Our tendency to see gender in everything, even numbers, is a reminder of how fundamental gender is to how we perceive the world. When people are led to believe that an object possesses one gender or another, it changes how they relate to that object. For example, Stanford researchers Clifford Nass, Youngme Moon, and Nancy Green had people interact with a computer that was programmed to have either a male-sounding or female-sounding voice. They found that when the computer had a female-sounding voice, people saw the computer as less friendly, credible and knowledgeable, as compared to the male-sounding computer. People did this openly, despite knowing perfectly well that they were making judgments about a machine and not a real person.
It’s no surprise that the first thing that most people ask new parents is whether they had a boy or a girl. When we don’t know somebody’s gender, it creates confusion in our minds—we have no framework from which to build upon. Gender helps us not only understand how to think about someone, or something, but it also helps us figure out that person or thing’s relationship to the rest of the world. Our brains can’t help but see gender everywhere we look.