Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Study: Men Totes Okay About Being Called Out for Sexist Stuff

Er, okay.

In an article entitled "3 Reasons Why It Pays Not to Let Sexist Comments Slide," Heidi Grant Halvorson insists that women should confront men who make sexist remarks because of a study that showed men react rather well to being called out for sexism:

"In a recent study, conducted by Robyn Mallett and Dana Wagner at Loyola University Chicago, male participants were teamed with a female partner (who was actually a confederate in the experiment). Their assignment was to read a set of moral or ethical dilemmas and discuss together how to deal with each situation, including one in which a nurse discovers that a hospital patient has been given tainted blood.

During their discussion, the female confederate confronted her male partner either for sexism (i.e., having assumed the nurse in the story was female, which every male participant did) or in a gender-neutral way (i.e., disagreeing with the male’s suggested solution to the dilemma).

As expected, men had much stronger reactions to being told that their remark was sexist than they did to mere disagreement. But the reactions weren’t what you might expect. The men accused of sexism smiled and laughed more, appeared more surprised, gestured more often and with greater energy, and were more likely to try to justify or apologize for their remark. But they did not react with more hostility or anger – in fact, they reported liking the female partner in both conditions equally well, and were generally pleasant across the board."

Now, it's not that I think all men are incapable of reacting to allegations of sexism with anything other than pleasant jocularity, but, well... it would be very interesting to see the results of a similar study involving (a) men in less-controlled situations, (b) men on Internet, and (c) a more diverse group of men (the 109 men in the study were all college students).

Given that the study, if you read it, explains the results by noting that people "are susceptible to social pressures to be liked and to be seen as non-prejudiced," I suspect that the results would be much different when those pressures are decreased- say, for instance, by communicating behind shields of anonymity and, to a lesser extent, pseudonymity.

Although entirely good and legit reasons for anonymity and pseudonymity on Internet exist and I fully support both means of communication, they also sometimes bring out the worst in people- perhaps precisely because when a person's identity isn't attached to the words that person is saying, a person has less motivation to be liked and to appear as non-prejudiced.

As for generalizing these results to one's everyday and professional life, I am wary. What if the person making the sexist statement is a boss or in some other position of power over you? I think whether "it pays" or not to call out the sexism depends on the situation, which is why I don't find articles like the above all that helpful.

It's interesting to read the actual study, which admits its limitations, but you can also pretty much cue the countdown before the following too-long headline appears at some douchey MRA site:

"Women sexistly believe men will react badly to allegations of sexism. Truth is, men react very well to such allegations. Therefore, when men are sexist against women, it's women who actually perpetuate sexism for not being brave enough to just call men out on it."

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