Promoting Gender Justice: A Look at Research on Race and Gender

By looking at recent studies of gender stereotypes across racial groups, this literature review highlights barriers to progress and ways to move towards gender equity.

Reviewed by Becky Mer


Organizations, companies, and public sector institutions are increasingly concerned with gender equity. From national and municipal gender budgeting to corporate gender equality tracking, these and other worldwide efforts are trying to answer a central question: How can we treat people of all genders fairly and provide equitable opportunities and outcomes for everyone? This vision, known as ‘gender justice,’ is the focus of a 2019 report by Janay Cody, Rachel D. Godsil, and Alexis McGill Johnson in association with Perception Institute. Written for anyone who is working towards gender justice, this report provides an in-depth review of recent gender research by academic scholars. 

The authors look at the challenges that people face when seeking gender justice ⁠— and how those challenges can guide a way forward. A key part of their report focuses on the intersection of race and gender. Although race and gender are independent categories, they interact with one another, are accompanied by stereotypes, and deeply impact how we see ourselves and others. By understanding how gendered and racialized stereotypes operate, including how women of color are chronically excluded and made invisible, the authors aim to understand how to work against our biases and develop positive stories and strategies.

This report is part of the Story at Scale project, a yearlong collaboration of researchers, data scientists, artists, advocates, and organizers aimed at determining how best to promote gender justice by using narrative to reshape culture. Janay Cody is a consultant and applied political scientist who works with political organizations, educational institutions, and socially responsible businesses to make positive change. Rachel D. Godsil is Co-Director and Co-Founder of Perception Institute and Professor of Law and Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar at Rutgers Law School. Alexis McGill Johnson is President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and is currently on leave as Co-Director and Co-Founder of Perception Institute.

Methods and Findings

Reviewing academic literature in social psychology and related fields from roughly the last five years, the authors looked for studies about negative gender stereotypes across racial groups, the changing nature of gender identity and expression, and the power and strength women exercise in daily life. Drawing on more than 100 sources, the authors identified important limitations in the research:

  • Far too many studies have failed to accurately reflect the experiences of women of all races and ethnicities, and far too few have included transgender and/or non-binary people in their studies. Because research on women of color and transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people is thin, the authors included studies that go beyond the five-year mark.
  • Research about gender often treats “women” as synonymous with “white women.” A majority of studies have drawn upon samples of people who identify as white cisgender women and men, and the images of people used as stimuli in studies are usually white or assumed to be white. 

The authors use the following key terms and definitions throughout their literature review:

  • The term women is based on how the authors of each study define it, which in most cases refers to a cisgender person of the “female” sex.
  • The term intersectionality, first used in 1989 by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, refers to analysis that examines the disempowerment experienced by people who face multiple lines of identity-based discrimination.
  • The term intersectional invisibility, coined in 2008 by Valerie Purdie-Vaughns and Richard P. Eibach, refers to the distinctive forms of oppression experienced by women of color and people with intersecting marginalized identities. 

Beyond recognizing that all women—not just white women—need to be part of the story of gender, the authors call for practitioners and researchers to both acknowledge and challenge the different stereotypes about Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native women. For example:

  • Harmful stereotypes about Black women need to be recognized and rectified. As there is a highly prevalent cultural association of “Black” and “poor,” it is important to unlink Blackness and poverty, to authentically show Black women in different social classes, and to overcome negative stereotypes associated with poverty, in general, and Black women who are poor, in particular. 
  • Seemingly positive framing of Latinx women in the media, such as “success,” can be associated with more destructive stereotypes, such as “hardworking” and “family sacrifice.” By contrast, qualitative research has been a source of genuinely empowering and multi-faceted stories about Latinx women.
  • As academic research focusing on Asian American women is minimal, it is important to distinguish their experiences from Asian American men and to unpack how women face both broader stereotypes about Asian Americans and implicit gender bias. 
  • As Native women are rendered invisible by the media, and as harmful stereotypes associated with Native women have not been replaced or expanded by current representations, new narratives must be part of communications with and about Native women. The authors highlight the Reclaiming Native Truth initiative as a source of new narratives.


The authors recommend three ways forward for people working towards gender justice, rooted in counter-stereotypic research and narratives of hope. 

First, drawing on existing research on racial discrimination, the authors highlight five strategies that have shown some success in long-term reduction of the effects of discrimination: stereotype replacement, counter-stereotypic imaging, individuating, perspective taking, and increasing opportunities for contact. Researchers have found that people who engaged in these practices were more likely to notice bias in the world, label any bias as wrong, and have interracial interactions with relative strangers. 

Second, although gender and race cannot be understood in isolation from each other, strategies to address gender stereotypes will have some important differences from strategies to address race-based stereotypes. The authors suggest that stereotypes linked to race and ethnicity are often rooted in a lack of intergroup contact and a reliance on media representation, whereas people of different genders tend to come in contact frequently.

Third, stories that authentically depict people in a variety of contexts can create powerful new mental associations. Stories can allow you to see the world differently, particularly protagonists who differ from you by gender, race, ethnicity, or other identifying characteristics. The authors also recommend emotional stories, as these can create feelings of connectedness. While stories are not a replacement for peer-to-peer contact, research shows that culture can provide a type of indirect contact that can shift attitudes.


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