COLLEGE STATION, July 31, 2012 – Picture this scenario: you are in a restaurant and a man in the next booth starts talking to his female companion in a very non-polite way that is clearly upsetting. What would you do? The answer likely depends on whether you are a man or a woman and whether the scenario is hypothetical or is actually happening, says a Texas A&M University-led study.
The short answer seems to be “not much” regardless of gender. Chivalry, it would seem, is not alive and well.
Researchers George Cunningham, affiliated with the Laboratory for Diversity in Sport in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, and Kathi Miner, a psychologist in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Texas A&M, along with Claudia Benavides-Espinoza of Arkansas State University, examined the reactions of women and men who observe misogyny. Their findings are in the current issue of the journal Sex Roles.
The team observed the attitudes and reactions of 205 college-age students when confronted with disparaging remarks made about women. In one setting, participants read about a scenario and were asked to respond how they thought they would react. In the second, participants actually observed two men disparaging a woman, and the researchers documented their reactions. The authors said in most situations, the reactions of men were surprisingly consistent – they had little reaction at all.
Women, the study showed, tended to be upset about the situation when they read about it, or when it was hypothetical in nature, but, women who actually observed the incivility were hardly impacted and had reactions similar to those of men.
“It shows that women and men tend to react differently when thinking about how they would respond to negative comments made about a female,” Cunningham explains. “But when actually observing it, they respond in quite similar manners.”
“The bottom line is that in such a situation, men tend to be very passive – they say or do very little about what is happening. On the other hand, women tend to get more upset when thinking about uncivil behavior directed toward other women, but few actually do anything about it.”
Cunningham says that if both men and women were told about such a situation, most would say they would be offended and they would try to intervene. “But would they really? The study shows neither would likely get involved.”
The team examined political leanings of the study group and found that the leanings of those that called themselves liberals or conservatives had no impact on their reactions. However, women in the study who labeled themselves as being somewhat or strongly religious reacted more strongly to the situation.
“We found that religious views most definitely played a role in how women would react,” he added.
“On the whole, men tend to be very passive in such a situation. They don’t feel any sort of connection to the woman being mistreated, and this potentially results in a lack of empathy. They tend to say or do nothing.”
Cunningham says the study shows that “even though people say they might respond or even step in when witnessing negative behavior toward women, very few would actually do anything.
“People tend to ignore it and just go on with their lives. The study might help people recognize that when uncivil behavior is taking place, there are steps you can take to be of help, and you can let others know such behavior is not acceptable.”