Gender, Masculinity Threat, and Support for Transgender Rights: An Experimental Study

Abstract

We explore how gender, attitudes about traditional gender roles, and threats to masculinity and femininity affect U.S. participants’ support for transgender rights. First, we present analyses using data from the 2016 pilot survey of the American National Election Survey (ANES) showing how men and women differ in their attitudes toward transgender people as measured by thermometer ratings toward transgender people and questions about perceptions of whether they are victims of discrimination. Next, we describe our randomized laboratory experiment, testing three hypotheses/predictions: (a) that men are less supportive of transgender people and rights than women are, (2) that threatening a man’s masculinity increases opposition to transgender rights whereas threatening a woman’s femininity has no effect, and (3) that this effect will be stronger among men who report that their gender identity is very important to them. Consistent with existing scholarship, we find that women are more supportive of transgender rights compared to men. More importantly, we also find that threatened masculinity is an even better predictor of opposition to transgender rights than gender identity. In short, we find that attitudes toward transgender people and rights are closely linked with the way people think and feel about their own gender identity and expectations of gender performance.

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Correspondence to Melissa R. Michelson.

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Experimental data for this paper was obtained via the undergraduate research lab at Northwestern University. All participants provided informed consent prior to participating in the experiment. Prior to data collection, the study was approved by Menlo College’s Institutional Review Board.

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Harrison, B.F., Michelson, M.R. Gender, Masculinity Threat, and Support for Transgender Rights: An Experimental Study. Sex Roles 80, 63–75 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0916-6

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Keywords

  • Transgender
  • Gender
  • Transgender rights
  • Political psychology
  • Gender identity
  • Masculinity
  • LGBT
  • Public opinion
  • Bem Sex Role Inventory
  • BSRI
  • Threat