A new study has unmasked this dickish gaslighting strategy.
Have you ever suspected someone of being an egregious misogynist only to hear that he’s actually just a jerk to everyone? Yeah, me too. But discovering that someone is an all-around asshole has never put my suspicions to rest. My logic is that just because someone is a jerk to everyone that doesn’t mean he’s not also a sexist pig. I really believe in the both/and philosophy. And it turns out I may have been right all along. New research published in Psychological Science suggests that sexists use rude behavior to mask gender bias.
The study, which was published in March, analyzed data from five studies conducted between 2019 and 2021. The first study, which was conducted by survey, was geared to figuring out whether someone could be rude towards men and also hold sexist beliefs. That study found that men who hold negative stereotypes about women are also more impolite towards everyone they work with. It may seem like common sense to infer that sexists are generally dickbags to work with, but science relies on evidence and these researchers found it.
According to the researchers involved in the study, the aforementioned men believed that being an “equal opportunity jerk” covered up their sexism by creating the illusion of gender blindness, EurekAlert reported. “‘By ‘equal-opportunity jerk,’ we mean an individual who is mistakenly seen as gender-blind in their negative treatment toward others. They think, ‘This person is presumably rude toward both men and women equally, and therefore cannot be sexist,” Sora Jun, professor of organizations, strategy and international management at University of Texas, told EurekAlert.
Then the researchers tried to figure out whether this ingeniously douchey strategy is effective. In other words, does being an all around jerk make a person seem like less of a sexist? In order to figure this out, researchers showed participants tweets written by former President Donald Trump while he was still lurking on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“The first step to eradicating sexism in the workplace is to identify it when it happens.” - Sora Jun
All the participants read tweets that had negative comments about women, and some of them were also shown tweets of Trump being a jerk to men. Then researchers asked all the participants whether they thought Trump was gender-blind or sexist. They found that the people who read tweets in which Trump was a jerk to men were more likely to interpret him as gender-blind, rather than sexist. Basically, what this means is that the strategy seems to work — being a jerk to people of all genders makes it less likely for people to interpret your behavior as hateful towards women.
In case you’re worried that politics may play a role in how people interpreted 45’s tweets, it doesn’t seem to matter. In other studies, the researchers asked participants to read stories about a fictitious manager who’s a dick to the interns he works with. Some were asked to read stories in which the manager was rude to women and others read stories in which he was rude to men and women alike. Again, researchers found that participants were less likely to see the manager as sexist if he was rude to men, too.
Look, I know that most rational people won’t be surprised by all this, but it’s important for us to be able to explain the ways gender bias can be hidden in scientific language. “The first step to eradicating sexism in the workplace is to identify it when it happens,” one of the study’s authors, Sora Jun, told EurekAlert. “If observers are unable to recognize an employee’s behavior as sexist — because those behaviors are incorrectly explained away as general rudeness — those problematic sexist behaviors will likely continue to plague organizations.”