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

Abstract

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.

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Gundersen, A.B., Kunst, J.R. Feminist ≠ Feminine? Feminist Women Are Visually Masculinized Whereas Feminist Men Are Feminized. Sex Roles 80, 291–309 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0931-7

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Keywords

  • Face perception
  • Hostile sexism
  • Feminism
  • Masculinity
  • Stereotypes