What Is Gender Blindness?

Gender blindness is an ideology where a person chooses not to see differences between genders. Gender blindness can be harmful. It can further gender inequalities because it ignores historical differences between people of different genders. 

The reality is people are treated differently in public, relationships, health care, and throughout their daily lives because of their gender. These are factors we cannot ignore as we try to treat all individuals with respect on the road to gender equality. Due to sexism and transphobia, cisgender women and all transgender individuals are oppressed and are victimized through unconscious biases and stereotypes about them. Refusing to acknowledge how people can be oppressed or privileged because of their gender identities and if they are transgender or cisgender runs the risk of ignoring and not appropriately addressing the hardships of gender minorities and the systems of oppression that privilege cisgender men.

Gender awareness is the opposite of gender blindness. To be gender aware means to be in tune with the differences, expectations, and needs of people of different genders.

gender equality

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Cons of Gender Blindness

Instead of encouraging equality, gender blindness ignores the struggle that gender minorities have had to endure. It’s imperative to address these problems in order to move forward. By ignoring them, gender blindness is incredibly harmful to the future of equality. 

Gender blindness is a similar to when people say they are colorblind, meaning they don't see race. Some people may use it to hide their racism while others adopt the ideology in order to avoid taking responsibility for their racial privilege—either way, society is riddled with systematic racism and it can not be ignored or washed away. Stating that you are gender-blind holds a similar weight. Transgender people (people whose genders are different from the gender they were assigned at birth), women, and non-binary individuals are oppressed every day. By saying we don't see societies disenfranchisement of these communities, we are saying that we don't see the ways in how gender affect how people are treated and the kind of experiences that they have as a result.

Real change cannot occur, as a result. By minimizing or ignoring societal issues between genders, gender blindness is seen as a deterrent to future improvements. Gender blindness has the potential to help when practiced correctly, however.

Pros of Gender Blindness

Another way to look at gender blindness is to see it as a way to combat transphobia as well as sexism. Gender is not inherently tied to the sex that one is assigned at birth (yes, sex is a spectrum as well), and genders apart from man and woman exist. People can identify as man or woman, a combination of both, or neither. Transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people are some examples of individuals who break stereotypes of what gender is. Gender minorities can also practice gender blindness to prevent gender roles and stereotypes about them from affecting their performance.

Professors from Stanford and Columbia looking at the importance of gender differences found that cisgender women who practice gender blindness feel more confident than women who practice gender awareness. In the study, women found that they were comfortable taking risks in male-dominated workplaces when they downplayed gender overall. The professors claimed that gender blindness doesn’t have to ignore the history of women but deemphasizes them instead, and that gender blindness should focus on similarities rather than differences.

The conclusions of this survey, however, barely apply to women of color, transgender women, and transgender women of color. The survey results also insinuate that it is very possible for women to downplay gender; this might be true for white cisgender women, but the relationships that transgender and cisgender women of color have with gender are exponentially more complicated because of their racial and transgender identities.

According to the study, if you ungender traits like assertiveness, confidence, risk-taking, and competitiveness, women are more willing to take on these traits as well. The study authors emphasized that gender oppression should not be downplayed or ignored. Instead, gender blindness can be used in the workplace to encourage women to embrace confidence and independence. By ungendering these traits, women gain the confidence to reclaim them.

How to Implement Gender Blindness

Sexism is deeply rooted in society, and has a lot of work to unpack and uproot stereotypes both professionally and personally. People who don't fit into the heteronormative cisgender framework face discrimination at work, on the street, in relationships, and in everyday life. Heteronormativity is overarching dogma and belief system that presumes heterosexuality is the default, correct, and normal sexuality. It supports the gender binary.

Relationships

Using the term "gender blind" when discussing attraction can be harmful because it ignores the impact that being a transgender or cisgender woman or being another, binary or non-binary, gender has on a person's life. It also downplays the importance that a gender identity can have in a partner's life. While it can look inclusive because it creates a space for transgender and nonbinary people, it is more likely to actually be disrespectful and harmful.

One study looked at gender blindness in couples where one person transitioned later in the relationship and found that the couples deeply cared for one another's personhood rather than their gender. These couples felt that their commitment and love extended beyond the gender binary.

Pansexual

Pansexual people are attracted to all genders. Some pansexual people adopt the term "gender-blind." This form of gender blindness is defined like this: pansexual people can be attracted to cisgender men and cisgender women, but they are also attracted to people who are intersex, trans, and nonbinary. This definition is transphobic. 

Everyone of every sexuality can be attracted to people in all those groups. When gender blindness is presented as a core part of pansexuality, the individual is saying that it is not "normal" for people to be attracted to sex and gender minorities. It also insinuates that pansexuals are somehow better people for being willing to date intersex, binary trans, and nonbinary trans people.

The Arts

Gender blindness in casting, particularly in theater, is the idea that any actor can be cast in any role, regardless of gender. Some troupes when performing Shakespearean plays may have actresses playing the role of a character that has been historically played by actors, and vice versa.

The Workplace

Gender bias is often revealed in job applications. Male applicants receive more interviews than female applicants, and female applicants were offered a lower salary than male applicants although they were equally qualified in one study.

Gender blindness seeks to address the confidence gap, which is related to salary, self-confidence, and overall performance. Whether you adopt gender blind ideologies or not, it's imperative that workplaces encourage diversity, no matter what gender someone is.

Some steps people can take to address this issue include:

  • Educating others on what gender bias is and how it's an issue can bring to light possible changes. Make sure employees and those in leadership know the definition of what gender bias is and how it can harm people within the workplace. Employers can also leave gender off job application forms and screen applications without looking at gendered markers like names, or purposefully seek out qualified women, trans men, and non-binary individuals to hire
  • xplain the gender pay gap and how minorities are paid less although they complete the same amount of work. It's imperative that people learn to understand what this means for women and other gender minorities in the workforce. Employers can host trainings teaching their gender minoritized employees how to advocate for themselves concerning raises, promotions, etc.
  • Encourage awareness within the office. If someone sees gender inequality occurring, it needs to be addressed immediately. If harm occurs, it's best to separately discuss the issue with the employees involved in order to protect the wellbeing of the gender minority while also educating the privileged employee
  • Create an environment where all employees feel supported and free to discuss any issues or concerns they have with leadership. Being cognizant of hierarchy and power imbalances in the workplace, it is also important that employers easily make available people other than leadership from whom employees can seek help if they were discriminated against. For example, employers can have anti-racist, trans friendly, and pro-women individuals as members of their human resources team

A Word From Verywell

No matter how progressive we think we are as a society, as a business, or as an individual, ingrained biases and stereotypes influence our decisions every day. These biases contribute to the foundation of patriarchal standards that have been present in our society since the beginning of time. To uproot these systematic prejudices, people have to put in the work for a better future. Changes toward gender equity within our general society will positively impact all genders.

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Article Sources
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  1. Harvard Business Review. Women benefit when they downplay gender. Published July 1, 2018.

  2. University of Northern Colorado. "Love is Gender Blind": The Lived Experiences of Transgender Couples Who Navigate One Partner's Gender Transition. Published January 11, 2018.

  3. Moss-Racusin CA, Dovidio JF, Brescoll VL, Graham MJ, Handelsman J. Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. PNAS. 2012;109(41):16474-16479. doi:10.1073/pnas.1211286109