IB TOK: To what extent are generalisations about men and women justified?

A shampoo advert viewed over eight and a half million times has provoked debate about workplace stereotypes. It represents the language used to describe men and women doing exactly the same work; the man giving a speech is ‘persuasive’, but the woman doing the same is ‘pushy’. Working late, the man late is described as ‘dedicated’ whereas the woman is ‘selfish’. Paying attention to their physical appearance in front of a mirror, the man is ‘neat’ and strides across the road looking ‘smooth’ whereas the woman is ‘vain’ and strides out like a ‘show-off’.

By seeking to get its punch line across (‘don’t let labels hold you back’) does the advert actually perpetuate negative gender stereotypes? The advert seeks to sell shampoo and the depiction of beautiful and slim men and women comes as no surprise. What might be more interesting is to explore the facts and evidence regarding gender in the workplace.¬†You could investigate this real life example further and explore what is a justified representation of gender roles in the work place. A knowledge question arising might be something along the lines of ‘How might different areas of knowledge enable us to gain reliable knowledge of gender and equality?’ or ‘To what extent do language and reason enable us to make generalisations that are justified?’


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