Published on: 08 Sep 2023
Gender blindness, a term that might be unfamiliar and is often misunderstood, has multiple meanings and significant implications — both for society and in interpersonal relationships.
The concept can refer to the disregard or ignorance of gender being a factor in decision-making behind policies or practices. For example, we see this in “gender-blind hiring” processes, where in an effort to reduce gender bias, gender isn’t considered as applications and resumes are being reviewed. The practice sounds excellent on paper, but as we’ll discuss here, the outcome isn’t always as beneficial as expected.
Gender blindness can also be a term used when discussing sexuality. Someone who’s gender blind might not view gender as a factor in attraction. They might identify as either bisexual (attracted to multiple genders) or pansexual (attracted to all genders).
A common misconception is that gender blindness implies an absence of gender. Rather, it signifies a failure to consider the influence and importance of gender. It’s crucial to understand what gender blindness truly means to avoid the pitfalls of the practice. A genuine understanding can pave the way toward more inclusive societies where equality thrives beyond traditional gender roles and gender stereotypes.
Keep reading to explore the concept of gender blindness.
Understanding Gender Blindness
The term gender blindness refers to ignoring or overlooking the significance of gender as a factor in life. It’s not a denial of gender itself. Regardless of intent, we must be aware of gender blindness. It can be incredibly harmful and actually work to further gender inequality since it blatantly overlooks the differences between different gender identities.
Research suggests gender blindness can sabotage a social-ecological system’s resilience by fostering attitudes that encourage the ignoring of ongoing issues related to gender, like unconscious bias and gender discrimination. It can also considerably downplay the need to embrace gender diversity.
The roots of gender blindness
In many cultures, positions traditionally associated with masculine names have created male-dominated environments. The result is a culture that disregards individuality, with perceived notions about masculinity and femininity becoming commonplace, leading to gender-blind behavior.
The perspective ignores ongoing issues related to biases against those who don’t fit neatly into preconceived categories. Further, it promotes discriminatory actions that can negatively impact gender equity.
Stereotypes contributing to gender blindness
A key contributor to gender blindness is the stereotypical role that revolves around deeply entrenched beliefs about “appropriate” behaviors for men versus women — from occupational choices to personal interests to hobbies and more.
Culturally ingrained differences also play a role. They might encourage biased thinking that exacerbates situations. Mainstream expectations can result in some people conforming to societal norms rather than expressing themselves freely and without fear.
Gender Blindness vs. Gender Neutrality
The discourse around gender often includes the terms gender blindness and gender neutrality. Though these terms seem similar on the surface, they have unique meanings.
Gender blindness is a perspective that disregards sex or identified gender. For some, the approach has good intentions, aiming to promote equality by treating everyone uniformly regardless of gender.
Some argue the mindset can be beneficial — like an effort to thwart traditional masculinity that’s attached to roles and leads to bias. For instance, male-dominated environments, like tech companies, might benefit from adopting gender-blind practices during hiring processes.
That said, critics of gender blindness note that completely overlooking differences between sexes and genders can perpetuate harmful stereotypes and biases, not address them directly.
The expression “gender-neutral” considers existing different genders while striving to not assign roles based on sex or identified gender.
The ideology promotes acceptance without enforcing norms primarily rooted in binary thinking. Gender neutrality can permit and encourage embracing differences among nonbinary people and cisgender and transgender identities.
A simple example is children’s toys — instead of labeling for boys or for girls, manufacturers who adopt a gender-neutral strategy can produce and promote products as suitable for all children, irrespective of perceived gender. Another example is not assigning bathrooms to “Men” or “Women.”
Differentiating between gender blindness and gender neutrality
Both approaches promote equity by recognizing unique needs rather than using uniform treatment. However, an altogether “blind” approach can unintentionally perpetuate systemic inequalities by ignoring inherent societal disparities between sexes and genders.
Achieving equal opportunities requires taking active measures instead of ignoring individual characteristics that are tied to identity.
The Impacts of Gender Blindness
Gender blindness has both positive and negative aspects. While on the one hand, it can promote equality by not considering someone’s identified sex, ignoring gender differences often overlooks or blatantly ignores ongoing gender-related issues.
The positive sides
When applied appropriately within context, a gender-blind approach can have some positive effects, including:
- Starting to dismantle stereotypes associated with specific genders, for example, the proven gender bias in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
- Helping society judge people based on aptitudes instead of preconceived notions.
- Expanding opportunity for all.
- Improving workplace confidence, especially for women.
- Eliminating sexual and domestic violence laws written under the assumption that only women can be victimized.
The methodology also opens the door to recognizing that titles driven by masculine names — such as “fireman” or “mailman” — can make some roles less accessible for those identifying as cisgender or transgender.
The negative effects
Despite potential benefits, significant drawbacks can be tied to taking an utterly blind approach toward gender. Some major concerns include:
- Being blind to all gender-related issues might result in ignoring or missing discrimination.
- Potential for overcorrecting that results in (perceived or actual) special treatment.
“While gender blindness can have a positive impact, some disadvantages to this approach exist. It significantly downplays the struggles and discriminations that have occurred for various genders historically and currently. It negates the need for reasonable accommodations as egregious. For instance, the need for parental leave can differ based on gender. However, it does not take into account a single parent of any gender.”
Why We Should Promote Gender Neutrality
The concept of gender neutrality embraces a broad spectrum, including nonbinary and transgender identities. It encourages an environment where people are treated equally, regardless of gender identity.
Achieving true gender neutrality demands that we recognize and address culturally ingrained gender differences to foster a more equitable atmosphere and create opportunities where everyone can flourish.
Promoting equality through gender neutrality
Gender neutrality is fundamentally about promoting equality. It aims to eliminate biases based on traditional masculinity or other stereotypical indicators we associate with sex or a perceived role in society.
The practice discourages discrimination against cisgender women in male-dominated environments. It also supports those who identify outside the conventional male-female dichotomy by focusing on individual capabilities rather than the preconceived notions tied to biological sex or identity.
Fostering inclusivity with a gender-neutral approach
Incorporating a gender-neutral approach can foster inclusivity by acknowledging diverse identities while ensuring fair treatment. Instead of ignoring the differences under the guise of being “gender blind,” the method celebrates diversity and promotes social acceptance.
In short, moving away from stereotypes linked with specific genders opens opportunities, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression.
“Gender neutrality helps in promoting equality by removing gender-specific descriptions for roles that were traditionally gender specific. For instance, more families are deciding that a father stays home with their children rather than the mother. So reframing the term stay-at-home-mother to stay-at-home-parent promotes the acceptance that any gender parent can fulfill that role.”
Support for the Negative Impacts of Gender Blindness
Gender blindness is a societal construct that overlooks the influence of gender in our lives. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that provides mental health support for anyone who is struggling with gender bias, exploring sexual identity, or has any other needs. Talkspace offers an inclusive environment where it’s possible to express concerns freely about any form of discrimination — including those resulting from misguided attempts at being “blind” towards gender differences.
Talkspace therapists are trained to understand the identity-based struggles and challenges marginalized communities often face, with an emphasis on LGBTQIA+ therapy that makes adequate mental health care accessible and affordable for all individuals. A Talkspace therapist can be instrumental in countering harmful effects that result from gender blindness.
By fostering gender awareness and sensitivity, Talkspace can be a crucial resource, effectively mitigating the negative implications that stem from (often unintentional, yet still damaging) consequences of adopting overly simplistic gender-blind perspectives.
- Aregu L, Darnhofer I, Tegegne A, Hoekstra D, Wurzinger M. The impact of gender-blindness on social-ecological resilience: The case of a communal pasture in the highlands of Ethiopia. Ambio. 2016;45(S3):287-296. doi:10.1007/s13280-016-0846-x. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5120030/. Accessed July 22, 2023.
- Moss-Racusin CA, Dovidio JF, Brescoll VL, Graham MJ, Handelsman J. Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2012;109(41):16474-16479. doi:10.1073/pnas.1211286109. https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.1211286109. Accessed July 22, 2023.
- Martin AE, Phillips KW. What “blindness” to gender differences helps women see and do: Implications for confidence, agency, and action in male-dominated environments. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 2017;142:28-44. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2017.07.004. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318863273_What_blindness_to_gender_differences_helps_women_see_and_do_Implications_for_confidence_agency_and_action_in_male-dominated_environments. Accessed July 22, 2023.
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