Perceptions of Women Confronting Sexism

I am Danielle Weber, a rising senior here at William and Mary. My project will examine the psychological factors that influence the perceptions of women who confront sexism. Research shows that confronting prejudice by way of an assertive response to a prejudicial comment reduces levels of prejudice in the prejudiced speaker and observers, and reduces future acts of discrimination. Unfortunately, many women don’t confront, most likely because women are respected more but liked less than those who remain silent. Research has shown that the decision to confront is viewed as a cost-benefit analysis; for women, they may sacrifice their likeability in order to stand up for gender equality. As a result, many women reduce themselves to “self-silencing” to adopt the role of a “good woman.” Because confronting is such a powerful tactic to reduce sexism, it is important to understand factors that affect how people perceive women who confront sexism. My project will examine whether variables such as ambiguity of the comment, sex of the commenter, and sex of the perceiver influences the perception of women who confront sexism. A prejudicial comment that is high in ambiguity is hard to immediately label as sexist: it might be a joke or a condescending tone; a low-ambiguity comment, however, is obviously highly prejudicial. My research can discover if the offensive nature of the comment influences the perception of the woman who confronts the comment. My research also manipulates the sex of the prejudicial commenter, because men are not the only instigators of sexism; by examining a woman who confronts a fellow woman who makes a sexist comment, my research endeavors to study something unexamined in current psychological research. My research also hopes to see whether the sex of the participant perceiving the interaction changes the perception of the female confronter. In and beyond the field of psychology, this research can further our understanding of how women can endeavor to stop sexism without being forced to choose whether to suffer and be silent or to speak and be disliked.