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Gender Bending and Gender Conformity: The Social Consequences of Engaging in Feminine and Masculine Pro-Environmental Behaviors


Although pro-environmental behaviors (PEBs) have been characterized as feminine, some PEBs are masculine suggesting that gender bending (e.g., engaging in pro-environmental behaviors inconsistent with one’s own gender) and gender conformity (e.g., engaging in pro-environmental behaviors consistent with one’s own gender) are possible for both women and men. Social consequences for gender bending versus conformity with PEBs were assessed in three studies. Gender bending created uncertainty about an actor’s heterosexual identity (Studies 1 and 2). Consistent with stigma-by-association, actors’ gender bending influenced judgments about an actor’s friend’s sexual identity (Study 2). However, gender bending had limited effects on ascription of gendered traits: More feminine than masculine traits were ascribed to PEB actors, even actors of masculine PEBs (Studies 1 and 2). Consistent with social ostracism, Study 3 illustrated that men were most likely to socially distance themselves from female gender benders, likely as a result of prejudice against gender-bending women. In contrast, women preferred to socially interact with gender-conforming women, likely resulting from a combination of their greater interest in feminine than masculine PEBs and preferring to interact with women more so than with men. Social repercussions are discussed in terms of stigmatizing engagement in PEBs.

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The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article: National Science Foundation (NSF-BCS #1152147) awarded to Janet K. Swim and Theresa K. Vescio.

We would like to thank the following undergraduates for their assistance in data collection: Maria Amalia Arizaga, Ashley Caceres, Anita Chen, Maria Emelia Cordovez Dalmu, Alyssa A. Lauer, Laurene Roup, Mackenzie L. Sheetz, Stacy M. Sutton, Anna M. Vargo, Shuowen Zhang. We would like to thank Gabriele Filip-Crawford for her feedback when developing experimental study and Jonathan Cook for his feedback on the paper.

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Correspondence to Janet K. Swim.

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The authors declared no potential conflicts of interests with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article.

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Swim, J.K., Gillis, A.J. & Hamaty, K.J. Gender Bending and Gender Conformity: The Social Consequences of Engaging in Feminine and Masculine Pro-Environmental Behaviors. Sex Roles 82, 363–385 (2020).

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  • Sex roles
  • Environmental psychology
  • Stigma
  • Masculinity
  • Femininity
  • Conservation (ecological behavior)
  • Sexual identity