Paradoxically, this post on gender stereotypes actually reinforced one perhaps unjust prejudiced stereotype I have - that female/feminist writers are apt to rely on unscientific anecdotes and focus upon trivial everyday irritations. This is unfortunate, because rigorous scientific thinking about stereotypes suggests that women have a genuine grievance.
They found that women did indeed do worse than men in such tasks, but only when they knew their competitors' gender:
Information on rival’s gender affects women and men very differently. In the task that is perceived to favor men, it has a positive effect on men’s performance under competition, increasing their performance by almost 60%, but a negative effect on women’s performance when competing, reducing their performance in about 40%.
What's going on here is the stereotype threat, or the "give a dog a bad name" effect. When people are invited to believe that something is "man's work", men step up their effort whilst women become weedy girlies.
Stereotypes, then, are not just irritating generalizations. They have serious and large effects.
I find it plausible that this could have adverse effects upon women's life chances. If some jobs are perceived as "men's work" then women will be less inclined to do them, or might do them worse, even if there is no original rational basis for that perception; it's the perception that creates the reality, not vice versa.
What should be done about this? The answer might not be positive discrimination, such as having quotas for women directors. The authors say:
Affirmative action policies based on gender may in fact have counterproductive effects, since while creating advantageous conditions for women they also make gender information salient, affecting women’s performance negatively.
Instead, I suspect the solution is to challenge the original stereotypes - to show that gender differences either do not exist or, where they do, that they are the result of a social construct, rather than innate biological differences; the work of Alison Booth is relevant here.
Now, it should be obvious from that I say this not to criticize feminists. Quite the opposite. Underneath the trivial anecdotes lies a real and important issue.