Last week, we asked our readers whether certain characters or “stories” were sexist. I said that the survey was inspired by the story I had told the previous day:
Joe and Michelle are having dinner at a romantic restaurant. It’s their first anniversary, and everything is perfect — until an attractive woman walks past the table. Michelle notices that Joe casts a quick glance at the woman. Michelle flashes an annoyed glare at Joe, who knows he’s in trouble. “I didn’t mean to look at her,” he pleads, “guys just can’t help it when a pretty woman walks by.” Michelle gasps. “B-but she’s not as pretty as you,” Joe stammers, unpersuasively.
Many readers felt that this story was sexist because it promotes unfair stereotypes about men and women. So, I said, we’d put it to the test and ask our readers how sexist various situations were. Over 1,600 people responded.
As some of you suspected, that’s not all that was going on with the survey. I was interested in whether you thought that story was sexist, but I was also interested in how context can affect judgments about sexism. So respondents were divided into four different groups. While everyone rated brief scenarios for how “sexist” one of the characters or the entire story was, different groups saw different scenarios.
First, everyone was split into two–a “male” and “female” group. These groups read what I felt was very strongly sexist story, either against males or females, depending on their group. Then each of these groups was split again, into another “male” and “female” group. This time the groups read several milder examples of sexism, either against males or females. Then everyone read some of the same stories, both against males and females. So there were four groups: male-male, male-female, female-male, and female-female, depending on which types of sexism they were exposed to first.
Did the order the scenarios appeared in matter? You bet it did! Here’s a summary of all the ratings:
When making sexism ratings in scenarios where the sexism was directed against females, the rankings for each group were significantly different from each other. The ratings for sexism against men, however, did not differ significantly from group to group. You can see the pattern more clearly when I focus in on the group that saw all sexism against females compared to those that saw all sexism against males:
So readers who rated examples of sexism against men first were more likely to judge sexism against women more harshly than those who rated sexism against women first. Why? I’ll leave that for you to discuss in the comments.
Overall, women were more likely to rate scenarios as sexist. There was a significant correlation (r = .31) between being female and rating scenarios as sexist. Women were also more likely to rate the examples of sexism against men as strongly sexist. There was also a positive correlation (r = .21) between age and sexism against women ratings: the older you are, the more likely you are to rate a scenario as sexist.
Finally, here are some of the responses to individual scenarios. The percentage is the portion of all respondents giving each rating, where 1 means “not sexist at all” and 5 means “extremely sexist. The “Lacey” story was the what the people in the Female-Female and Female-Male groups saw first. The “Titanic” story was what the people in the Male-Female and Male-Male groups saw first.