Gender Stereotypes and Confidence

Confidence & Media Myths

Our concept of what it means to be confident is sometimes distorted by gender stereotypes. Confidence is often seen as a masculine type trait. This is partly because we confuse confidence with bravado. Some self-help gurus don’t help this assumption. Often the proof that someone has gained confidence is the ability to  engage daredevil stunts. However, stunts such as walking on hot coals or bungee jumping have more to with recklessness than confidence. Reality TV shows are also all about contestants putting on a show. Being brash and ‘making an entrance’ is often equated with confidence. Nothing could be further from the truth.

True, inner confidence

True, inner confidence is more about being comfortable in your own skin. It’s a lot quieter than the over-the-top displays we associate with the traditional ‘blokey’ stereotype. In fact, confidence begins from a position of relaxation. It’s rooted in quietness. The traditional female stereotype is associated with nurturing. This is another aspect of confidence. Truly confident people put others at ease. If someone’s ‘confident display’ makes other people feel uncomfortable or intimidates then it isn’t true confidence.

True confidence is the mark of a well-rounded human being

The masculine stereotype could be characterized as ‘assertive’ and the traditional female stereotype as ‘nurturing’. So true confidence is a blend of these two qualities.  If your develop your ability to relax and your skills at putting others at ease, these provide the perfect platform for assertiveness. If you’re stressed and angry and just think about yourself then the result is aggression. True confidence is the mark of a  balanced, well-rounded human being. It’s positively contagious, so pass it on.


Was Little Boy Blue a Gender Stereotype or a Gender Bender?

The poem Little Boy Blue (from around 1744)  is sometimes offered as evidence for early gender colour-coding of ‘blue for a boy’ but a close reading of the text shows that it’s exactly the opposite! Until the early 20th Century blue was deemed a delicate, feminine colour and that’s what the poem demonstrates.

Picture: Little Boy Blue

Little Boy Blue being not particularly ‘boyish’

Little Boy Blue,
Come blow your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow,
The cow’s in the corn;
Where is that boy
Who looks after the sheep?

Under the haystack
Fast asleep.
Will you wake him?
Oh no, not I,
For if I do

He will surely cry.

Little Boy Blue appears to have a rather delicate constitution. He doesn’t have the strength to blow on his horn, he’s  sleeping on the job and easily prone to bouts of hysteria! This is not behaviour typical of the male gender stereotype. So, if the colour blue is to be associated with anything here it’s ‘effeminacy’. It was until the 1920s that the colour-coding switched (to blue for a boy, pink for a girl) and there is no convincing reason as to why this happened. However what the colour-switch does show is that colour-preference is not ‘hard-wired’ but is a cultural convention.

Other gender related blog posts:

Never Mind. . . the Great Procrustean Binary Gender Swindle

After publishing my Gender & the Social Construction of the Sewing Machine post, I checked the things automatically linked to it by WordPress and found a fascinating and brave post. I was going to add a comment of support, but the comments had been turned off. Not long after the whole blog disappeared. The writer, a trans woman, had a lot of thought-provoking things to say about binary gender. Unfortunately the blog had been subject to a lot of abuse, surprisingly from other trans people. I found a draft of this post languishing in the nether regions of my blog and decided to finish it off. I have lost contact with the blogger, so if you read this, please drop me a line.

Many people, trans and otherwise, criticise the binary model of gender. It used to irritate me no end at university when students designed experimental studies and just threw in ‘gender differences’ without justification. This underlying assumption that men and women do everything differently was rarely challenged in our psychology department. I began to disparagingly refer to such gender differences as ‘counting shirts and blouses’. I took great delight in challenging fellow PhD students looking at gender differences. My own PhD was on gender stereotypes and intolerance of ambiguity. Knowing full well what the answer would be I’d ask ‘Are you taking a social constructionist view of gender?’ On one occasion, one student became very animated as he karate-chopped the air shouting ‘No!Men and women! MEN AND WOMEN!” This tale was retold often in later lectures and tutorials, and much to the delight of one of my colleagues Dr Petra Boynton.

Some of the key influences on my early research were Martine Rothblatt and Kate Bornstein (both trans writers) and Mark Simpson, the writer who coined the term metrosexual. As an undergraduate I’d quoted from a Simpson piece in Deadline magazine (in 1994) with the provocative title ‘Coming Over All Queer’. It raised a few eyebrows in our rather conservative degree programme. These writers more than any helped me to the conclusion not that there was more than binary but perhaps more importantly, we don’t necessarily have to put a label on it.

I’m a natal male and I spent my formative years in a state of gender confusion as I described in Gender & the Social Construction of the Sewing Machine. Much of the ‘confusion’ caused me distress but I came to I interpret it and my lack of conformity as something special whereas no I realize that it was quite ordinary and quite common. We are all gender deviants because ‘true gender’ does not exist. Bornstein is on record as saying that she might not have made the transition from male to female had she known at the time that there were other options. This was also what the trans blogger was saying.

At a certain point in our cognitive development we achieve gender constancy. This is the certainty that boys become men and girls become women. Up until then, it’s quite ordinary to assume that people can swap back and forth between genders. The milestone is on average around five to seven years. So we can’t count as reliable evidence, any early childhood memories of gender identity confusion or discomfort. It happens to us all.

Confusion surrounding gender is exacerbated because the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are so often interchanged, when they are not the same thing at all. Sex is the biological designation based on physiology, whereas gender is the social interpretation of sex. Gender is not natural. Further problems occur because we deny any other options but binary gender. However, if we examine the biological evidence, there is not a neat divide between the sexes, there are definite shades of grey. This greyness is intensified when we consider the social interpretation of gender. Do all men have the same gender? Do all women have the same gender? Don’t factors such as age, ethnicity, education, upbringing, socio-economic class, sexuality all colour our gender to varying degrees?

We all have the right to feel comfortable in our own ‘gendered’ skin, but the chances of being able to do this are limited simply because we have limited options. It’s not gender democracy if you only get to vote for two parties in the same system.    Maybe the reason why I shelved this heretical piece was that I couldn’t figure out a way to word it without sounding like a homophobe, transphobe orbiphobe. In truth, I am a binariphobe. I think the rights of people transcend socially constructed boundaries. I don’t believe in homosexuality or bisexuality or heterosexuality. Fundamentally because I don’t recognize the either-or imperative. Biology has not produced a dichotomy. We did that. Reproductive differences and genital shape do not make a gender. Real life is much more complicated than (karate chops air) ‘Men and Women. MEN AND WOMEN!’

The trans blogger made the point that many trans people decry binary gender because they were born into the wrong one. It’s a challenge to suggest that maybe they weren’t. Maybe the gender you got was your unique gender.  Many people have made the choice not to succumb to the Procrustean system and inhabit a gender place in  the ‘grey area’ (or ‘Technicolor area’). Some people have become their own immaculate conception. Their gender, sexuality and physiology do not line up according to the black-and-white rule. They have made a decision to occupy the middle-ground, which is, after all, where we all are anyway. I think it’s more important to respect and value people’s spot on the gender continuum rather than fight for a system that limits diversity and our options.

After completing Kate Bornstein’s gender quiz in My Gender Workbook, I was thrilled with my designation of gender freak. Throughout the quiz I was dreading the prospect of being ‘normal. It’s a shame that the trans blogger was ‘persuaded off’ the blogosphere by a few people who see it as their ‘god-given’ right to police binary gender boundaries. It’s a great fear that if we let go of labels we will all disappear. Without gender binary divisions the concept of transgender would be less meaningful. Making a transition from one state to its polar opposite reinforces binary gender as much as it challenges it. Again the same applies to sexuality. We can only swing both ways if there are only two ways. Sometimes we fight for something that’s at the root of the oppression.

I recognize that I am still more traditionally gendered than I would like to be. I’m still working on it. There are still options open to the ‘other side’ that I would like to enjoy. However the barrier has much more to do with social convention  than it does with the shape of my genitals.


Kate Bornstein’s Memoir: Queer and Pleasant Danger

Poem: Anatomy of Doubt

Gender & the Social Construction of the Sewing Machine

Out & About: Mapping LGBT Lives in Birmingham

Out & About: Mapping LGBT Lives in Birmingham  is a research project commissioned by Birmingham City Council to map the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans) community in the city. The data were collected over a five month period via an on-line survey by the charity Birmingham LGBT, and I analysed them. Essentially, the report aims to fill a gap in knowledge. Previously there were no data available to assess the needs of the LGBT community. The Equality Act 2010 has created the impetus to gather information to ensure equality of service provision.
The research comes at an exciting time for the city. Birmingham LGBT won a substantial grant from the Big Lottery Fund to establish an LGBT Health and Wellbeing Centre to act as a ‘one stop shop’ for the community and community groups, and will work with other service providers to address health inequalities within the LGBT Community.
Amongst the findings, Out and About indicated that one in five respondents had attempted suicide and more than one in five had self harmed. Both of these were more likely if the people had been victims of hate crimes. Cohort comparisons for experiences at school indicated that the younger cohort (under 35s) were more likely to have been ‘out’ at school than were the older cohort (35+) but also more likely to have been bullied. The general picture was of a paucity of information and resources at schools on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as a lack of active strategies in schools to tackle homophobia. The report calls for improvements in education provision to tackle homophobia and awareness raising.
Out & About also offers recommendations for improving the LGBT cultural appeal of Birmingham. The first step is simply that Birmingham needs to take a leaf out of the book of its festival of queer culture (now in its third year) and promote itself more effectively and *Shout! about what the city has to offer.

Measuring Sexual Identity: Fundamentally Flawed, Practically Worthless, Irresponsible or Dangerous?

What’s wrong with ‘Measuring Sexual Identity: An Evaluation Report’ (2010) from the Office for National Statistics?

Well for starters, the authors admit that its methodology is fundamentally flawed by using a single measure and if they had they used a more appropriate measure then the figures for gay, lesbian and bisexual would most likely have been higher! The report misleads over refusal rates and does not adequate addresses the age, emplyment status, education, and ethnicity biases in its figures. In spite of evidence to the contrary the authors slap themselves on the back for a success’ whereas they should be slapping each other in the face for this unmitigated disaster.

Having taught statistics in several UK universities at all levels and  with a PhD in gender stereotypes and attitudes to sexuality (from an accredited university), I recognise, in this report,  many of  pitfalls I’ve taught undergraduate psychology students to avoid.  If it was an undergraduate report, I’d struggle to give it a ‘pass’. So let’s look at some of the main problems:

Attraction, Behaviour, Orientation, Identity
The report distinguishes between sexual attraction, sexual identity,  sexual orientation and sexual behaviour. So the expectation is that the report will take a multidimensional approach. However, it does not.  It states that whereas legislation focuses on sexual orientation, the report choses to look at sexual identity. It  also clearly states that behaviour may not form a basis for identity but goes on to argue:

‘Research during the development of the question also deemed sexual identity the most relevant dimension of sexual orientation to investigate given its relation to experiences of disadvantage and discrimination’ (p4).

Unfortunately, the research on which this conclusion is based is by the Office for National Statistics. It’s a classic example of groupthink. Much cutting edge research would dispute this assumption.  I certainly dispute it. It became clear very early on in my research that a single question to measure sexual identity or sexual orientation, at best would be misleading. So I didn’t.  It could be considered irresponsible to publish  research based on an imappropriate tool. In fact, the curremt report probably would not be published in any peer reviewed journal.

This report warns:

“[N}o single question would capture the full complexity of sexual orientation. A suite of questions would be necessary to collect data on the different dimensions of sexual orientation, and to examine consistency between them at the individual level (p4).”

The report goes ahead and uses a single question anyway! Whether or not a person labels their sexual orientation should not be the issue where ‘experiences of disadvantage and discrimination’ are concerned. Clearly, the reluctance to feel able to or be comfortable in declaring one’s sexuality is also a form of disadvantage and an aspect of discrimination. The current approach distorts the issue through over simplification.

So what’s the difference between attraction, behaviour, orientation and identity. Well, identity is how we describe ourselves or how others label us. Well people who are attracted to the same gender might not act upon it. People who act upon sexual attraction may do so in very specific circumstances. Orientation may be indicated by attraction, behaviour or a label with which a person identifies. I would argue that behaviour and attraction are more important than the label a person uses. For instance, in sexual health there is a recognised category of ‘men who have sex with men’ (MSM), who do not identify as gay. They see themselves as straight men who occasionally have sex with other men. The rest of the time they lead ‘straight’ lives. In sexual health services and health promotions, ‘men who have sex with men’ are at risk from sexual transmitted infections, and are targeted as a specific group.  However, assumptions made by this report concluded:

“Testing showed that respondents were not in favour of asking about sexual behaviour in a social survey context, nor would it be appropriate in general purpose government surveys (p4)”.

Again, this conclusion was based on reports from the Office for National Statistics.  In the present study, worryingly, the authors state:

‘As in the UK, deriving an individuals sexual orientation from a suite of questions results in higher LGB estimates in the US compared with using a single sexual identity question (p15)’

It is accepted in attitude measurement that single item responses are unsuitable.  Using a multiple response measure, properly administered would produce a more accurate figure. Furthermore, research suggests that this figure would have been higher.The figures cited in the report for more methodological sound research range from 5% to 9% ( Joloza, Evans and O’Brien, 2010, p15). The current report says 1.5%.

In a survey with such political impact, the decision to use a single item is ill-advised and  arguably reckless. Research convenience should not compromise validity. In this instance, it does.

Sensitivity of Measurement
Having abandoned the methodologically sound approach of using a ‘suite’ of questions, one might hope that at least the report would use a sensitive measure beyond crude, simplistic nominal categories. Actually no. In the 1940s, sex researcher Alfred Kinsey developed a more sensitive  ‘sliding scale’ of sexuality. Instead, the present researchers ignore this and opt for the bluntest of instruments: Straight, gay or bi. This report didn’t even bother to include transgender in its analysis.

Firstly, consider the approach of ‘measuring’ ethnicity based on a ‘Black, White or Mixed’ categorisation. How accurately would this categorisation produce a representation of ethnicity in the UK? Any reputable survey offers a whole range of options for ethnicity with quite subtle distinctions. Even then, people may declare ‘other’. I would argue that sexuality is more complex than ethnicity.  So why is measurement tool in the present report, measurably more simplistic? The answers is: ‘because the study has not been properly designed to fit the subject matter’. It has little or no ecological validity, that is, it means very little in the real world, except perhaps to fuel prejudice.

The Kinsey scale requires a respondent to use a zero to six scale. Where zero equals ‘exclusively heterosexual’ and six equals ‘exclusively gay’.  This gives varying degrees of bisexuality, that is, from one to five. Now clearly, these sensitive data can be collapsed into cruder categories if needs be. The problem with collecting crude data from the outset, is that we can do little else with it. It offers nothing very meaningful just the willingless of people to use a limited set of labels.

Now imagine, we take three measures of attraction, behaviour and identity all of the sliding ‘zero to six’ scale. Wouldn’t this be a far more accurate reflection of a person’s sexuality orientation? It’s just a pity they didn’t do it in their report for the Office of National Statistics. Would it produce a higher percentage of lesbian, gay and bisexual people? Well, Joloza, Evans and O’Brien (2010, p15) would probably say ‘yes’. So why didn’t they do it?

So what exactly does this study measure? Well it doesn’t measure sexual identity in the UK. It measures the percentage of people sampled  who are willing to declare a sexual identity label from a limited choice  in interviews, with or without others present, in a particular time frame (for a study with poor ecological validity).

But the problems don’t end there. The report also reveals questionable interpretation from by its authors.

Confidentially and the Willingness to Respond
One statistic almost jumps out of the page to indicate that there’s something wrong with this study:

[P]eople (aged 16 and over) who identified as LGB had a younger age distribution than heterosexuals – 64.9 per cent were aged under 45 compared with 48.6 per cent of people who identify as heterosexual (p16).

In other words, younger people are more likely to report a ‘non-heterosexual’ identity than are older people. With no evidence to support the notion that older people are less likely to be gay, it has to be an artifact of this research. That is, older people either don’t identify with a ‘gay, lesbian or bisexual’ so readily, or are not so predisposed to tell a stranger with a clipboard. As such, the one-shot sexual identity is not fit for purpose. It’s possible that older people are more likely to remember the days before the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, and police entrapment strategies. It’s possible that they don’t use the word ‘gay’ and may prefer ‘homosexual’. It’s possible that they don’t like to divulge personal information to strangers unless absolutely necessary. There are definitely confounding variables at play and not just age.

According to this study gay, lesbian and bisexual have better jobs and are better educated. Again, the myth of the pink surfaces. Could it not be that young, well-educated, finnacially secure people are more likely to divulge their LGB sexual identity to a stranger? This means that less-empowered people more in need of support and services are not. Again the one-shot measure doesn’t appear to do its job.

The report makes a claim in the face of its own evidence that confidentiality basing this on the refusal rate:

There is no evidence of an adverse impact on response rates confirming the general acceptance of the question. Our analysis suggests response rates are broadly in line with earlier quantitative testing. Non response to the question was low with less than 4 per cent of eligible respondents refusing to answer, saying they did not know the answer or not providing a response  (p26).

Perhaps this  should read  ‘no adverse impact on response rates, except for older, less financially secure, not-so-well educated, non-professionals’.  For those in routine and manual occupations, the most frequent response to the sexual identity question was ‘other’ at 31.1%, more ‘popular’ than heterosexual at 29.4%. Almost a half (49.1%) of those who identified as gay and lesbian had managerial or professional occupations, compared to less than a third (30.6%) who identified as heterosexual/straight? Furthermore, 38.1% of Gay/Lesbian had a degree compared with only 21.9% of Heterosexual/Straight. Doesn’t all this seem odd? Yes! It suggests a significant bias in the sampling, the method and the results. In short, the flaws are evident but largely overlooked by the authors. Failure to do this in an undergraduate report would be severely penalised. But far more is at stake here. This report may inform social policy!

Looking at ethnicity, there’s a bias here too. For Heterosexual/Straight people 90.7% are White, whereas for Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual its 93.5%. However, for the ‘Other’ category for sexual identity, 14.1% are ‘other ethnic group’. For the ‘Don’t knows’, the figure for ‘other ethnic group’ is 18.2%. People from ‘Other ethnic groups’ were almost twice as likely to say ‘Don’t Know’ as say ‘Heterosexual’ (9.3%). They were almost three times more likely to say ‘Don’t Know’ as ‘Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual’ (6.5%). This suggests either a reluctance to declare sexuality or that they did not understand what the terms meant. Either way, it’s a shortcoming of this research.

It’s interesting to note that option one on the interviewers card (market research style) was ‘Heterosexual/Straight’ and option two was  the less formal ‘Gay or Lesbian’, with option three as ‘Bisexual’. It’s interesting that whereas ‘both terms in option one and three can be applied to either men or women. For option two, you can’t have a lesbian man!The options do not use comparable terminology. If different terminology had been used, would the results have been different? If the options had been re-ordered, would the results have been different?Why is heterosexual the first option? Did this slightly increase the heterosexual figure. Research into research and experimter bias suggests it might.  Had the survey not been carried out in a market research format would the results have been different?Did interviewer the tone of voice affect the way in which the questions were answered. I’s done endless market research interviewers on the street and most of the time I can work out what the researcher ‘wants’ me to say. Are you heterosexual <smiles with rising intonation? or gay <frowns, with falling intonation> or bisexual <spits>? It’s a slight exageration but it does happen.

Now let’s turn to the ‘less than four per cent refusal rate’ that caused the authors to discard the other evidence.

The authors state:

‘Prior to developing and testing work on the sexual identity question, the expectation was that the higher the number of adults in the household, the higher the proportion of item non response. This is be because some household members might be reluctant to disclose their sexual identity in the presence of others. However, the results from the IHS do not indicate this (p12).’

However they don’t make the connection between non-response rates and the willingness to declare a true label:

‘Another observation here is that the proportion of people reporting to be LGB in a household decreases as the number of adults in the household increases. There is currently no explanation why this is the case but this is something that could be considered for further investigation in future (p12)’.

One explanation might be that, the more people in the house the less likely people are to declare themselves to be ‘Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual’. They didn’t necessarily refuse they may have felt the need to protect their own privacy and lied or said ‘don’t know’.

So for people identifying as the as the number of people living in the house increases, the figure for ‘Heterosexual/Straight’ increases slightly. For Gay/Lesbian it falls from 1.3% in a single person household to only 0.3% in a four person plus household. The figures for Bisexual remain roughly the same. For ‘Don’t Know/Refusal’ the figures increase slightly as the number of people in the house increases.  This suggests that there is an element of self-censorship in responses.

Think about it logically. If you want to keep your sexual identity secret from other members of the house, do you ‘refuse’ and cause the other house members to ask why, or do you just lie?  Or if you live a ‘heterosexual’ life for 95% of the time and have recreational sex, exactly how do you respond to the stranger on the door step with the crude market research question?

What’s clear is that the current report has not adequately addressed the numerous problems it has generated with an inappropriate methodology for a complex subject. White, Black and Mixed would not be good enough for ethicoity, so why is it good enough here, for a subject arguable more sensitive and complex?

It’s important to remember that the Kinsey Team in he 1940s put the gay and bisexual figure as high as 37%. Of course the sampling has been criticised over the years. It probably did lead to an overestimation. Nevertheless the measure on which the Kinsey team based their research was exemplary. A one-shot question does not work for something as complex as human sexuality. The Kinsey measurement was complex and fit for purpose. It is not good enough to side step the issue of instrument accuracy with protests of convenience and acceptability to researchers. Rather than go for the easy, convenient option, get better researchers and design a better study where appropriate measures can be used.  Otherwise all you get is conveniently produced meaningless results. Garbage in, garbage out.

So is this report, fundamentally flawed, practically worthless, irresponsible or dangerous? In my professional opinion, considering the plitical climate, I’d have to say that it’s all of those things. The ONS needs to stop engaging in groupthink and stop treating the complex notion of sexual orientation as some crass market research exercise.  Patting themselves on the back, the authors conclude:

‘The introduction of the sexual identity question. . .  in January 2009 followed rigorous testing and feasibility testing by ONS. The findings of this report suggest its implementation on the IHS in the first year has been a success (p26)’.

A success why what standards? Certainly not of academic rigour. We need high quality research data on which to make sense of our world and inform our social policy decisions. Sadly, this report fails to deliver and cannot be treated as anything other than a pilot study from which serious lessons need to be learned.  The simplistic method does not work evidenced by the reports own figures. It fails to meet the standards of an undergraduate report, on which one can only conclude ‘must do better next time’. Sadly, the decision not to consider the ethical ramifications of publishing a flawed report is inexcusable and sheds light on the ability of the ONS to produce high quality data. It’s argubale negligence. Researchers have a responsiblity to consider how their research will be used. The ONS has  failed to recognise its responsibility.

Maybe it does  not commit the sin of commission of homophobia but it does commit the sin of omission in that it justifies the heterosexist ideology of rendering invisible sexual diversity.

So if we add in the refusals and the don’t knows, if we adjust the figures for age, ethnicity, education, profession and number of people in the household, what exactly would the figue be for ‘non-heterosexuals’? Well, your guess is as good as mine.  It’s disappointing that this overblown, expensive pilot study has thrown up more questions than it answers, and we are back to simply ‘guessing’.


Measuring Sexual Identity: An Evaluation Report

“All are equal, but some are more equal than others” – Minister for Equality

“All are equal but some are more equal than others” is not a direct quote from Minister for Equality but more verbal representation of the actions of our newly appointed Minister for Women and Equality, Theresa May. The Minister’s voting doesn’t read as the best curriculum vitae for the job. The course of Theresa May’s political life does not shout equality, it doesn’t even whisper it. It was expected that Chris Grayling would get the job, but he hasn’t exactly got a great voting record on equality issues relating to gay rights either.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet we can actually view the voting record of our MPs and Ministers to see if they actually do represent our values.  Our Minister of a ‘equality’ shows a less than impressive record on equality issues relating to gay rights. Looking her record published on They Work For You, Ms May is classified as being moderately against equality relating to gay rights.  Since 2001 she has mostly voted against equality, when she actually turn up to vote! Her rating is 31% for equality on this issue! Compare this to David Cameron’s 61.3% although he was absent from a few votes too, including the one to repeal Section 28.  Nonetheless, Mr Cameron comes out as ‘moderately for’ equality. Of course it could be worse. William Hague only ‘chalks up’ 26%. He was either absent or opted against equality on this issue. However, all three did manage to drag themselves in to vote against the hunting ban. Cameron and Hague attended all votes and May only missed one.  It doesn’t exactly shout ‘fairness and equality’. Gordon Brown‘s rating at 61.9% is equivalent to David Cameron’s on equality but voted ‘for’ the hunting ban. Chris Grayling scored 39.4%, only slightly better than Theresa May. However,  it certainly could have been worse if Communities Secretary (although probably not gay communities), Eric Pickles had landed the equalities post with his 15.7% rating for equality. Even worse, ‘the quiet man’ Iain Duncan Smith, who is remarkably quiet on equality at a mere 7.7% rating. These last two make Theresa May look like Peter Tatchell!  Furthermore, these cabinet choices undermine and contradict Cameron’s assertion that the Tory’s are ‘no longer the nasty party’. Suspending MPs for marking anti-gay comments contradicts  his choices to put an habitual anti-equality voter in charge of equality.

Nevertheless, Ms May claims she is the right person for the job and that ‘homophobic bullying’ will be one of her priorities, despite having voted against the repeal of Section 28.  Given her voting record, it’s hardly surprising that thousands have joined a facebook group and signed a petition calling for her  resignation as ‘Minister for Equality’.  And does her call for an International Day Against Homophobia sit easily with her heterosexist voting record on equality issues!  It’s easy enough to smile for the camera and wave a flag for the day, but better to actually make a difference with the power of your vote. Otherwise, it’s PR tokenism and hypocrisy.

It will be interesting to see how these issues affect the Con-LibDem Coalition over the coming months. Compare Ms May’s record with that of Liberal Vince Cable with a 90.4% rating for equality. Treasure Secretary  David Laws gained a similar rating of 90.1%. As for Nick Clegg, with only three opportunities to vote (and one missed), his rating of 64.3%.  The appointment of Junior Minister for Equality Lynne Featherstone does in part help balance the equality with an equality rating of 64.3% (based on only three votes). However, she didn’t turn up for the vote on Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations.

Cary Gee makes the point in Tribune Magazine that, “A day before the general election was called, Cameron spoke of ‘the great ignored” – specifically mentioning gays. Ignored? But I would rather be ignored by a Tory government than crapped on”.  Arguably, Ms May has made a political career of crapping on equality and gay rights, as have many of her colleagues. It could be argued that we should give Ms May the benefit of the doubt, but so far ‘equality’ has not benefitted from her conviction that some people are not as equal as others!

To protest about the appointment of Theresa May, write to your MP, sign the petition and  join the FaceBook group, see links below. And, to see how your MP votes on equality issues visit: TheyWorkForYou.Com.


Hoo hoos, minkies, willies or winkies. . . alcohol doesn’t discriminate!

Phone rings. Number withheld. It’s a journalist who wants some expert insight into why it is that men get all ‘letchy’ (lecherous) after a drink. It’s for a magazine article aimed at young women. Of course what she doesn’t want to hear is that women get ‘lairy’ (loud) after a drink.  Why is that? I say ‘tomarto’ she says ‘tomayta’. . she says ‘letchy’. . I say ‘lairy’. . . oh let’s call the whole thing off. . . and move on to some hack who doesn’t quibble about gender differences. . .and has not expertise in anything except saying what journalists want to hear.

So why could it be that men get more ‘letchy’ or ‘flirty’ after a few drinks in a sexualised commercial environment such as a night club? Er. . . perhaps that would be the effects of getting drunk, exactly the same as for women. I know that ‘letchy’ and ‘lairy’ are exactly analogous . . but the point is that alcoholic lowers inhibitions irrespective of the contents of our undergarments. It can also make us more aggressive. Check out the police statistics. . .it’s not just the blokes who are kicking the living daylights out of each other on a Saturday night. . . no mere spectators. . . ‘Sisters are doing it for themselves’.

During the brief exchange, I was asked about body language in the context of ‘men getting letchy’ after a drink’. Well what’s the body language of anyone who has drunk so much that they have lost control of their cognitive and motor faculties. . . a quick lunge for anything they can get hold of before falling to the ground and rolling around in their own vomit!

Now I like the occasional tipple as much as the next ‘lairy letch’ (well maybe not that much). . . and I know that these gender stories may seem like a harmless bit of fun. . but such excursions in gender psycho-babble serve to over-emphasise the differences between men and women or create new differences that only really exist in the world of magazine sales. The fact is: when we get drunk we all make arses of ourselves! Binge drinking is a massive problem with both men and women, especially with alcoholic drinks designed to taste like soft drinks.

These one-sided gender-based stories are there just to raise a smile and fill up a bit of space, but in the process they fuel gender stereotypes. They create a ‘gender filter’ whereby we look for differences where there aren’t any. Of course the additional of a bit of ‘body twaddle’ (sorry I mean ‘body language’ ) always makes things look a bit more scientific. It’s interesting the most of the ‘leading lights’ in body language have no qualifications. Many of them offer conjecture and home spun, common-sense, back-porch, pseudo-Freudian waffle presented as ‘evidence’. Many of them confuse ‘biological sex’ with ‘social gender’ and over-emphasize sex and gender differences and seem oblivious to the fact that Western gender roles have changed dramatically over the past 50 years.  Whereas the evidence shows that predominantly, men and women have more things in common than things on which we differ. And surprise, surprise. . .Hoo hoos, minkies, willies or winkies. . . alcohol doesn’t discriminate!


Sex and Gender are NOT the Same Thing! All Gender is a Drag!

Subscribe to Dr Gary Wood's psychology and coaching blogOne of the things to emerge from the Caster Semenya controversy (in the 2009 World Championships) is the misconception that the terms sex and gender mean the same thing. They do not. Numerous sources, including ones that should know better, have been waffling on about ‘gender tests’ when what they actually mean is biological sex tests.  Sex as a categorization is a biological designation. It refers to the physiological characteristics that differentiate males and females.

Gender is the social interpretation of biological sex. It refers to socially constructed roles in the form of behaviours, activities and other social attributes that any particular culture or society considers appropriate for women and men. So, “male” and “female” are sex categories, while “masculine” and “feminine” are gender categories. Now there are also wide gender variations with any culture. For instance, do rugby players have the same gender as librarians, stamp collectors and ballet dancers? They may do, they may not, but that doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on their biological sex. Within any population there will be an enormous range from ultra ‘feminine’ woman, to the ‘averagely’ feminine woman, to ‘neutral’ looking/acting  women, to slightly ‘butch’ women to overtly masculine women. The same applies to men and gender.

The idea that we could gender test athletic competitors is quite ludicrous. If an individual behaves in a way that does not support the gender stereotype, so what? The basic test for gender is what a person perceives themselves to be! Mostly we use the clumsy black and white categories but the way we live our lives betrays the inadequacy of the labels.

Equally ludicrous is the notion that gender can be divided into simplistic binary categories.  Numerous factors influence gender identity such as race, class, culture and so on. Oscar Wilde once commented that football is a game for ‘rough girls not delicate boys’. It’s possible to be male and not sporty and still be masculine. It’s possible for a female to like football and still be feminine. Modern gender theorists now talk about femininities and masculinities rather than as monolithic constructs. No two people have identical genders as no two people have identical views of the world. They may be very similar but never identical. Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.

Gender may be normal (i.e. ‘the norm’) but it’s never natural. It’s what society expects but not necessarily what nature ‘intended’. We have to work hard to reduce the ambiguity between men and women. All gender is a form of drag. There’s no such thing as a ‘natural looking women or men’. Nature always gets a helping hand. Femininity is ‘perfected’ by the addition of make-up, waxing, plucking, hair-styles and clothes and codes of appropriate ‘lady-like’ behaviour. Show me a female Hollywood film star with hairy arm pits and I’ll show you several front page tabloid pictures expressing dismay and disgust that ‘she’s just letting the side down’. Just watch young men affecting a swagger of a walk and the posturing that they’ve seen from rappers, action heroes and their peers. Gender is all an act. It’s a game and you have to play by the rules.

So why do newspapers continue to write about ‘gender’ tests. Well it’s just that ‘sex tests’ sounds ambiguous too. It could refer to the act of sex or the biological status. The solution to this dilemma appears to be to hijack the word ‘gender’ and distort its meaning. Ultimately it’s sloppy journalism that only serves to add confusion. There is no amount of saliva, urine, blood or any other bodily secretion that can be tested to determine gender. We can test for biological sex and infer how a person is likely to behave in a given culture if they ‘play by the rules’, but there is no biological test for gender.

Read confidence and coaching posts by Dr Gary WoodIf you liked this post on gender you might like this: Gender Stereotypes and Confidence and see also links below. Also please consider using the ‘like’ button below and share this post with others in your network.


The Clitoris, the Penis, Political Correctness and Biological ‘Factness’

Pic: Social Psychologist, Dr Gary Wood discusiing gender stereotypes

In my previous post, The Myth Busting Sexual Anatomy Quiz, one of the answers in particular prompted comments and questions. I stated that the clitoris is not a mini-penis as it is often described but rather, biologically speaking, the penis is an enlarged clitoris? But how can this be and does it really matter?

Firstly the ‘clitoris as mini-penis’ description assumes a primacy of the penis. It assumes the penis comes first (pause for sniggering). There’s also the not-so-subtle suggestion that the clitoris as mini-penis is an under developed penis and therefore an inferior organ. So yes it does matter because these assumptions are biologically incorrect.

Male development requires hormones to suppress female development and further hormones to enhance male development. This makes female anatomy the platform for male development and so technically the penis is an enlarged clitoris. Of course this sounds provocative because it goes against the ‘received wisdom’ or ‘gender spin’ that gives primacy to the penis.

If we compare the female and male genitalia we can see how the embryonic tissue developed down the two routes:

ovaries = testes

labia majora (outer lips) =scrotum

labia minora (inner lips) = underside of the penis

glans (head of clitoris) = glans (head of penis)

shaft (erectile tissue) of clitoris = shaft (erectile tissue) of penis)

vagina = no comparable structure in male.

It’s notable that the word ‘vagina’ is used for female genitals where in fact this only applies to the birth canal. So in describing the female anatomy in everyday language, we put the emphasis on reproduction. The collective term for female genitalia is the vulva, which includes the clitoris, the only organ in the human body solely for sexual pleasure. The everyday use of ‘vagina’ for female genitalia is more gender spin as it keeps the emphasis on penetration and again ‘sidelines’ the clitoris.

Then there’s the G-Spot to contend with. That’s it, let’s get the emphasis back up the vagina in a quest for the orgasmic grail. There is certainly not universal agreement that the G-Spot really exists. Supposedly located on the anterior wall of the vagina, no structure has been identified and evidence is largely anecdotal. Recent academic  research suggests that:

the special sensitivity of the lower anterior vaginal wall could be explained by pressure and movement of clitoris’ root during a vaginal penetration and subsequent perineal contraction.

read_confidence_posts_r_jus copyAgain, the clitoris is often thought to be a ‘tiny’ structure whereas its root extends deep into the body. So what some women experience as the G-Spot may be a by-product of the movement of the clitoris. More evidence, if any were needed, that the clitoris is not an inferior penis.

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Too Much, Too Soon? The Facts of Life

Having been involved in SRE teaching in inner city schools I felt I just had to comment on the story that a new Government programme  is expected to be added to the curriculum that will require  primary schools to give all pupils sex education lessons under Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education.

In association with a theatre-based project I ran some workshops in schools to discuss the themes of  a play. We asked that the groups were no bigger than 20 but instead some schools insisted that the groups should be 50+. In effect it had become a mere tick-box exercise for some schools.

A new report from the  Family Education Trust argues “Making PSHE statutory would inevitably reduce the influence of parents over what is taught”. In the report “Too Much, Too Soon”, author Normal Wells (and director of the FET) argues that

“Schools are currently required to consult with parents with regard to their sex education policies and to be sensitive to their wishes.

“However, making PSHE part of the national curriculum would inevitably make schools less accountable to parents in what is a particularly sensitive and controversial”

Now while I agree that parents should be more involved with education, it has to be stated that all parents aren’t trained teachers.  And presumably Normal Wells and The Family Education Trust do not hold the same view of religious education in schools which is compulsory and it has to be said, fairly sensitive and controversial. Why don’t we give parents responsibility for their children’s religious education? However I doubt whether Mr Wells would agree with that as he claims that compulsory sex education in schools “raises the very real possibility that some schools would be forced to compromise their beliefs on controversial areas such as contraception, abortion and homosexuality in the name of consistency”. Ah! Never let the facts get in the way of a ‘good’ belief system, eh?

And exactly how are the topics of contraception, abortion and homosexuality connected? They are often trotted out, unchallenged, as the ‘unholy’ trinity. However, they are only connected when you adopt a particular moral standpoint. Then it’s not a question of ‘too much, too soon’ which suggests a developmental argument. The title of the report misdirects in order to sneak in a religious perspective. They are separate arguments, made to look like one.

And why should it be assumed that all parents are comfortable talking about sex when they may have had very little formal education on the topic. So, where’s the objection to balanced lessons on sex education being taught in the classroom, by qualified teachers with knowledge of key stages in learning development? That’s what they are trained for! Surely, professionally planned and delivered sex education will  enrich dialogues between young people and parents.

My own view is that psychology should also be on the curriculum especially developmental psychology so that young people gain some valuable evidence based insights. As an educator, ultimately, I have to be an advocate for education over ignorance every time. The reason why schools should deal with the subjects of  sex  (and religion) is that they can offer a much broader perspective and employ a host of teaching methods and resources. Sex education should not be a platform for moral crusades. What we need is education without the editorial. The facts of life should be about the facts of life.


My colleague Dr Petra Boynton has writtten an excellent piece on this topic.