I often have discussions with young adult clients about gender and identity as they navigate who they are and who they want to be. More and more often people are opting not to conform to older cultural expectations of gender. More and more we see a fluidity across genders, those identifying as the opposite gender to their sex at birth and as androgynous. From a science point of view this makes complete sense to me. I have the personal opinion that once we know someone well, we know beyond any gender stereotype and unless someone happens to be particularly masculine or feminine, gender is not something I often think of or refer to in my mental map.
However I still refer to traditional gender expectations when making assumptions or gathering information at a first meeting. And the interesting thing is that with taking this modern non judgemental viewpoint I still think this is ok…. stick with me here, I know stereotypes are often seen as bad!
A schema is describes a pattern of thought or behavior that organizes categories of information and the relationships among them. It can also be described as a mental structure of preconceived ideas, a framework representing some aspect of the world, or a system of organizing and perceiving new information. For example when we think of visiting the supermarket, we already have a preconceived ideas of what that entails, from picking up a basket to going through the checkout. We know that the trip may not go exactly as expected because, you know, life, but we still have this basis to work from.
A schema means we make assumptions on gender, this is ok, it’s how we are programmed and often makes life easier and occassionally safer. As long as these schemas are not fixed stereotypes and we change with new information offered we are unlikely to cause harm.
I don’t believe it is possible to stop ourselves making assumptions or have schemas about situations, it is possible however to challenge them, to alter and refine them and be accepting of what we are presented with.
As someone walks up to you, you have an expectation, that’s fine, but be willing to change it!