Zombie ideas in understanding gender, vol. 1


Gender conceptions that disrupt our best efforts to effect change are slow to move and unbelievably persistent. Yes, you might have guessed it – they are like zombies.

They just won’t stay dead.

It seems impossible to kill all of them, at least when you are alone. Sometimes you have to go around them. You survive but somebody else has to face them.

Zombie ideas[1] can be risen from an apparently shallow grave when ideals and lived circumstances are confused with one another. I’ve come across workplace situations where the belief that women and men should be equal (or that gender neutrality really can exist) means that they are. If any inequalities are noticed, they are purely coincidental or anomalies in an otherwise fair system. This has led to some eye bulging moments, such as when reading the Strategic Programme of the current Finnish Government where it is claimed that women and men are equal, in the English version: “Finland is also a land of gender equality”. These past few years we have seen political decision-making, as gender blind as it seems to be, tearing down some of the requirements for making this statement true now or in the near future such as making it harder for young people to get a permanent job (women are more commonly in temporary positions than men) and restricting the possibilities of day care for children.

Another zombie idea is that there is a natural order of things that pertains both to (work) organizations and to gender. These orders cannot be touched or chaos will prevail. This kind of thinking makes it especially hard to grasp and try to affect structural problems.

Here I’ve listed only some of the persistent beliefs around gender. What kinds of zombies have you encountered?

Minna Leinonen


[1] Zombie ideas are a metaphor that has been used for example by economists Paul Krugman, John Quiggin in his book Zombie Economics (2010) and ecologist Jeremy Fox .

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