What is gender bias?
Gender bias, gender and sex
Gender bias is the term used to describe assumptions and prejudices on the basis of gender and sex. With sex we refer to biological characteristics such as height, weight, and physiology. With gender we mean sociocultural attitudes and behaviours, that shape women’s and men’s behaviour, products, technologies, environments and knowledge. Attitudes and behaviours towards gender are learned, and can transform over time or with culture (Schiebinger, Klinge, Sánchez de Madariaga, Paik, Schraudner, & Stefanick, 2011-2018).
For further information on gender, sex and related terms, the Gendered Innovations website of Stanford University provides a detailed overview.
The Reign of the Reference Man
Reference man is a model person first introduced in 1975 and was originally developed for calculations in radiation exposure (Makhaijani, 2008). However, reference men continued to be used as a standard in many other fields too, including design. This reference man, that is meant to represent humanity, is a Caucasian man, between 25-30 years of age who ways roughly 70 kg and is 170 cm in height (Perez, 2019). Since men and women are different when it comes to their muscles, bones, centre of gravity, reaction to medicine, health risks, size of organs and limbs, symptoms of diseases and disorders (Perez, 2019; Schiebinger at all, 2011-2018) this reference model is not sufficient to represent the majority of women. However, reference man is not always a good representation of men either.
There are often multiple body dimensions that are relevant to the design of a product, which complicates the design process. It is very rare that a person has multiple body dimensions that match with the average of a population. Although there may be people with the average height, for example, there is no one that has the average foot size, lower leg size, upper leg size, torso size, and weight, for example, combined (DINED, 2020). In complicated products, with many relevant body dimensions, the “reference man” model becomes unreliable. Designing for a range of dimensions is therefore often the better option.