A lot of people, male and female, are often afraid of calling out instances of sexism. They don’t want to be perceived as oversensitive or troublemakers, or they’re afraid of angry backlash.
I say “they,” because I obviously don’t have a problem with blowing up the whole internet in order to call out sexism.
But is this an accurate representation of how men respond to accusations of sexism? One study says otherwise:
In a recent study, conducted by Robyn Mallett and Dana Wagner at Loyola University Chicago, male participants were teamed with a female partner (who was actually a confederate in the experiment). Their assignment was to read a set of moral or ethical dilemmas and discuss together how to deal with each situation, including one in which a nurse discovers that a hospital patient has been given tainted blood.
During their discussion, the female confederate confronted her male partner either for sexism (i.e., having assumed the nurse in the story was female, which every male participant did) or in a gender-neutral way (i.e., disagreeing with the male’s suggested solution to the dilemma).
As expected, men had much stronger reactions to being told that their remark was sexist than they did to mere disagreement. But the reactions weren’t what you might expect. The men accused of sexism smiled and laughed more, appeared more surprised, gestured more often and with greater energy, and were more likely to try to justify or apologize for their remark. But they did not react with more hostility or anger – in fact, they reported liking the female partner in both conditions equally well, and were generally pleasant across the board.
At first, that sounds great. Yay, men who were called out for the sexism smiled more and didn’t respond with hostility! Time to go politely tell MRAs how they’re wrong!
But I have a couple of concerns about the study. For one, their sexist remark…isn’t that sexist. Assuming a nurse is female is based on pure probability rather than assumptions about gender roles. The vast, vast majority of nurses are female, therefore a nurse in a story is much more likely to be female. It’s not like 50% of nurses are actually male, but it’s still perceived as women’s work.
This may seem like nitpicking, but I have a feeling men would react differently depending on what type of sexism is being addressed. It’s easy for a man to go “Whoops, yes, I suppose some nurses are male.” But it’s hard for a man to go “Whoops, yes, I suppose I do have (insert any type of male privilege I’ve never thought about and vehemently disagree with here).”
I’d also like to see results from how the men felt long after the exercise concluded. Were they just acting nicer when they were in immediate social interaction with the woman? Was in genuine? Did they turn around and start telling their buddies about how she’s a stupid oversensitive bitch, or did they really change their minds about sexism?
And finally, I’d love to see this repeated in the setting of blog comments or a forum. What happens when you put the internet between two people, and you have the drug of anonymity in your system? I know it’s anecdotal evidence, but I don’t exactly see people skipping together through e-fields of daisies after an accusation of sexism.
More science! We need more science!