(HUGE hat-tip to Sam Loy for reminding me about this in a comment on my last post. If you haven’t read that comment already, though, please look at this first, because I think I gave the answer away in my reply!)
Back when I was in primary school, I loved logic puzzles, word puzzles, anything like that. In one puzzle book I had, there was the following riddle (answer at the end of this post):
“A boy is in a car crash with his father, who is killed. When the boy is rushed to hospital, the surgeon sees him and says “I cannot operate on this boy, as he is my son.” How is this possible?”
I’m going to be honest here – I couldn’t work it out. Nobody else at home could work it out. Then I looked at the answer, and it seemed so obvious. Years later, in an A-Level English class, the teacher asked the same question. As I’d heard it before, I kept quiet, but I was surprised that so many people, all really intelligent, didn’t get it. “Stepfather” was a common guess, and I remember one person saying “Is it his grandfather or something?” Someone did get it in the end, but it took a while.
I’ll put the answer under a Read More and press Enter a few times, but there’s also more of the post to come if you’ve already heard this!
The surgeon is the boy’s mother. When you think about it, it’s pretty straightforward (especially given the nature of this blog). The father is dead, so the mother would be the other parent. Yet this riddle stumped a whole top-set A-Level English Literature class, both male and female. The reason? Gender stereotyping. (See, I told you it was relevant! :P) Because a woman can’t be a surgeon, right?! Most of this class would consider themselves feminist (and that definitely includes the person who guessed “grandfather”), but these stereotypes are so ingrained that almost all of us will apply them without thinking.
Gender stereotypes > Logic and common sense. Yep. It’s bad.