To study the power of lived experiences and conscious attitudes in helping individuals to overcome nonconscious gender schemas, U.S. university students (n = 152) were administered a classic riddle requiring the gender schema-inconsistent realization that a surgeon could be a woman. Fewer than a third of participants (30%) responded that the surgeon in the riddle could be a woman. More participants (36%) responded to the riddle by noting that the surgeon could be a second father in a same-sex marriage. Regression analysis tested whether demographic, experiential, and attitudinal variables predicted the realization that the surgeon in the riddle could be a woman. Having an employed mother or female physicians, identifying as a feminist or a political liberal, and reporting low levels of sexism did not predict the realization that the surgeon in the riddle could be a woman. Only identifying as female predicted a greater likelihood of this response. In the present study, the historically newer role of father in a same-sex marriage was more accessible to research participants than the gender schema-inconsistent role of mother as surgeon. We conclude that the gender schema that impeded the realization that a surgeon could also be a mother lies so deep that it is largely unaffected by personal attitudes and experiences.
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The authors of the present study would like to thank Amanda Tarullo, Karen Gareis, and Lauren O’Brien for critical assistance with this research, and the Bobo-Hart family for stimulating the initial interest in this topic.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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Belle, D., Tartarilla, A.B., Wapman, M. et al. “I Can’t Operate, that Boy Is my Son!”: Gender Schemas and a Classic Riddle. Sex Roles 85, 161–171 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01211-4
- Gender schemas
- Implicit association
- Social role theory
- Role schemas
- Gender roles