How Unconscious Gender Bias Has Rendered Women Invisible in Daily Life, and What We Can Do About It

Facing the survival dilemmas faced by women at various stages, you may have a question: Why are there so many obvious gender issues that have not been resolved, but may have become worse?

Prejudice is a fairly invisible thing. Jennifer Eberhardt, a professor of psychology at Stanford University in the United States, pointed out in her research on implicit bias: What we choose to notice is determined by the opinions we already have in our minds.

Except for those who are blatantly racial or sexist, most of us ordinary people often do not see an object of discrimination and then consciously impose prejudice on it, but we simply cannot see the object of discrimination and our own prejudices. .

This almost instinctive blindness may be more difficult to overcome because we are not aware or aware of it. So Eberhard concluded: “To become better people, we must fight against our nature.”

This can also explain the gender blind spots that permeate every aspect of our lives to this day. “Misogyny” is not just a personal tendency, but more importantly, it is a culture that makes us invisible to women, let alone prejudice against them. If we cannot see it, then everything we do may be reinforcing the existing order and gender bias, and the dissatisfaction and anger we feel have no name.

Women’s gender dilemma fundamentally lies in the inferior status we are assigned in the patriarchal structure. However, the legitimacy of women’s struggle for power has a prerequisite, that is, others must first see and acknowledge the injustice of this inferior status. .

To see the situation of women is to see the vulnerable position that all of us may fall into at different stages of life due to different identities or conditions. Seeing the situation of women is the beginning of us becoming aware of and correcting our own biases, not limited to gender biases. Truly seeing the plight of women is the beginning of us becoming better humans.

1. Invisible women in daily life

Designs based on men are everywhere in our daily lives. After the efforts of some science popularizers in the past few years, many facts have become relatively well known. For example, there are differences in body temperature between men and women, and indoor air conditioning temperatures are often based on men’s body temperature. The most suitable temperature for women is 25 degrees Celsius, while men prefer 22 degrees Celsius.

But why has room temperature design not considered women for so long? One theory is that there were fewer women than men in the workplace in the past, and the comfort level of air conditioning was set in the 1960s, so the different needs of women as a minority have only been discovered now; another theory is that women among designers There are also fewer people, and male designers instinctively use their own bodies as a test standard.

There are countless similar scenarios, and the impact of this disregard for gender differences can sometimes be a matter of life or death.

Whether in automotive safety engineering, biochemical testing or health research, the standard test subject is often a 70kg male body. For example, recent studies have found that the routine use of male dummies in car crash tests puts female drivers at a greater risk of death in car accidents.

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States in 2019 shows that compared with men, female drivers are 22.1% more likely to suffer head injuries, 44.7% more likely to suffer neck injuries, 22.6% more likely to suffer chest injuries, and 22.6% more likely to suffer abdominal injuries. 38.5% more likely, 58.2% more likely to injure the arm, and 79.7% more likely to injure the leg. Overall, compared to men, women are 17% more likely to die in a car crash and 73% more likely to be seriously injured.

On top of this, there is also a gender difference: men are more likely to cause car accidents than women, so women are inexplicably unlucky when it comes to driving.

Although this phenomenon has been discovered since the 1980s, it has only been recognized as an urgent security issue in recent years. The United States has now used female dummies, but the size design is very confusing. The current two sizes, one is 49 kilograms and the other is 44 kilograms, are only 1.49 meters tall. This size represents the shortest 5-meter dummy in the United States in the 1970s. % female, which is equivalent to a 12-year-old girl today, and it is only used in side impact experiments.

It was not until 2022 that Swedish engineers developed a female dummy that could represent the size of an ordinary woman, with a height of 1.62 meters and a weight of 62 kilograms.

The Swedish team was led by Dr. Astrid Linder, a woman. In addition to size differences, their experiments also took into account more physiological differences, such as women’s weight, muscle strength, body shape and other factors, which all determine how their bodies perform. The reaction of men in the same car accident is different. In other words, simply copying and reducing the size of the male dummy cannot provide accurate data for women at all. For example, in rear-impact car crashes, women are three times more likely than men to suffer cervical spine hyperflexion injuries.

Dr. Linder said that the design of the saddle should pay more attention to the situation of higher-risk groups. This is the correct thinking. Engineers are also currently developing a wider variety of dummies, including those for the elderly, overweight people and infants. But so far, the European Union and the United States have no regulations requiring car manufacturers to use these female dummies.

This kind of thinking that pursues a single standardization is a common patriarchal error – placing all individuals and their differences in a hierarchical sequence relative to a unified “standard”. However, not only does this “standard” value fail to It represents the “majority” that the designers thought it was, but in fact it cannot represent anyone; however, people still mistakenly use this impossible “template” as a standard to transform themselves, examine others, create anxiety for themselves, and create inconvenience for others. .

This kind of thinking makes people blind to differences and refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of differences. Women’s invisibility is an example of this, and this plight of being invisible is almost 100% replicated in all fields.

2. In addition to being invisible, there is also suppression

If we temporarily classify the above examples of invisible women as “unintentional”, then this corresponds to “intentional” examples of invisible women, or examples of suppression of women. However, from the perspective of the suppressor, they often do not admit this inhibitory intention.

Joanna Russ, a feminist science fiction novelist who has won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award, wrote an interesting book in 1983. After several reprints, a Chinese translation has also been released in recent years, called “How to Suppress Women’s Writing” .

In the book, she imitated the usual arguments in literary criticism and wrote a “Guide to Inhibiting Women’s Writing” in an ironic way, thereby exposing the social resistance imposed on female authors that prevents, belittles and ignores women’s writing.

“If you’re going to be sexist and racist, if you want to maintain your class privilege, you just have to act in a manner that’s customary, normal, common, or even polite,” she wrote, listing Rath’s list There are many such routine and invisible ways to suppress women’s creativity:

This includes trapping women in traditional roles in the family, fragmenting her energy and time with tedious tasks such as children, house, yard, school responsibilities, husband’s needs, etc.; including “depriving a woman of her authorship,” that is, not acknowledging a woman’s authorship Identities, such as the belief that she is just a vessel through which some kind of writing energy passes; including “author denigration,” which demeans the work of female authors, including “double standards of content,” such as the belief that women have a narrow perspective compared to the living-room sensibilities of their writing. The content about war and football is more important.

There is also “misclassification”, which removes them from the category of artists and exists only as mothers, wives, daughters or lovers of male artists; and “achievement individuation” and “abnormalization”, the former meaning “this woman” I just wrote this good work, it just happened by chance.” The latter refers to “This woman’s achievements are not typical. She is an anomaly among women, it just happened by chance.”

In various ways, the tradition of misogyny in the literary world is normalized, preserved and consolidated, so that each generation of female creators cannot see the figures of their predecessors or hear their voices, and thus feel lonely and isolated, as if they themselves Alone, there is nothing to learn from.

Russ writes, If women believe that no woman before them has ever been recognized as a “great writer,” then why do we think we can do it now? If there is no hope of success, why should we continue to work hard?

Russ’s discussion of women’s writing can basically be replicated in all industries that bury women’s reputation.

In the field of music, Clara Schumann once wrote in her diary: “I once thought that I had a talent for composition, but now I have given up this idea; a woman must not have the desire to compose – no one has ever been able to do it , why should I expect that I can do this?”

But in fact, the female composers who appeared before her were either forgotten, or their works were attributed to a man. Felix Mendelssohn published six works by her sister Fanny Mendelssohn under her own name.

Same in science. There is a concept called the “Matilda effect”, which refers to the phenomenon of female scientists’ work and achievements being attributed to their male colleagues. This phenomenon was pointed out by abolitionist and suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage in the 19th century. Science historian Margaret W. Rossiter refined it into the “Matilda Effect” in 1993.

Physicist Wu Jianxiong’s experimental results in 1956 directly led to her research partners Li Zhengdao and Yang Zhenning becoming China’s earliest Nobel Prize winners in physics, but her achievements have been hidden.

With the exception of Wu Jianxiong, the Nobel organizing committee has repeatedly excluded female project contributors in the history of the award review, even when nominated by male scientists.

There are also some facts that have gained more publicity in recent years, such as the fact that the earliest programmers of computers were all women, and Ada Lovelace, known as the “Mother of Computers,” foresaw computers in the early 19th century. potential and wrote the first computer program in history. The intertextuality of women’s situations across these different fields is captured by Woolf’s famous (albeit paraphrased) quote: “For most of history, the ‘unknown author’ has been a woman.”

In addition, Carolyn Coriado Pérez compiled and recorded a large number of examples of male-centeredness in her book “Invisible Women”, and effectively discussed how women are regarded and treated as such in such a gender order. further shaped as “non-subjective”.

Everyone can become a “weak”. When you see the situation of women, you see yourself.

3. In a male-oriented world, look outside

In the past six or seven years, we can still see some indirect evidence of increased gender awareness in mainland China.

One example is that women are increasingly sensitive to the subordination of their needs and the occupation of their space. Last year, I saw a netizen’s Weibo post. She found a women’s public restroom with male stations, and couldn’t help but post a photo and lamented, “Why do women’s restrooms even have to consider the needs of men?” This Weibo post received many comments from women. Agree and resonate.

Someone also made the same complaint a few years ago. Public opinion at the time thought it was making a fuss out of a molehill, and many female netizens expressed their understanding, “Maybe a mother wants to take her son to the toilet?”

Leaving aside why it is not the father who takes the boy to the toilet, or why barrier-free or gender-neutral toilets are used for times like this, this comment shows that people have a very strong tendency to maintain the status quo. But again: speaking out works. After years of tireless efforts by feminists, the stone wall we face is beginning to crack and loosen in some corners.

In reality, some outdated male subject standards are finally beginning to face more scrutiny. The invisibility of women affects everyone, and to truly see women is to see the beginning of all exploitation, harm, and oppression.

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum writes in The Fortress of Pride: “Pride turns the eyes inward. Equal respect requires that we look at each other and recognize the reality of each other’s equality… We might be able to Say, the law itself is arrogant. Men look inward to other men rather than to the experience of women…and the law looks inward with them.”

The original context of this quote is sexual assault experienced by women in the workplace, but it also applies to other gender phenomena.

When men are the main body of the world, it is easy to see each other, but seeing women requires a “deliberate” outward appearance. Most of the time, we have no reason or motivation to look outside. Instead, we tend to design how to meet the needs in life based on the internal world we see.

This is the fundamental difference between the subject and the person:

The subject is not necessarily malicious towards the other person, but simply cannot see you and does not need to make design modifications to his world for the other person. If the person wants to get justice, he must make extra efforts to let the subject see his own needs and how the subject’s world does not match his own needs, and most importantly, even though he is the deprived and marginalized party, he must still You have to prove to yourself the legitimacy of your needs.

4. Where is the legal gaze directed?

Laws that are generally thought of as neutral may also be the result of an “inward-looking” perspective. The recently popular movie “Article 20”, which was released during the Spring Festival, tells the story of how from legal practitioners to the public, they open their perspectives and focus on some people who have been ignored before.

“Article 20” refers to Article 20 of the Criminal Law, the legal provisions on legitimate defense. The film is based on several real social events and opens up the controversial discussion on “justifiable defense” in recent years. The legitimate defense system in Article 20 of the Criminal Law has always existed, but it has long been called the “sleeping clause” for complex reasons.

According to Ji Bingxue, director of the Office of the First Procuratorate of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, “In addition to the comparative principles stipulated in the law itself, the factual evidence in cases involving self-defense is often more complicated, and some cases lack evidence, which leads to problems in making determinations in practice. Some major controversies. Influenced by traditional judicial concepts, judicial officers dare not apply them. In addition, the understanding that “the dead are the most important”, “whoever makes trouble is justified” and “whoever is killed or injured is justified”, objectively also The application of the legitimate defense system has had an impact.” The Kunshan anti-murder case in 2018 awakened this “sleeping clause” and also affected the judgment of a series of subsequent legitimate defense cases.

In addition to this case, “Article 20” also refers to the following real cases: Yu Huan’s mother-humiliation murder case, Yu Huan was sentenced to life imprisonment for intentional injury, and was later commuted to five years’ imprisonment; Fuzhou Zhao Yu case and the Laiyuan anti-murder case.

The subjects in these cases are all male, and the cases are all physical conflicts that occurred at the scene. This means that the rulings and precedents based on these incidents, although generally recognized as a manifestation of the progress of the legal system, cannot be applied to the violent situations that many women often face.

Take the social phenomenon of women who have endured domestic violence for a long time and kill their husbands as an example. Women who have been subjected to domestic violence cannot physically compete with their perpetrators at the scene of violence. Therefore, many victims can only kill their husbands after the conflict occurs when the perpetrators relax their vigilance. Counterattack when the opponent is drunk or asleep.

And many counterattacks require premeditation and planning (such as preparing shoelaces to strangle the opponent in advance), or avoiding physical confrontation as much as possible (so using poison). In the end, these counterattacks are often aimed at killing the other person, otherwise the domestic violence victim will face the retaliation she fears.

However, many such counterattacks do not fall within the scope of the Article 20 defense. Even today when the legitimate defense system is activated, whether the defense is justified is still determined by the following key factors: 1. Whether others are committing illegal infringement; 2. The purpose of defense is to stop the ongoing unlawful infringement; 3. The legitimate defense cannot obviously exceed Necessary limits.

In other words, many cases of killing domestically violent husbands when they relax their vigilance, that is, counter-killing behaviors that are not in the process of domestic violence, do not meet the defense time conditions 1 and 2 – the illegal violation is being carried out; killing the perpetrator is also It may be regarded as not complying with Article 3, but as “exceeding the necessary limit”.

In reality, when victims of domestic violence fight back and resist, the result is as follows:

According to a set of data published by People’s Daily in 2004, among the 105 female murderers in Jiangxi Women’s Prison, 43 were imprisoned for killing their husbands, accounting for 41% of the total.

According to the search results of “Southern Metropolis Daily” in 2022 and “domestic violence + legitimate defense” on the China Judgment Documents Network, from 2014 to 2021, there was only one case in which the defendant was sentenced to minor injuries to the perpetrator because he prevented domestic violence. It was determined to be self-defense, and the defendants in other cases were sentenced for intentional injury or excessive self-defense.

A 2023 study showed that among 323 samples of battered women killing their husbands, 14 cases were found to be excessive defense, and only one case was found to be legitimate defense and did not exceed the necessary limit.

In addition, the “Opinions on Handling Domestic Violence Crime Cases in accordance with the Law” (2015) (hereinafter referred to as the “Domestic Violence Opinions”) jointly issued by the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Ministry of Justice stipulates that after long-term domestic violence, In a state of anger or fear, in order to prevent further domestic violence, or to escape from domestic violence, the defendant intentionally kills or injures the perpetrator. If the defendant’s behavior has defensive factors, and the perpetrator has obvious fault or direct responsibility for the cause of the case, he may be punished as appropriate. Lenient penalties.

However, the practical situation of this regulation is that among the 74 cases of counter-killing during non-domestic violence studied above, only 2 cases were treated with leniency due to defensive factors, accounting for 2.7%.

Ji Bingxue, director of the Office of the First Procuratorate of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, said in a related interview after the screening of “Article 20”: In judicial practice, the phrase “the law cannot bow to the law” means that a right cannot be infringed upon. behavior yields. The relationship between defensive behavior and illegal infringement is the relationship between law and illegality. If the defender is illegally infringed, the infringement is illegal, and the defensive behavior is legitimate.

But it seems that when the eyes of the law have not fully seen women, the justice of the above-mentioned judicial practice will hardly benefit everyone. Both the protagonists of the movie and the judiciary emphasize that the formulation of laws cannot harm the simple concept of justice and fairness in the hearts of ordinary people. However, many women are once again excluded from the implementation standard of “fairness and fairness”, a seemingly universal value.

Even if Article 20 is activated to better protect the public against evil, in fact, the “people” here are not everyone, at least certainly not a woman, let alone a recipient of gender violence.

Regarding gender-based violence, the legal gaze is indeed slowly turning away from male subjects and towards more women’s experiences. Whether a battered woman killing her husband constitutes self-defense is actually a long-standing topic in the judicial circles.

In a recent jurisprudence paper, authors from the School of Criminal Justice of Shanghai University of Political Science and Law criticize the limitations of the current “defense time conditions” that constitute legitimate defense from the perspective of battered women.

The authors explain, “People have a lot of confusion about the punishment of battered women…Based on this, the criminal law community has also proposed trying to find reasons for crimes for battered women.” The authors believe that “justifiable defense is the most common reason for crimes. Appropriate. In the face of doubts about whether the legitimate defense time is timely, the defense time limit should be appropriately revised, a comprehensive evaluation should be conducted, and the defense time conditions should be reasonably determined from the perspective of the defender. In order to provide a reasonable path for abused women to get out of crime and realize this type of Justice in the case.”

In judicial practice, the sentencing and public opinion of battered women who kill their husbands are also undergoing subtle changes. In the 2010 case of killing her husband, Li Yan was sentenced to death for intentional homicide in 2011. After petitions from many parties, the verdict was overturned by the Supreme Court of China in 2015. After the second trial, the Sichuan Provincial Court sentenced Li Yan to death and suspended it for two years. implement.

Granted, these changes fall far short of gender justice. But I believe that when we can see more and more women, the law will reflect this “seeing”.

As Luo Xiang said, “The law is not that profound. It just reflects the common sense of ordinary people.” So the question is whether we can treat women who suffer gender violence as “ordinary people” like ourselves, and whether we can really to see and sympathize with her situation.

If a man can do this, instead of feeling that women’s situation has nothing to do with him, or automatically taking sides based on gender identity, then we will have the opportunity to shape truly just laws together.

5. Everyone can be a weakling

We know many examples of women being invisible, so who are women being ignored and silenced? Perhaps the most convenient answer is “men.” But most individual men are just carriers of gender culture and biased values. They may be practitioners and maintainers, but they are not inventors and deciders.

These deep-rooted and widespread “invisibility” are the product of an overall patriarchal structure, and this structure has strong internal motivation to maintain its own operation and expand outward as much as possible.

Men and women are placed in different positions on this premise, and are given different roles and rewards and punishments to maintain the status quo of gender relations. However, men seem to be placed in the center, so they do not need to look outside themselves. Men who are placed in the center do not look outside themselves and do not think they are superior. Instead, they feel burdened and hard.

It sounds incredible that half of the world’s population has been rendered anonymous and voiceless. But in fact, under a patriarchal structure, not only women, but most people are in this situation, but the specific scenarios of exploitation and suppression that people endure are different, the forms are different, and people understand and interpret it differently – — Just like the invisibility women endured, it was normalized for a long time and not interpreted as oppression.

Men have always been oppressed, but not by women. Their real oppressors are the same ones women face. For example, the lower-class men in rural areas are at the bottom of the current marriage and love market, and this growing group of “low-class bachelors” is regarded as a hidden danger to social stability. Therefore, the discourse of “leftover women” came into being in order to solve the problems of these men. Marriage and childbearing needs.

But in fact, this seeming tilt of support is not out of understanding and respect for these men, but out of the need for social control. In other words, these actions are not done because of actually seeing these men, but to continue not to see them and let them continue to run around obediently for their lives at the bottom – they are all married to wives, shouldn’t they live like this? ?

If one actually sees these men, it is obvious that the ideal solution is not to force wives into their families or to herd them into small nuclear families that consume all their energy.

If it is truly seen, then these lower-class men should have the right and dignity to develop themselves. They should be able to decide for themselves what kind of life they want. They should learn feminism and free themselves from the cage of patriarchy to truly liberate themselves. ——But this is impossible. The oppression they endure is unexplainable and despairing, as we read from the poems of the late Foxconn worker Xu Lizhi and the “takeaway poet” Wang Jibing.

The collusion of patriarchal culture, capitalism, and neoliberalism has divided elites and the masses, and further divided men and women. As analyzed by Chizuru Ueno in the book “Women’s War for Survival”, while neoliberal reform may cause the collapse of interest groups, it also inserts wedges into vulnerable groups without vested interests, destroying their unity.

Therefore, the so-called “gender antagonism” is often created to cover up crises in “class” and other dimensions – but unlike the understanding of many netizens, the creators of “gender antagonism” are not women.

According to Chizuru Ueno’s analysis based on the Japanese context, after the 21st century, under the influence of neoliberalism, the gap within men has widened, and at the same time, the phenomenon of “attacks on women” has become more intense. This is a conservative countercurrent.

When a relatively elite few women get more opportunities than before, they are immediately regarded as the “new rich” who have benefited. Women as a whole become the object of resentment among some male groups, because the situation of a small number of women has improved and they are considered “younger”. at the expense of men.”

However, women are just a convenient target, seemingly benefiting from economic reforms, but in fact they are still weak, and the situation of non-elite women is becoming increasingly difficult.

However, in the tradition of “invisible” women, once a few women begin to be seen, feminism is immediately regarded as a threat and targeted by men who have lost power and frustration, and is regarded as the source of their own crisis, resulting in “repression transfer”: When a weak person faces a powerful opponent that cannot be defeated, he or she will feel “resentment”. When suppressed by the absolute power gap and unable to express it, he or she will vent his anger on the weaker person.

So we will see that the intensification of attacks on women always coincides with some seemingly progressive signs of women’s rights. Because under the deformed patriarchal gender culture brainwashing, many men believe that gender interests are a zero-sum game in which you advance and I retreat, and their attacks are often accompanied by gender discrimination, nationalism, xenophobia, and war-advocating remarks. .

Under the influence of truly powerful enemies, those abandoned by society, many of whom are men, “stand on the side of the most conservative moral majority and sneer at the justice of minority groups” and form alliances with the Internet right-wing and conservatives. became an alliance. They cannot see that their interests are consistent with those of ordinary women, but they are advancing and retreating with a very small number of “real social winners.”

When resources are concentrated in the main group, changes to the status quo and redistribution of resources seem to be losses to the main group, but this is not the case.

For example, barrier-free facilities in public places benefit not only people with disabilities, but also the elderly, the sick and injured, pregnant women, or parents with babies among “able-bodied people.” That is, all of us ordinary people may have barrier-free facilities in our lives. identity of.

Different strong and weak relationships exist in different structures. In the gender structure, the identity of women and sexual minorities is weak. However, identity is inherently multi-faceted, multi-layered and fluid. In different structures, all of us may become weak.

If we can see the situation of women and pay attention to women’s gender difficulties, we can naturally find solutions to the difficulties of other groups of people. Currently, however, possible resistance is fragmented along gender lines, preventing us from facing together the real enemies mentioned above.


The conclusion is already obvious: the dilemma of gender is fundamentally the trap of patriarchy, and all genders are trapped in it.

Everyone can be a weakling, and when we see women, we see ourselves.

However, there is nothing inherently wrong with being weak, nor does it necessarily require change. What needs to change is the way a culture and order views and treats the “weak”. To quote Chizuru Ueno, “Feminism is by no means an idea of ​​the weak trying to become strong. Feminism is an idea of ​​pursuing respect that even the weak can receive.”

No matter what gender we are, no matter how “strong” or “weak” we are, our fundamental pursuits include the same thing: living with dignity.

Taking the opportunity of Women’s Day, I would like to share it with you today. No matter when you read this, I wish you a happy Women’s Day.

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