Why Taking Gender Out of the Equation Is So Difficult

It turns out a rock can tell us a lot about gender. In a recent study, Ashley Martin, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, recruited more than 200 participants and gave each a rock. One group was asked to decorate its rocks as creatively as possible; the other was asked to anthropomorphize them with “uniquely human qualities.” (The participants were told that the rocks that received the highest ratings from a pair of judges would win $100.)

People in both groups were more likely to ascribe gender to their rocks than other social categories such as race, age, or sexual orientation. Yet those who anthropomorphized their rocks were more likely to see their creation as “humanlike” — and the only characteristic that predicted how human a rock appeared was gender.

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