I watched Helen Zhang’s November 13th talk titled “What if it’s someone older? Women’s Confrontation of Benevolent vs. Hostile Sexism and Perpetrators’ Age.” Zhang is a psychology student at Davidson, and the purpose of the talk was to present her research. I found it really fascinating and saw connections between it and my theme, so I want to share her research here.
The main goal of the research Helen Zhang discusses in her talk was to determine how a perpetrator of sexism’s age (old versus young) and the type of sexism the perpetrator displays (hostile versus benevolent) affect women’s confrontation of sexism. She describes hostile sexism as the more popular view of sexism– generally expressed in a blatant way and usually perpetrated against women who don’t comply with traditional gender roles. Benevolent sexism, on the other hand, is typically displayed towards women who fit within gender norms and can initially appear more positive. It is nonetheless still based in views of women as lesser, and both are very harmful. The term “ambivalent sexism” refers to the coexistence of both of the above types of sexism.
This study was conducted via Qualtrics. The participants in this study were women ages 18-40. Zhang pointed out that most of them identified as white, and noted this as a limitation of the study. The participants were divided into four groups and presented with four different hypothetical scenarios. In each of the four scenarios the perpetrator of sexism was either young or old, or displayed hostile or benevolent sexism. No other variables changed. After reading the scenario the women answered questions relating to it. This research hypothesized that women would be more likely to confront hostile sexism than benevolent sexism. It also hypothesized that women would be less likely to confront an older perpetrator of sexism than a young one. The willingness of the women to ignore the sexist comment made, their willingness to confront it, and the strength of their confrontation were all measured. As exploratory variables their ratings of the offensiveness, intention, warmth, and competence of the perpetrator were also measured.
The study found that participants were more willing to ignore the sexist comment if it came from an older perpetuator than a younger one, regardless of the type of sexism displayed and were also more willing to ignore a benevolent sexist comment. On the opposite side, they were also more willing to confront hostile sexism, especially when the perpetrator was a young adult. The intensity of their confrontation was higher when dealing with hostile sexism, but also only when the perpetrator was a young adult. This pattern indicates that women are more likely to dismiss older perpetrators’ sexist remarks. Regardless of the age of the perpetrator, hostile sexism was viewed more negatively than benevolent sexism.
Future research aims to examine more deeply the effect of age on the intensity of a woman’s confrontation of hostile sexism as well as reduce the age range of the participants. This study hypothesized that perceived warmth and competence of the perpetrators were factors (in keeping with the stereotype that older people are warm and lacking competence), but no correlation was found. Future research will likely examine the effect of the stereotype that older adults are more stubborn and resistant to change than younger ones.
While my portfolio examines how the gazes of others distort our images of bodies, this source looks more at the next step in that relationship: how our distorted images of other’s bodies then affect our behaviors when interacting with them.