Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 5–6, pp 291–309 | Cite as

Feminist ≠ Feminine? Feminist Women Are Visually Masculinized Whereas Feminist Men Are Feminized

  • Aleksander B. GundersenEmail author
  • Jonas R. Kunst
Original Article


Many people hold negative stereotypes about feminists. Verbally, feminist women are often described in masculine terms whereas feminist men tend to be described in feminine terms. Here, we demonstrate that these effects extend to a fundamental perceptual level, more specifically, to the domain of face perception even in Norway, the most gender-egalitarian country of the world. Four studies were conducted using a data-driven reverse-correlation technique to test how feminist women and men are visually represented. In Studies 1 (n = 123) and 2 (n = 61), Norwegians had more masculine-looking and less feminine-looking visual representations of feminist women as compared to women with moderate gender-related beliefs or other activist identities (i.e., the control conditions). These effects, which were particularly pronounced among male participants and those with stronger hostile sexist beliefs, further explained why feminist women were perceived as threatening. In Studies 3 (n = 131) and 4 (n = 74), participants had a less masculine-looking visual representation of feminist men as compared to the control condition. This effect was especially pronounced among female participants. In addition, effects were again moderated by hostile sexism, such that participants with stronger hostile sexist beliefs visualized the feminist man as less masculine than the man in the control condition. In sum, the results suggest that people have asymmetrically gendered visual representations of feminist women and men. Feminist women are visually represented as more masculine whereas the opposite is true for feminist men. We discuss our findings in light of women’s and men’s reluctance to identify as feminists and suggest potential interventions to change biased visual representations of feminists.


Face perception Hostile sexism Feminism Masculinity Stereotypes 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Hereby we confirm that the present research complied with the ethical standards of the APA and laws and regulations of the country where it was conducted. The research was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the first author.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all participants.

Conflict of Interest

No conflict of interest needs to be declared.

Supplementary material

11199_2018_931_MOESM1_ESM.docx (530 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 529 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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