True gender equality may be a work in progress, but since the Women’s Liberation Movement beginning in the 1950s and 60s, there has been a lot of positive change, at least in most industrialised nations: a shift towards women having more control over whether and when to have children, for example, and increased opportunities in education and careers, and less tolerance of sexism (though of course it hasn’t gone away). How might these cultural and social changes have influenced women, in terms of how much they act in stereotypically “feminine” ways?
A new study by Constance Jones and her colleagues at California State and San Francisco State Universities in the Journal of Adult Development tried to find out by comparing two cohorts of women, one born in the 1920s and the other featuring “Baby Boomers” born in the 1950s. The findings support past work that’s shown how women tend to change through their lives, and they provide evidence for a generation effect: over time, at least in California, women seem to be becoming less stereotypically feminine – that is, less deferential, and more confident and ambitious.
Studies show that when heterosexual women look at other women’s bodies, they, just like men, tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time looking at their waists, hips and breasts, as if estimating how much they will appeal to men. This is consistent with “mate selection theory” which argues, among other things, that women have evolved strategies to monitor potential love rivals. However, psychologists are interested in this topic, not only from an evolutionary perspective, but also because women who feel dissatisfied with their bodies, and who are vulnerable to developing eating disorders, may be especially pre-occupied with comparing their body against others, potentially exacerbating their anxieties.
Past research is mixed: some studies suggest women with body dissatisfaction and/or eating disorders pay disproportionate attention to the bodies of thin women, other studies suggest the opposite. A new exploratory paper in Psychological Research says hang on a minute, we don’t actually know much about how healthy, confident women behave when they look at other women, nor whether their attention is influenced by their feelings about their own bodies.
It would be very concerning if “girls as young as six years old believe that brilliance is a male trait”, as The Guardian reported last week, especially if “this view has consequences”, as was argued in The Atlantic. Both stories implied girls’ beliefs about gender could be part of the explanation for why relatively few women are found working in fields such as maths, physics, and philosophy. These news stories, widely shared on social media, were based on a new psychology paper by Lin Bian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and colleagues, published in Science, entitled “Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests”. The paper reported four studies, which at first appear to have simple, clear-cut conclusions. But a closer look at the data reveals that the results are rather weak, and the researchers’ interpretation goes far beyond what their studies have shown.
We’re supposed to be hungry for workplace feedback: after all, it can help us to eliminate blind spots in our self-knowledge, give us focus and surpass relationship issues. Often, though, it can be a bit hard to take. On the wrong day, when the feedback’s particularly upsetting, it may even bring us to tears. If this happens to you and you’re a man, according to new research in the Journal of Applied Psychology, it could spell bad news for your career prospects.
Group loyalty is woven into our DNA. After being allocated to a category on the flimsiest of grounds, such as their matching shirt colour, children will show impressive favouritism toward their new group members, and antipathy toward outsiders. No wonder that once children learn about genders, and become aware of their own – which begins to happen in earnest from around age three – they soon after usually begin to show profound signs of loyalty toward and preference for their own gender. As the authors of a new study in Child Development put it, “Around the world, girls tend to play with girls, whereas boys tend to play with boys. Such stark separation is stunning, yet as adults we tend to accept this segregation without a thought and sometimes even encourage it.”
The aim of the new research was to find out how gender-biased beliefs and behaviour develop from age four to five. The researchers hope their findings might help encourage children to be less biased against the opposite gender, and therefore “benefit relationships between girls and boys, and future relationships between women and men.”
In the ongoing, complex debates about the extent and meaning of psychological differences between the sexes, mental rotation ability is usually quoted as one of the most robust examples of where a difference can be found. This is the ability to rotate objects in your mind’s eye, and while there is a lot of overlap between men’s and women’s performance, there is plenty of evidence that men, on average, are better at this than women. Can we take this to reflect a genuine, specific difference in average cognitive ability between the sexes?
Not necessarily. A new, small study in Psychological Research reminds us why this field of science is so difficult to interpret. The findings suggest that the mental rotation ability of women who habitually suppress the public display of their emotions is equal to that of men. In other words, sex differences in mental rotation ability may reflect an emotional difference between the sexes – emotional suppression is known to be more common in men than women – rather than a cognitive difference. Continue reading “Women who suppress their emotions are as good at mental rotation as men”→
Women are underrepresented in science and technology careers, and female students are especially likely to drop out of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) degree courses. One cause is a relative lack of female role models, combined with feelings of not belonging in a male-dominated environment. This is why Ada Lovelace Day – the celebration of women in science and technology that’s taking place around the world today – is so valuable. A timely new study in Basic and Applied Social Psychology shows how the principles behind the day could be implemented quickly and easily at universities, helping to boost female science students’ grades and reducing drop-out rates. Continue reading “A letter from a role model boosts female science students’ grades”→
“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Donald Trump, 2016 Republican Party nominee for US president, speaking in 2005 (full transcript).
The causes of sexual aggression are many, but anecdotal evidence (for example, as implied in the above quote), and research-based evidence, suggests that at least part of it has to do with when men overestimate women’s levels of sexual interest. A new study in the Psychology of Violence finds that men with a history of sexual aggression are especially likely to make this kind of misjudgment, in part because they focus on inappropriate cues, such as a woman’s attractiveness, rather than on her actual emotions. But promisingly, the research also suggests that it’s possible, through practice, to reduce this bias. This is an important finding considering previous research has shown that information-based educational programmes designed to reduce sexual aggression (through challenging rape myths, for example) are relatively ineffective. Continue reading “Training men to judge women’s sexual interest more accurately”→
A woman seeking to make a career was once faced with a road pocked with pits and divots upon which she must not stumble. Rising egalitarian attitudes have done much to remove the most visible of these hazards, but some subtle pitfalls remain. In a new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Suzette Caleo of Louisiana State University explores one: the way that female managers are appraised when they treat others unjustly. The research suggests that while the sexes are treated even-handedly when they commit certain injustices, there are some things we still can’t abide from a woman. Continue reading “Female bosses judged more harshly than male counterparts for being insensitive, disrespectful”→
In the 1970s, feminist theorists began to put forward what was then a controversial claim: that sexual aggression is essentially about power. This idea was important enough to launch experimental research, much of which has supported the claim – for instance, priming some men with a sense of power leads them to say they would be more prepared to coerce sex, and encourages men and women alike to believe a subordinate desired them sexually. However other research has suggested the opposite: that aggression is more likely when perpetrators feel less powerful, including in domestic violence and specifically sexual aggression contexts.