Men’s rudeness may disguise sexism

Lena Weib

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New research looks at the link between rudeness and sexism. Alexander Farnsworth/Getty Images,Photo,Getty
  • A new study has found that men may use rudeness toward other men to disguise sexist views about women.
  • By being rude to both men and women, they may give the impression that they are “gender blind.
  • The researchers suggest that sexism and rudeness are not mutually exclusive.
  • Rudeness across the sexes may be a barrier to addressing sexism.

In order to address sexism, people must first recognize it.

In a new study that appears in Psychological Science, researchers from the Universities of Virginia and Texas have revealed that by being equally rude to men and women, some men can hide sexist attitudes.

The authors of the study refer to this as the “equal-opportunity jerk defense.”

The European Institute for Gender Equality‘s definition of sexism reads as follows:

“Sexism is linked to power in that those with power are typically treated with favor, and those without power are typically discriminated against. Sexism is also related to stereotypes, since discriminatory actions or attitudes are frequently based on false beliefs or generalizations about gender and on considering gender as relevant where it is not.”

In this light, people might not regard a man as sexist if he were to treat both men and women badly.

The authors of the recent study define sexism as “attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors that reflect, foster, or promote negative or pejorative stereotypes about women.”

Study co-author Dr. Sora Jun, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of management at the Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas. Dr. Jun told Medical News Today:

“Our findings suggest that when rudeness toward men hides sexist behavior, this hurts women in more than one way. First, women have to manage the sexism they face. Second, they may begin to have doubts about whether sexism was actually present, which can also be psychologically taxing. And third, even when they come to the conclusion that sexism was present, they may have a difficult time convincing others that sexism was at play.”

Speaking with MNT, Lee Chambers, psychologist and founder of Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing, agreed with this assessment:

“If a man is identified as rude to all, it can lead to a perception that microaggressions are less relevant to be addressed because they are rude to everybody, and specific microaggressions are minimal in comparison.”

The study had several parts. In the first, researchers asked 1,100 employed men to self-report their rudeness toward male and female colleagues, as well as their attitudes and beliefs about women.

Men who held sexist beliefs about women were also more likely to be rude to men.

The second part of the study tested how observers judged others. Did people regard a man who was rude to men and women as less sexist than a man who was rude only to women? First, the researchers asked the participants to read tweets by Donald Trump.

They showed the participants two of Trump’s tweets about women, which they followed with varying numbers of tweets aimed at men. All of the tweets were denigrating the woman or man in question.

Those who only saw the tweets about women judged Donald Trump to be sexist. However, the more tweets about men the participants saw after the tweets about women, the more likely they were to judge him as being gender blind.

The final parts of the study required the participants to judge fictitious scenarios in which managers were rude to both male and female subordinates. They then had to state whether these managers should have gender-bias training.

The more evidence observers saw of managers’ rudeness to men, the less likely they were to judge that they needed gender-bias training.

“I feel that in the workplace, rudeness can be used to hide sexism, and [it] has the potential to derail attempts to create an equitable workplace. In my experience, men who are perceived as universally rude are seen as having a skill deficiency and guided toward training around communication and teamwork, rather than considering that biases can underlie their behaviors.”

– Lee Chambers

In all of the experiments, the participants were significantly less likely to recognize sexism when the perpetrator was also rude to or about men. They did, however, recognize sexist behavior when the bad treatment only affected women.

The researchers suggest that it may be easier for men to refute accusations of sexism by claiming gender blindness. They could use instances of rudeness to men as evidence that they are not sexist.

Lee Chambers concurred: “[The study] certainly has a role to play in the increased debate on gender blindness, and it will be interesting to see how the concept of the ‘equal-opportunity jerk’ develops as we garner increased understanding of the barriers [that] rudeness can create to inclusivity efforts.”

These results highlight that general rudeness may also mask other biases, such as racism or other forms of discrimination. The researchers suggest that this, as well as sexism, could be an area of focus for future studies.

“Of course, more rigorous studies will have to be conducted to understand how to best combat rudeness concealing sexism, but I think as a start, it’s important to remember that rudeness and sexism are separable concepts. People can be both rude and sexist, and rudeness toward men doesn’t negate sexist behavior.”

– Dr. Jun

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