend of boys joining the stereotypical club for their gender, and having a majority of boys creates an environment where girls may not feel they should join. Same with boys joining a fashion club, they may feel that by joining a club that is stereotypically for girls, they may feel that they can’t join it because of how society might view them.
Gender Unity and its Importance
Approximately 51% of the world’s population is women, leaving the other 49% to be male. Environments that are sex segregated are lacking insight into half the world’s population. Sex segregation creates a way of thinking and acting in a way that only benefits half of the population. It is unrealistic to think that one sex is most qualified or capable of making decisions that affect all genders. Men and women both think differently, so it is important that both voices are heard so that gender parity can be more easily reached. In a school environment, students are better prepared for the real world experiences and situations, learning and thinking together, because equal numbers of men and women live around us. When sex segregation is diminished and no longer existent, the rigid line between girls and boys and the stereotypes each sex holds will become less prevalent and divided. Creating environments where there are two sides, like female and males, creates an environment where one is trying to prove superiority to the other. Gender unity will allow people in society to be seen as equals, and will encourage gender parity, and enhance society to work together to maximize everyone’s full potential.
Club Examples and Interviews
At my school, I have noticed that there is a clear majority of one sex within some clubs. I wanted to investigate why this was and what impact it had on the clubs, students, and the environment that it created.
The Sign Language Club is where students can learn sign language. It consists of about 15 students, and only one of those 15 is a boy. Here is the one male student in the club:
The Free the Children Club works to raise money to help kids in Sierra Leone have access to fresh water. Currently there are about 17 students participating in the club all of which are girls. Here is one of the creators of the club:
The Animal Rights Club discuss important issues involving animal rights and it talks about solutions to these problems. There are about 4 boys and 16 girls that are involved in the club. Here is a video of a student attending this club:
The Gender Sexuality Awareness Club (GSA) talks about issues regarding the LGBTQ community and helps spread awareness throughout the school community. There are currently about 17 students attending the club, all which are girls. Here is a video of one of the students participating in the club:
The Girl Up Club focusses on ways to empower people within the local community and girls in developing countries, to help promote girls and encourage them to rise up.
After hearing what these students had to say about their club and the dynamic of boys and girls within each club, I can conclude that social influences have an impact on a student when determining which club one will join.
Key reasons for sex segregation according to these students:
- The sex of the creators of the group influences which sex joins the club.
- Fear of being labeled for joining a specific club that doesn’t stereotypically correlate with one’s perceived gender identity
The student from the Sign Language Club and the Animal Rights Club are two examples of people who don’t play into any social influences, and truly joined a club because they were passionate about the topic. I think that by doing this, these students are great role models and can inspire others to join clubs that they are genuinely interest in, even if it is uncommon in the community to do so.