Warmth and Competence: Ambivalent Sexism keeps Women out of Politics

On July 28, 2016, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to become the presidential nominee for a major political party in the US. People talked of her breaking the glass ceiling, ushering in a new era where women will be seriously considered alongside men for the highest office in the nation. But why has it taken so long for a woman to be a serious candidate for president? Women earned the right to vote once the 19th amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, almost a century ago. And even though we make up half of the population, we only make up about 20% of congresspeople. Why is it that women don’t have proportional representation in our federal government?

It may be due to the fact that people often think of others in terms of their competence and warmth. Ideally, people rate high on both, but most people are seen as warm at the expense of being seen as competent, or vice versa. Unfortunately, warmth is a quality we expect from women, so while men often just need to rate high in competence, highly competent women are seen with envy, resulting in ambivalent sexism, a type of sexism that isn’t necessarily hostile (e.g. women are all gold diggers) or benevolent (e.g. women need to be protected by men). Women who are seen as competent but not warm are often non-traditional women, as opposed to filling housewife or sex object roles, they occupy career paths, or compete as athletes, filling spaces traditionally reserved for men. Traditional women tend to be seen as warm and likable, but they don’t garner respect.

So women are forced to walk a pretty fine line, they need to be seen as competent, but not so competent that they wouldn’t make you a sandwich. This may underlie the difficulty women have getting elected to office. If they reach the point where they are seen as competent enough for the job, they are often seen as unlikeable. If they compensate by upping the warmth factor, they may be compromising their competence. It’s a lose-lose situation for many women. Just ask Hillary Clinton, who has had a difficult time drumming up enthusiasm for her candidacy. People regularly say she’s qualified for the job and she is often seen as highly competent. But warmth? People just don’t want to have a beer with her. And while many of our male leaders have been seen as charismatic, it’s worth wondering how many of them have had to make a concerted effort to appear likable, as well as good at their jobs. For men, the latter is often the only real requirement.

 

Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J., Glick, P., & Xu, J. (2002). A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Journal of personality and social psychology82(6), 878.

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Women and sexual harrassment: They just let you do it

Trigger warning: Includes personal story about sexual harassment, includes foul language

It’s safe to say election 2016 is in full dumpster fire mode. Donald Trump’s comments on the leaked tape released last week were shocking coming from a presidential candidate, yet they weren’t that shocking to a lot of women. Michelle Obama gave a speech today explaining why. Describing every woman’s experience, Obama talks about how women are used to men treating us as lesser beings, because we see it everywhere from the classrooms where we’re educated, to the strangers catcalling us on the street.

Her speech reminded me of an experience I had working for a man with a serious Napoleon complex when I was 19. The man might as well have been a small statured Donald Trump. I was a hostess at a popular restaurant, and I was required to wear heels while I stood for 8 hour shifts. The one time I dared to wear a cardigan, I was told to take it off and never wear it again because I didn’t look “as fuckable as usual.” My boss would watch me on a camera and call me every time he didn’t approve of my behavior. Why hadn’t I fluffed the pillows if no one was there? Why was there a napkin on the floor in the bar? Why did I leave the host stand to get a napkin off the floor in the bar? I was always being watched, and it made my skin crawl. Before I walked out of that job after a bout of verbal abuse, he said that he thought I’d make a good waitress, and if I wanted to come back next summer, he’d love to have me. I smiled and thanked him for the compliment, but, inside, I felt gross. The man had yelled at me and belittled me all day for a job that mostly entails leading people to chairs and talking like a human person, and not only did he think I’d want to keep working for him, he thought that he was being nice to me. And you know what? I never told that man how I felt about how he treated me. He was my boss, I was 19 and he was in his 40s, I was a hostess and he owned the restaurant. I sucked it up. I said nothing. And I feel ashamed about that, because that man continued to treat people that way, thinking no one had a real problem with it. When you’re the boss, they let you do it.

Why don’t people tell others how they really feel about things that they said or did when it happens? Social psychologists explain this with the person by situation interaction.1 It basically means that people bring themselves into situations, but then they sometimes behave unlike themselves due to those situations. While I would call out a friend for sexist and abusive behavior or language, I wouldn’t do it in the workplace, to a man with all the power when I had none, or even to a coworker I had to see regularly. The truth is, a lot of people’s behavior really is driven by situations that they are in. Do we become totally different people? Absolutely not. But do we sometimes do things and then wonder why we did them? Ask the 5 cookies I just ate. Yes. We do. So while people may behave out of character occasionally, maybe your usually loyal partner starts a flirtation with someone else, or a good friend says something not-so-nice behind your back when other people are talking about you, a pattern of such behavior is telling.

People often make the fundamental attribution error about other people’s behavior, which means that they assume that the behavior is indicative of the person’s dispositional characteristics, who they really are inside. Luckily, there is a way to determine if someone’s behavior is a demonstration of their true personality, or if it was influenced by situational factors. According to Kelley’s Attribution Theory, or Kelley’s Cube2, you can ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. Is there consensus about the behavior? If everyone is behaving that way, it’s probably influenced by the situation. For instance, if a lot of your coworkers are irritable the morning someone breaks the coffee machine, it probably isn’t the case your coworkers are just jerks all the time.
  1. Is there consistency in the person’s behavior? If someone acts in a certain way a good amount of the time, their behavior is likely due to their personality, their dispositional characteristics. For instance, if a friend constantly leaves their wallet at home every time you go to dinner with them, they’re probably a forgetful person by nature, or, more pessimistically, a manipulative one.
  1. Is the behavior distinctive, does it vary depending on what’s happening? If it does vary, then you can attribute it to the situation. For instance, if a person with normally good self-control eats a whole carton of ice cream, it may be due to some sort of emotional crisis rather than having a hearty appetite.

What worries me, and many women, is that Donald Trump’s behavior makes it clear that he really feels exactly like Michelle Obama said. This is who Trump really is, and it’s gross. He is every boss that ever stared at your ass on a closed circuit camera, he is every man on the street that thinks his evaluation of your physical characteristics is so important for you to hear you should take your earbuds out, he is every guy who buys you a drink at the bar when you said no and then gets mad that you won’t talk to him because he bought you a drink. Women see you Donald Trump. We don’t let you do it. We just feel like we can’t say no. And to answer the question you keep asking, we actually have a hell of a lot to lose.

  1. Mischel, W. (1977). The interaction of person and situation. Personality at the crossroads: Current issues in interactional psychology333, 352.
  1. Kelley, H. H. (1967). Attribution theory in social psychology. In Nebraska symposium on motivation. University of Nebraska Press.

 

Papa Don’t Preach: Josh Duggar and the Psychological Consequences of Christian Patriarchy (Part 3)

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Image from TVGuide.com

Last night’s Kelly File interview with the Duggars confirmed many of the details about the Duggar scandal. Namely, Josh Duggar informed his parents of his behavior after he had victimized two of his sisters, and the Duggars did not remove him from their home until there were two additional incidents, involving three more girls. The interview was very Josh-focused, and when Kelly asked how Jim Bob felt about his daughters being molested, specifically as the father of those girls, again he brought it back to Josh immediately, saying, “I was so thankful though…that Josh came and told us.” That brings me to some of the most difficult issues associated with Christian Patriarchy: Sexism and Privilege. (You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here).

5) Sexism- It is impossible to discuss these extreme religious movements without noting the marginalization of women. From constant pregnancy to assertions that men are more moral than women, many of the practices of the Christian Patriarchy movement are meant to keep women “in their place.” It’s also clear that women have little say in what happens to them in these male-dominated environments. The Duggars allowed Josh to live in the same home as several of his victims and rather than offering him psychological counseling, they sent him to Little Rock to remodel someone’s house. Living in a culture of sexism can be incredibly damaging to the psyche of young women, causing them to have lower levels of achievement, which is related to a lot of negative consequences, including poor mental and physical health.1,2

Benevolent sexism is one culprit for the position of women in Christian Patriarchy. Benevolent sexism is the belief that women need to be offered protection from men, and women often come to endorse this chivalrous ideology as well.3 This type of sexism endorses gender inequality and traditional gender roles.3 Hostile sexism on the other hand, refers to overtly antagonistic feelings about women, including views that women try to influence men with their sexuality.3 Both amounts of benevolent and hostile sexism predict women’s position in society across cultures.4 Since Christian Patriarchy affirms that women can “defraud” men with revealing clothing, and asserts that men must take care of women, combining both hostile and benevolent sexism, it results in something called ambivalent sexism.3 There’s also evidence that benevolent sexism increases system justification, or endorsement of the status quo, regardless of fairness.5 The type of socialization in Christian Patriarchy that focuses on very specific sex-roles for their children is known to contribute to issues related to sexism.6 In fact, there is evidence that men who are sexist are more likely to stereotype women, essentially seeing women in traditional roles as Madonnas and women in non-traditional roles as whores.7

In addition, the evidence is overwhelming that men are not more virtuous than women. The FBI estimated that over 12.4 million arrests were made in the US in 2011, and that 74.1% of those arrested were men. According to the DOJ, 95% of those arrested for sexual offenses are male. In fact, sometimes men make worse choices than women and act less responsibly. For instance, men are far more likely to die in fatal car crashes than women, with men accounting for about 70% of motor vehicle-related deaths. None of this is to say that women are better decision makers than men, but I think we can all agree that men and women both bring something to the head of the table.

6) Privilege- The Christian Patriarchy movement is predictably full of male privilege. Codifying a system where men reign supreme allows men to justify their superior position. While men often acknowledge that women are at a disadvantage, they are far less likely to admit that they are benefiting from male privilege.8 Part of the issue surrounding privilege is that people who are privileged are meant to remain unaware of the nature of that privilege, and how it affects others.8 Educating people about privilege has been shown to improve attitudes and decrease prejudice toward women.9 Which is good, since male privilege can be so powerful that it often introduces itself as an issue in family therapy.10 Since it is such an issue in families that don’t practice Christian Patriarchy, it’s obvious that these issues may be even more magnified when this privilege is purposely afforded to men.

Male privilege is bad for women, plain and simple. Some researchers assert that male privilege is the reason that crimes that affect mainly women, like stalking or sexual harassment, are still under acknowledged in society.11 Male privilege also often leads to favorable legal outcomes for men in domestic violence situations, downplaying violence against women while people go to jail for far lesser crimes.12 This legal advantage only serves to solidify and extend male privilege. We even see female athletes often delegated to second-class, as professional sports have traditionally been dominated by men.13 There are many ways in which being male affords one advantages that females don’t have.

However, people can be privileged in some ways and disadvantaged in others. For instance, many people fail to acknowledge their white privilege because they also have an unprivileged status, due to gender, sexual orientation, wealth or status. For instance, I may not have male privilege, but I still enjoy white privilege, something that minority women cannot claim. Similarly, black men enjoy some aspects of male privilege, but they are disadvantaged by white privilege.

Privilege is incredibly complex, but it is important to acknowledge how privilege puts us in certain positions or grants us certain advantages. Specifically, in the Duggar’s case, male privilege allowed Josh Duggar to feel that he could violate young girl’s bodies and allowed Jim Bob Duggar to believe that instituting his own “safeguards” would end the behavior, and white privilege allowed the Duggars to avoid any legal consequences of these actions. Even now, the Duggars have not been charged with obstructing justice or visited by Child and Protective Services, and Josh Duggar has never been charged with any sex crimes. The fact that Josh Duggar has used his position to marginalize others, especially the gay community, shows that he is largely unaware of how his privilege has helped him to avoid legal consequences, and has helped him retain some support in the court of public opinion. It is hard to imagine the same legal and public response to the same transgressions in a minority family.

We have explored various psychological findings that may have been behind Josh Duggar’s actions. The constant refrain of “it’s more common than you think” and “the girls didn’t even know” from the Duggar camp goes to show how marginalized women are in Christian Patriarchy. Going forward, it would help to focus less on Josh Duggar’s specific actions, and more on the culture that molded him into someone who felt that he could violate women’s bodies, as long as he told his dad after.

NOTE: Jen wrote a great article on privilege and the Fundamental Attribution Error last year that you can read here. Also, Peggy McIntosh wrote a very famous piece about unpacking the backpack of privilege that everyone should read, especially those who are confused about ways in which they are privileged.

  1. Sadker, M., & Sadker, D. (1986). Sexism in the classroom: From grade school to graduate school. Phi Delta Kappan, 512-515.
  1. Willis, S., & Kenway, J. (1986). On overcoming sexism in schooling: To marginalize or mainstream. Australian Journal of Education, 30(2), 132-149.
  1. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56(2), 109.
  1. Glick, P., Fiske, S. T., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J. L., Abrams, D., Masser, B., … & López, W. L. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of personality and social psychology, 79(5), 763.
  1. Jost, J. T., & Kay, A. C. (2005). Exposure to benevolent sexism and complementary gender stereotypes: consequences for specific and diffuse forms of system justification. Journal of personality and social psychology, 88(3), 498.
  1. O’Neil, J. M. (1981). Male sex role conflicts, sexism, and masculinity: Psychological implications for men, women, and the counseling psychologist. The Counseling Psychologist.
  1. Glick, P., Diebold, J., Bailey-Werner, B., & Zhu, L. (1997). The two faces of Adam: Ambivalent sexism and polarized attitudes toward women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(12), 1323-1334.
  1. McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege and male privilege. Privilege: A reader, 147-160.
  1. Case, K. A. (2007). Raising male privilege awareness and reducing sexism: An evaluation of diversity courses. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(4), 426-435.
  1. Vecchio, D. D. (1998). Dismantaling White male privilege within family therapy.
  1. Wildman, S. M. (2000). Ending Male Privilege: Beyond the Reasonable Woman.
  1. Johnson, J. R. (2002). Privileged Justice Under Law: Reinforcement of Male Privilege by the Federal Judiciary Through the Lens of the Violence Against Women Act and US v. Morrison. Santa Clara L. Rev., 43, 1399.
  1. Messner, M. A. (1988). Sports and male domination: The female athlete as contested ideological terrain. Sociology of sport journal, 5(3), 197-211.

Is academia in a post-sexist era?

Two senior faculty members at Cornell, Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams, seem to think so. They wrote an entire paper and a recent op-ed in the New York Times on the topic. In the week since, the blogosphere and social media have done their part to destroy point out the inconsistencies and contradictions the authors make, calling them on their biased conclusions. I won’t personally add to these observations but, instead, point you to some of the more compelling and insightful critiques of the laughable notion that academia* is no longer sexist:

1. Emily Willingham’s post: Academic science is sexist: We do have a problem here

2. Rebecca Schuman’s article in Slate: Don’t worry your pretty little heads

3. Red Ink’s: Let me fix that for you, New York Times

 

What do y’all think?

 


 

* Academia, as a whole. Certain subjects and fields may have different experiences, although I doubt they vary greatly from the overall norm.