Men who perceive bias against men may compensate by discriminating again women,
according to new research by Dr. Clara L. Wilkins
Men in the US increasingly identify as victims of gender discrimination. Men believe that they experience more bias now than they have in the past, and there are a number of recent lawsuits claiming anti-male bias. For example, a lawsuit filed in October 2016 against Yahoo alleges that the CEO Marissa Mayer systematically discriminated against male employees and favored female employees. We were interested in assessing the consequences of these perceptions. Specifically, in two studies we assessed whether perceiving bias against men might ultimately lead to discrimination against women. We also assessed how beliefs about the way society should be ordered affects men’s evaluations of men and women.
Traditionally men have had higher status than women in the US; they have been better educated, more likely to be employed, and have tended to earn more than women with the same job and qualifications. People vary in the extent to which they believe that this particular ordering of society is fair and the way things should be. Some believe this type of inequality is legitimate, while others believe it should change. We expected that men who believed men should have higher status in society would be most upset about the thought that men now experience discrimination, and that they would react by favoring men over equally-qualified women. This effort would be a way to reestablish men’s perceived rightful place in society.
We tested this prediction in two studies. Specifically, we examined how men would react to perceived changes to the social structure and how their beliefs about society would affect those reactions. In our first study, male participants read about increasing bias against men (or against another group) and then they evaluated a male or female target’s résumé as part of an ostensibly unrelated study. The résumés were identical except for the name (which varied to indicate gender). We found that for men who believe the social hierarchy is fair, reading about bias against men caused more negative evaluations of the female candidate relative to the male candidate, and less desire to help her. When male participants read about bias against an unrelated group, their beliefs about the social hierarchy did not affect their evaluations of either the male or female candidate, and the two were perceived as equally qualified. Thus, beliefs about the legitimacy of the hierarchy and perceptions of bias against men together seemed to disadvantage women.
In a second study, we manipulated participants’ beliefs about society’s fairness by having them create sentences by unscrambling strings of randomly ordered words that suggested system legitimacy. For example, they created sentences like “effort leads to prosperity” – which makes people believe that hard work in society is rewarded. Or, they unscrambled other words to create neutral sentences unrelated to society. Unscrambling system-legitimizing sentences caused participates to believe the social structure is legitimate, and in turn, caused those primed to perceive discrimination against men to more negatively evaluate female targets. They also reported being less willing to help the female targets than male targets. We gave participants an opportunity to provide feedback on how to improve targets’ resumes. Those primed with beliefs that the social structure is legitimate reacted to perceiving bias against men by providing more constructive feedback to male targets than female targets. These findings are striking, as the resumes were identical – only the names varied.
This research suggests that men who believe that men should be high-status in society react to perceiving bias against men by engaging in efforts to maintain men’s position of power. These individuals are perhaps unaware that they favor their own group or disadvantage women; they may simply perceive that they are righting a perceived wrong. However, this explanation is not supported by other research results. When we primed men to perceive discrimination against women, they did not react by favoring women over men. It seems as though they are uniquely concerned about maintaining their own group’s position in society.
Although men on average remain objectively advantaged relative to women, (e.g. they are overrepresented in high-power positions in business and government), they increasingly identify as victims of discrimination. Our research suggests that when high-status individuals perceive increasing bias against their group, those who endorse the legitimacy of the social hierarchy may perpetuate social disparities. Thus, if men increasingly perceive discrimination against their group, they may be more inclined to discriminate against women and provide other men with an extra boost. We recommend adopting hiring and evaluation processes that mask gender to prevent these potentially deleterious effects of perceiving bias against men.
Read the complete research article here.
Clara L. Wilkins is an assistant Professor at Wesleyan University. She joined the faculty at Wesleyan in the fall of 2011 after completing her Ph.D. (’11) and M.S. (’09) at the University of Washington. Her research broadly examines prejudice, stereotyping, and the self. In particular, she investigates (1) how ideology and changes to the social hierarchy shape Whites’ and men’s perceptions of bias against their own groups, and (2) the consequences of variation in racial and ethnic minorities’ physical appearance.
Joseph D. Wellman is an assistant Professor at California State University, San Bernardino. He joined the faculty at CSUSB in the fall of 2014 after completing his Ph.D. (’12) at the University of Maine and a Postdoctoral fellowship (’14) at Wesleyan University. His research broadly examines stigma, prejudice and discrimination. In particular, he investigates how being the target of stigma affects perception, behavior, well-being (e.g., self-esteem, emotion, physiological and psychological stress), and performance (e.g., GPA, cognitive performance) among both low status (e.g., women, gay men, racial minorities) and high status (e.g., men, European Americans) groups.
Erika Flavin graduated with B.A. with high honors from Wesleyan University in 2014. She currently works as an account executive at Indeed.com.
Juliana Manrique graduated from Wesleyan with a B.A. in 2015 and a M.A. in Psychology in 2016. She currently works in legal outreach.