One could trace the issue of gender stereotypes back to old times when both women and men were not equally perceived in the society. Also, there are different types of gender stereotypes – one of them being focused by our research – appearance. In today’s modern world, person’s appearance can influence society’s judgement of “good looking”, some studies show that good look can also influence decision of others to perceive the person as a role model, the appearance can cause people to lose and/or get a job, or even cause psychological problems (Crotty et al., 2010). Finally, gender stereotypes are harmful for the growing mindset of the child and, consequently, can cause psychological problems; despite that, stereotypes put barriers to equality (Wallace S., n.d.).
Tomasello’s (2009) findings suggest that when children start perceiving themselves as public figures with their own personalities and characters, they start to worry about their image in the society, and they worry about how community judges them. As children move to adulthood, they start to change themselves. They build up their own ethics and its standards, they design their own self-image to satisfy their evolving bodies, they try to control their appearing sexuality, and they start building up their gender role perception. (Kaiser Family Foundation, n.d.). Gender stereotypes which evolved in early age can influence teenagers decision in education and later on in the labour market – are stopping the progress regarding equality (Wisnia-Weill, V. & Naves M., n.d.).
As long as our goal is not to find the problems caused by gender stereotypes, and as we are focusing on a small, but relatively close-knit community in our university, we are eager to check whether the stereotype that women care more about their appearance than men do can be applied for Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (Kaiser Family Foundation, n.d.). Moreover, we are interested to understand the perception of appearance by both women and men from our university. Thus, we are trying to answer the following research question: “How different is the perception of gender stereotypes regarding appearance in SSE Riga?”
According to the anthropological definition, a stereotypes is a social and cultural opinion that describes people’s characteristics (Hilton, J., & Hippel, W., 1996). Despite just being beliefs about some members, stereotypes also allow to overcome the confusion of different social perceptions, thus stereotypes serve as a useful tool which allows to distinguish any complexity regarding the social knowledge, misconceptions, or opinions (Anthropology Research, n.d.).
There are two sources of how did these beliefs about certain members of groups appeared. Firstly, stereotypes are mental portrayals of distinctions of different groups (Hilton, J., & Hippel, W., 1996). In other words, stereotypes can sometimes show the real representation of the situation, or, at least, show how the society perceives the given situation. However, stereotypes sometimes can disrupt the reality and thus result in failing to see any real differences between each members’ individualities. The second source is that stereotypes appear independent of people’s real dissimilarities (Hilton, J., & Hippel, W., 1996). The latter one triggers the question of why then these stereotypes even appear if they are not exactly about the real differences between people, but about something which was only assumed in the society.
There are different types of stereotypes, but mainly there are those about real people’s differences (i.e., cultural stereotypes), while others are about the characteristics of the member of certain group (i.e., race, age, religion, and gender) (Hilton, J., & Hippel, W., 1996). However, even though there are positive sides of distinguishing certain attributes of group’s members, with such purposes as to increase the efficiency of information process, by helping to categorize people; nevertheless, there are also and negative sides about stereotypes, mainly being about disinformation and assumptions which are not real (Cantor & Mischel, 1978).
As we are focusing on gender stereotypes, we need to distinguish the stereotypes about men and women. The idea of gender stereotypes is the belief of different characteristics and attributes for both male and female (Crotty et al., 2010).
For example, one of gender stereotypes is physical appearance (Planned Parenthood, n.d.). Crose (2002) proposes an idea to the origins of gender stereotypes regarding the physical appearance is that in Western Culture women are much more frequently being judged by look than any other characteristics. To follow up, Western society also stresses the significant importance on beauty (Ferraro et al, 2008). Some researchers suggest to dig deeper and see the historical patterns and how society started to change their perception regarding the gender.
Carrier et al (2005) state that gender inequality in the society disturbs the gender role in production, consumption, and exchange economy. The previous women image in households, production, and labour can give incentives for stereotypes to arise (for example, only men are the heads of land, women are only the wives of landlords who manage lands, etc.). Moreover, Carrier et al (2005) state the problem of gift giving that women were perceived as objects (i.e., gifts) of exchange. It assumes that “men are the active agents” and female are only the complements of those actions.
Podolefsky (n.d.) talks about communication between male and female, and states that despite the fact that male and female are siblings and live in the same house, they grow up in separate worlds. It is because children most of the time communicate with their peers of the same sex. This idea shows that both male and female are different, and thus they perceive things differently, for example – appearance.
Moreover, Podolefsky (n.d.) argues that toys, in this case, barbies, can influence child’s development and understanding of human’s body/appearance. All of these lead to different perceptions of appearance for both male and female which later constructs social and cultural beliefs – stereotypes.
In order to obtain information about gender appearance stereotypes and whether they hold in SSE Riga community we chose exploratory and confirmatory research design. This research design is selected because gender stereotypes about appearance is not well studied problem and, thus, it allows to adjust and improve data selection methods during the research. It is crucial that our research is not fully constructed before the beginning of research as our topic is about stereotypes and could be possible biased towards authors’ opinions. Exploratory and confirmatory research designs allow to dig deeper into stereotypes and support them with obtained practical information.
Furthermore, our research methodology consists of two parts. First part mainly consists of doing an experiment and 3-3.5h observations in SSE Riga premises. We chose to do a true experiment, where participants are assigned randomly for observation group. In our experiment there is no treatment and control groups to compare since we compare genders. According to Bernard (2006), true experiments provide valuable knowledge which has high internal validity. The experiment aim is to see whether gender stereotype – women care more about their appearance than men do, holds in SSER community. It was decided that the best way to verify this statement without interaction with people is to check different genders who entered the premises. The main focus was to see how often males and females clean their shoes and look at the mirror after coming from outside.
Second part of the research consists of unstructured interviews and secondary research. Unstructured interviews were conducted with both, males and females, to obtain information what drives people to look at the mirror or clean their shoes and whether it is related to gender specifically. The reason why unstructured interviews have been selected as a method is because unstructured interviews are versatile and very useful in studying sensitive issues (Bernard, 2006). Interviews allow us to see whether students are aware of gender stereotypes and if they can be applied in SSER community. Unstructured interviews took place during the experiment. After observing people near the entrance of the SSER premises people were asked several questions in order to gather information from all different groups of people. Two respondents from each group were asked to answer part of the questions. Different groups and questions can be seen in appendices.
Results & Data Analysis
Cleaning shoes after entering the building (Experiment, Q1, Q3)
From the experiment we can see that men (29%) clean their shoes more often than women (22%) taking into account all observations where people cleaned their shoes independent from staring at the mirror. Additionally, interviews indicated that students believe that women clean their shoes more often even though the difference is small (8 out of 14, Q3). This implies a negative effect of stereotypes because there is a common stereotype which leads to disinformation and biased assumptions about genders (Cantor & Mischel, 1978).
Furthermore, when it comes to the drivers what motivates cleaning their shoes, the most popular answer was that it’s dirty outside and people want to have clean shoes and clean SSER premises. Besides, people said that they have a habit to clean their shoes after coming from outside. What is important that men disclosed a reason that they care about their shoes more often than women stated. It can be seen as a consequence stated by Podolefsky (n.d.), that boys and girls grow up in different environment and, thus, their perception about cleaning shoes differ. Although results related to cleaning shoes shows that SSER students perceive gender stereotype about appearance, the experiment shows that it does not hold.
Staring at mirror (Experiment, Q2, Q4)
Results from the experiment indicate that women stare or glance at the mirror after entering the SSER premises way more often than men do (54% against 18%). Besides, the fourth question from the interviews revealed that not only women actually look at the mirror more often but that in SSER community there is a belief (gender stereotype) that women stare at the mirror more often (9 out 14, Q4). Hence, according to Hilton & Hippel (1996), stereotype shows the actual situation in the society (i.e., that women stare at the mirror more often).
Reasons of why a person did or did not stare at the mirror were quite different among men and women, but people who glanced at the mirror said that they care if they look as they should look like. In addition, they said that the purpose of staring at the mirror was to ensure that everything is fine with their appearance, meaning they actually care about their appearance. Reasons stated by men were mainly “I’m curious” or “I don’t care”, while women stated that they look at the mirrors because they care how they look. Therefore, staring at the mirror is both, a gender stereotype related to physical appearance and a common action promoted by women.
Perception of appearance by men (Q5)
The answers were different by each student and it varied from simple ones about the good-looking, such as “too look prettier” to ones about self-esteem, such as “to feel more comfortable and confident”, and ones about society’s perception “so others wouldn’t judge me”. The last one goes along with the idea by Cantor & Mischel (1978) that some people categorize the beliefs about others by disinformation and wrong assumptions, so the incentive to care about appearance could be that those wrong assumptions wouldn’t influence community to misjudge how boys look.
Perception of appearance by women (Q5)
The answers by women were more complex and various. One of respondents have mentioned that the desire for her to look good is because in media there are lots of celebrities and other role models who pay a significant attention towards their look. The perception of appearance by women was simply to look good to others. This view goes along with the fact that today’s modern world’s technologies and media widely point out the perception of good-looking and can dictate fashion rules for others, thus showing the ethic standards for the society (Crotty et al., 2010).
A few respondents have mentioned a habit as a reason why they care about appearance. From the very young age when they were trying to look more mature and pretty, by spending time in front of the mirror brushing hair and using their mum’s make-up; in other words, they perception about appearance is to look good both to others and themselves.
One of the explanations for maintaining this habit also in the adulthood could be that from the childhood women could have developed their own understanding of human body and their belief of how the society should look like, for example, simply by playing with toys (i.e., barbies) (Podolefsky, n.d.)
One student from Germany mentioned that in her home-country, society pays a significant attention towards appearance, as it can influence many aspects of life – how people look at each other on the streets, and that society becomes more polite towards “more attractive” people. This proposes the assumption that perhaps Western Culture, as claimed by Crose (2002), judges people’s appearance more often and stresses out the significant importance on beauty. This can give incentives for gender stereotypes to arise, as the community starts perceiving the appearance the way how society treats it.
Based on literature, we have created a hypothesis that women care about their appearance more than men do. This hypothesis was tried to be confirmed or denied by experiment created by ourselves and interviews after the experiment. How people care about their appearance was based on whether they clean their shoes and stares at the mirror. Results from the experiment showed that men clean their shoes more often while it is believed that women should do it more often in SSER community. Moreover, the research results show that women stares at the mirror significantly more often which complies with the student belief that women do it more often. However, our experiment and interviews have limitations. First of all, there is no scientific evidence that it is possible to decide about importance of appearance only by looking at mirror or cleaning shoes.
Even though our hypothesis that women care more about their appearance than man do only partly holds, we were also eager to see how different is the perception of appearance by both girls and boys in our SSE Riga community.
The perception by men was mainly that appearance is the way to look prettier for the society; also, appearance can increase individual’s self-esteem, allowing men to be more comfortable with themselves, while others care about their appearance is because it doesn’t create incentives for society to judge the way they look. The last one creates a path for gender stereotypes about appearance to arise in our community, as society can misjudge others by their own assumptions of how the person looks like.
The perception by women was related to the media and its beauty standards, to the habits from the very young age, and the way how the culture they live in judges people by their appearance. Both media and the culture can increase the chances for gender stereotypes to appear in our community, as it can start perceiving appearance the way how society treats it and how it judges people accordingly.