What are Gender Roles


Gender roles are sets of culturally defined behaviors such as masculinity and femininity. In most cultures this binary division of gender is roughly associated with biological sex—male or female. There is much variation within the categories of the masculine and the feminine, both in terms of the possible presentations of gender and the tasks deemed appropriate to each gender. There is also great variation in the degree of relation between gender and sex within and among cultures. Some cultures understand gender as only loosely linked to biology, while others, including the United States, assume gender is an effect of and flows naturally from biological sex.

Gender roles seem to reflect the biological roles of reproduction as well as degrees of relative physical strength and other perceived qualities such as the ability to nurture, intelligence, and aggression. In the context of reproduction, gender roles seem both natural and essential; that is, the qualities attributed to appropriate gender presentations are understood as an effect of a person’s biological sex. The essential character of gender roles as well as their binary division unfortunately has the effect of reducing human capabilities to artificial sets of complementary traits in which some, generally belonging to masculinity, are valued, and others, usually belonging to femininity, are devalued. The structural binarism of gender roles produces an artificial opposition in the qualities imagined to belong to each gender. If males are smart, females must be less smart. If males are strong, females are weak. This binary system sustains the oppression of women as an inferior class of beings and keeps most people from realizing their full potential. Gender roles neither represent the way most people combine traits from both genders nor provide a realistic picture of the capabilities of males and females in cultures no longer dependent on physical strength or divisions of domestic labor.

The qualities and behaviors considered appropriate to each gender change through history and from culture to culture. What is permitted in modern Western cultures seems comparatively less repressive and oppositional than the range of behaviors that were permitted to males and females in Western cultures one hundred years ago. More liberal cultures in general permit a broader range of deviation from gender norms, whereas more conservative cultures restrict and police gender behaviors.

Attention to gender roles as an object of study began at the end of the nineteenth century, as sexologists such as Havelock Ellis (1859–1939) and psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) became interested in sex and particularly in patients whose desires seemed to deviate from normative gender roles. As it became evident that sexual desires were not always heterosexual, analysts questioned the ways individuals positioned themselves in relation to gender. If, for example, one explained homosexual desires as incidents of a person of one sex inhabiting the body of another (called sexual inversion), how did such an inversion come about? Breaking apart what had seemed to be a natural alignment among sex, body, gender role, and sexual desires brought each of these categories into question. Psychoanalysis, psychology, biology, and sociology have all been disciplines brought to bear on the questions of where gender comes from, how individuals adopt their gender (is it nature or an effect of nurture?), and what gender normalcy might mean in a species with wide variation. In addition feminists have also raised the social and economic disadvantage based on gender as well as how inevitable gender traits really are.

The number of different disciplines involved in studying gender roles has produced a complex and sometimes confusing set of terms for the number of slightly different phenomena that constitute gender and gender roles. A sex role is sometimes a synonym for a gender role or it may refer specifically to a reproductive role such as maternity. It may also refer to which biological sex someone has chosen to be. That choice usually, but not always, correlates with genital morphology. The term sexual identity refers to how individuals understand themselves as biological males or females, but it is also sometimes used to describe how individuals understand their sexual desires as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, autosexual, or celibate. Sexual preference and sexual orientation are other terms for the direction of sexual desires. Gender presentation refers to how people choose to present themselves despite what category of sex they have determined they belong to. Gender or sex role stereotypes refer to the models of behavior considered to be right and normative in the context of a given society. Gender identity, finally, refers to an individual’s sense of themselves as masculine or feminine, or perhaps as neither or both.

see also Gender Identity; Gender Stereotype; Gender, Theories of; Sex.


Beauvoir, Simone. 1952. The Second Sex, trans. H. M. Parshley. New York: Alfred Knopf.

Brettell, Carolyn, and Carolyn Sargeant. 2004. Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective. 4th edition. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Butler, Judith. 1991. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Lindsey, Linda. 2004. Gender Roles: A Sociological Perspective. 4th edition. New York: Prentice-Hall.

                                                  Judith Roof


From the 1960s onward, the rise of feminism and feminist scholarship initiated investigations into the histories of women whose living conditions and experiences were overwhelmingly disregarded in mainstream histories that emphasized prominent male figures and government politics. Charting the changes in women’s domestic roles and working conditions, these primarily women-focused studies attempted to understand how social institutions of the past led to contemporary social, political, and economic inequalities between the sexes. Increasingly, historians have engaged the social histories of both women and men, shifting the focus to gendered interactions and calling attention to the instability and flexibility of gender as a concept. Even the discipline of history itself has become a subject of study as a “cultural institution endorsing and announcing constructions of gender” (Scott 1998, p. 9).

In the late 1950s, sexologist John Money (1921–2006) coined the term gender roles to mark a distinction between behaviors related to one’s biological sex and those related to social practices and individual gender identity. The notion that masculine roles and feminine roles, while related to biological sex, are not determined by the differences in male and female genitalia had a significant impact both on the historical interpretation of social orderings and on understandings of traditional gender roles. In the 1970s feminist scholars such as Gayle Rubin (b. 1949) drew connections between economic, familial, and psychic forces that culturally construct gender based on notions of sexual difference. Calling attention to the ways gender has acquired a false appearance of fixity through social institutions, historian Joan Wallach Scott argued in the 1980s that discourses of power such as those of fundamentalist religious groups have “forcibly linked their practice to a restoration of women’s supposedly more authentic ‘traditional’ role, when in fact there is little historical precedent for the unquestioned performance of such a role” (1998, p. 43). Late twentieth-century historical studies of gender have demonstrated that over time the social institutions and discourses, which define gender roles, change and gender roles may vary greatly across cultures and even within a society’s socioeconomic and multiethnic strata.

The malleability of gender and gender roles can be found in historical studies of societies that recognized more than two genders, such as the Mohave Native American Indians. The Mohave of the American Southwest, from the precolonial era up to the late nineteenth century, recognized four gender norms: male; female; male-cross-gender (berdache), who was socially feminine; and female-cross-gender, who was socially masculine. Significantly in this structure, the female-cross-gender category is not synonymous with the contemporary classification of lesbian, and for a Mohave female to sexually desire another female was considered nonnormative.

According to Evelyn Blackwood, “the cross-gender role arose from the particular conditions of kinship and gender in these tribes. The egalitarian relations of the sexes were predicated on the cooperation of autonomous individuals who had control of their productive activities” (1984, p. 32). A female-cross-gender often came into her role in childhood by avoiding the female duties of food preparation, basket weaving, and the making of clothes. She would instead display an interest in male duties such as hunting and weapon-making. Within the Mohave’s egalitarian kinship system, living with kin established lineage or familial reproduction. For instance, since a female-cross-gender could only marry a female, their children must come either via adoption or via the wife coming to marriage with children already. The children, regardless of how they came to the couple, would be recognized as belonging within their household’s lineage. The Mohave was not the only Native American society to recognize more than two genders, for evidence of cross-gender roles has been found in over thirty Native American tribes.

In contrast to egalitarian kinship systems, patriarchal social systems have predominated through much of world history. Patriarchal systems attempt to restrict gender roles to a binary order based on sexual reproduction. Maintaining a hierarchy wherein men dominate women, patriarchy regulates sexual reproduction by patronymic codes and laws, establishing and ensuring paternity, so that property or political power might be passed on through male offspring. Most scholars agree that inequalities between men and women increase when societies shift modes of production from hunting and gathering, to agriculture, to machine industry. As agricultural societies produced surpluses and their populations grew, their governments expanded and gender inequalities increased. In patriarchal social orders, men assumed a dominant position in the society and pressed “women to become more purely domestic in function, more dependent on the family and more decorative” (Stearns 2000, p. 2). Women could then be defined primarily according to their relation to men; moreover, depending on the society and era, women were, or still are, kept from property ownership and active political participation.

Religious and philosophical institutions have played a significant part in delineating gender roles and establishing patriarchal social orders. Western cultural traditions based on biblical and Greek, particularly Aristotelian, thought pronounced women to be categorically inferior to men (Wiesner-Hanks 2001). Likewise, in South and East Asia, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Islam (to varying degrees) maintained the subordination of women to men for ordering familial and social structures. It is important to note, however, that most scholars view the “development of patriarchy as a complicated process, involving everything that is normally considered part of ‘civilization’: property ownership, plow agriculture, the bureaucratic state, writing, hereditary aristocracies” alongside the development of organized religions and philosophies (Wiesner-Hanks 2001, p. 17).

The complexities of patriarchy can be viewed in histories accounting contact between cultures wherein role changes, however minor, become more pronounced. Peter Stearns (2000) demonstrates in his cross-cultural history of gender roles that—over the past few thousand years—trade, colonial conquest, and, currently, international organizations invariably altered established ideas about the roles of men and women. For instance, the spread of Buddhism from India to China from the fourth century to the ninth century ce gradually expanded the image of woman and her duties in China’s Confucian-style family. Whereas both Buddhism and Confucianism asserted female inferiority, Buddhism’s claims that enlightenment was neither male nor female and that a woman had the spiritual potential to be holy offered greater social status to women and a spiritual egalitarian-ism previously absent from Confucian doctrines. Additionally, Buddhist monasteries offered alternatives to marriage for young Chinese women and men seeking a spiritual path. For married women, Buddhism provided opportunities for activities outside home or family. Women formed clubs to study sutras, supplying them with a means to become holy leaders. If Buddhism appeared to have affected gender roles by offering women, as well as men, access to political power and life outside of marriage, Buddhism could not, overall, “slow the standard tendency in agricultural civilization to a further deterioration” or subordination of women to men (Stearns 2000, p. 36).

Gender roles are always in flux—being inscribed, reinscribed, or resisted. Historians of American culture have suggested the following four major classifications to discuss dominant trends and shifting gender roles in the United States: paternalism in the colonial era; separate spheres in the Victorian era; companionate marriage from the 1920s to the 1950s; and quasi-egalitarianism beginning in the 1960s (Pleck 1991). It should be noted, however, that these categories mark only the dominant and predominantly white, middle-class, Anglo-American ideals of gender roles. Social groups such as immigrants, Native Americans, slaves, homosexuals, the working-class, and a myriad of other individuals who sought to express themselves alternatively to the norm often did not live according to these dominant gender ideals, negotiating, instead, gender roles suited to their particular socioeconomic circumstances or desires.


Adler, Leonore Loeb, ed. 1993. International Handbook on Gender Roles. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Blackwood, Evelyn. 1984. “Sexuality and Gender in Certain Native American Tribes: The Case of Cross-Gender Females.” Signs. (10)1: 27-42.

Glover, David, and Cora Kaplan. 2000. Genders. New York: Routledge.

Pleck, Elizabeth H. 1991. An Historical Overview of American Gender Roles and Relations from Precolonial Times to the Present. Wellesley, MA: Center for Research on Women.

Scott, Joan Wallach. 1998. Gender and the Politics of History. New York: Columbia University Press.

Stearns, Peter N. 2000. Gender in World History. New York: Routledge.

Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E. 2001. Gender in History. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

                                  Kristina Banister Quynn


Gender roles, as well as people’s expectations of and attitudes toward them, are different among different cultures and societies and also change over time within cultures. This idea supports the view that gender roles are not “natural” or fixed and stable as a binary opposition, as biological sex is. To what extent separate gender roles function strongly in a culture differs among various societies but, on the whole, the more prescriptive a culture is in relation to gender roles, the more masculine and feminine gender roles are defined in opposition to one another.

People are taught gender roles through socialization from infancy. In early years children learn through the gender role divisions they see in their own family circle. Later other institutions, such as school, the judicial system, and the media, influence individuals’ perceptions of gender roles and work to encourage the internalization of what are considered appropriate roles. Some examples of the means by which individuals are socialized toward traditional roles are the toys they are encouraged to play with (dolls or trucks), the clothes that they are dressed in (pink or blue; dresses or shorts), the kinds of behavior for which they are praised or reprimanded (sharing or taking initiative; playing rough or being timid), and the kind of careers they are counseled to consider. Influences such as textbooks and advertising introduce people to gender role models that are often engaged in particular gendered activities. For example, in commercials toys are often targeted at either girls or boys, and in an ad for laundry detergent, boys may be shown having fun and getting dirty whereas girls are shown helping their mother with the housework.

Examples of traditional feminine and masculine roles also exist in relation to work and social behavior. Many cultures are similar in terms of what roles are expected. The most prevalent assumption about gender roles is that femininity is linked with motherhood and nurturing, highlighting the link to biology. It is widely assumed that women have a “maternal instinct,” which makes it natural for them to want children and want to be primary in caring for them. This becomes expanded to caring in general, so that many jobs traditionally associated with the feminine role are in areas such as education, health care, and social work, as well as homemaking. Men’s roles traditionally take them outside the home. Masculine work, in accordance with masculine roles, is expected to support the family and carry responsibility and is more likely to involve physically demanding labor. Examples in the past have been technical work, management, and the military. Such divisions are often damaging to individuals, as they restrict the choices of women and men both by prescribing attitudes regarding social relations toward being a parent and choices in one’s professional life.

Different kinds of societies have traditionally held, and still hold, different gender patterns. As Julia Wood (2005), working in communication studies, states, “in foraging or hunter-gatherer societies, there is the least gender division, and therefore, the greatest equality between men and women” (p. 49). Through horticultural, pastoral, and agrarian societies, gender relations are increasingly less equal, and “finally, industrial-capitalist societies distinguish clearly between the genders and confer different values on men and women” (p. 49). Religious beliefs also strongly influence attitudes toward the function of gender roles. Most fundamentalist religions prescribe greater separation between feminine and masculine roles, usually relegating women to a subordinate position.

The International Handbook on Gender Roles lists ways in which women are being denied equality, autonomy, or mental and physical integrity. “Female infanticide, suttee, genital mutilation, prostitution, child marriage, polygamy, arranged marriages, wife-selling, and prohibitions against birth control and abortion” are mentioned as practices following from the relegation of women to inferior roles (Adler 1993, p. x). Nancy Felipe Russo, a professor of psychology and women’s studies, states in the foreword: “Underlying these laws and practices are gender roles and stereotypes that reinforce traditional norms, values, and socialization patterns that rely on a view of women as different from and inferior to men. Women continue to be expected to find their central fulfillment as mothers and wives and are subordinated to men by social, economic, legal, and religious institutions” (p. x).

As Xiaoling Shu (2004) argues, legislation, education, and control for women over their own fertility are all instrumental to positive change with regard to gender roles for women. However, advances in these areas are no guarantee of equality: in numerous nations where laws exist to protect women against various forms of discrimination in the workplace or politics, practice shows a continuation of adherence to traditional gender roles. Also, whereas in many cultures girls now have almost equal access to education as compared to boys, education for girls is often only seen as a means of ensuring them a better marriage, as Barbara Mensch and colleagues observe (2003). The International Handbook of Gender Roles shows that, although on the whole attitudes have become more relaxed in most Western as well as many non-Western countries, gender roles are still quite rigidly prescribed worldwide, and though the adherence to suitable roles is generally required of both men and women, gender roles are much more restrictive to women because of the traditional devaluation or trivialization of gender roles associated with femininity.


Adler, Leonore Loeb, ed. 1993. International Handbook on Gender Roles. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Hatem, Mervat. 2002. “Gender and Islamism in the 1990s.” Middle East Report 222: 44-47.

Mensch, Barbara et al. 2003. “Gender-Role Attitudes among Egyptian Adolescents.” Studies in Family Planning 34(1):8-18.

Moore, Laura, and Reeve Vanneman. 2003. “Context Matters: Effects of the Proportion of Fundamentalists on Gender Attitudes.” Social Forces 82(1): 115-139.

Shu, Xiaoling. 2004. “Education and Gender Egalitarianism: The Case of China.” Sociology of Education 77: 311-336.

Wood, Julie T. 2005. Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture. 6th edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

                                         Barbara Postema

What is meant by gender bias?


-Baby needs a diaper change, who gets asked automatically?

-It’s raining and really cold, who is going to be allowed to go get something important and who will be told to stay home because it might not be safe?

-interview questions, only women get asked if they have children.

-only women get asked how they will be getting to work everyday.

-set the table

Ask for more examples

From The Social Psychology of Gender: How Power and Intimacy Shape Gender Relations, by Laurie A Rudman and Peter Glick.

Copyright © 2008 The Guilford Press. All rights reserved.

CHAPTER 9 Love and Romance

  After 3 years of intense courtship, Ken has proposed to Marcy and, hap- pily, she has accepted. While they have many wedding details to work out, and no doubt the occasion will be as momentous for Ken as for Marcy, it is clear from conversations with them that it is really Marcy’s “day.” She knows where she wants the ceremony to take place, what the wedding party will wear, which flowers to order, and what kind of music and food will be on hand. In fact, she has even picked out the ring Ken will buy for her. Other than assisting with the guest list, Ken has taken a back seat in planning the event, claiming he merely wants to be “told what to do.” If this does not strike you as the typical way that most nup- tials unfold, then imagine the reverse, with Ken designing the wedding and Marcy mostly acquiescing to his ideas.

In this chapter, we examine how male dominance and heterosexual interdependence intersect within heterosexual romantic relationships. We consider the many virtues and benefits of romantic love, underscor- ing its importance and centrality for human happiness. At the same time, we consider the subtle ways in which traditional ideologies about heterosexual romance can also unwittingly preserve male dominance. Throughout, we distinguish between romantic love itself and traditional romantic ideologies, which represent prescriptive cultural beliefs about how love should be enacted.


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Readers should understand from the outset that our aim is not to diminish or deride heterosexual romantic love; indeed, we will review its many demonstrated rewards. Nor is our aim to substitute our own ideological prescriptions about how people should act in relationships for traditional notions of romance. Rather, we seek to inform readers about how traditional gender ideologies have become incorporated into cultural views of romance in ways that they may not have reflected upon. Like cultural stereotypes that are so well learned that they auto- matically influence our perception and behavior, cultural ideologies about romance are so prevalent that they create scripts people may enact without thinking twice. In short, this chapter is oriented toward helping readers to “think twice” about traditional notions of romance so that they can make their own decisions.

Romantic love refers to the intense attachments formed between people who are in love, including feelings of wanting to merge with another person, sexual attraction, and the desire to protect the other’s welfare. In addition to its emotional properties, falling in love may be a basic drive that is as important as sex, thirst, and hunger (Aron, Fisher, Mashek, Strong, Li, & Brown, 2005). As scores of poems, songs, and novels attest, there are few things in life more rewarding.

By contrast, traditional romantic ideologies refer to prescriptive cultural scripts that dictate how love should unfold and be enacted. These scripts are highly gendered because they distinguish how members of each sex “should” demonstrate love, specifying differing “love roles” for men and women. Traditional romantic ideologies have so deeply influenced our cultural views of romantic love that many people are not free to simply and wholeheartedly experience love, but instead feel constrained to enact love in specific, highly gendered ways.

By constraining people’s choices, traditional romantic ideologies can diminish the quality of heterosexual romantic relationships. Fur- ther, there is growing evidence that they also represent an obstacle to attaining complete equality between the sexes. In particular, we argue that gendered romantic ideologies are an important linchpin for benev- olent sexism because they emphasize love as the defining feature of women’s lives and as conflicting with, rather than complementing and supplementing, women’s independence and autonomy. In essence, tra- ditional romantic ideologies encourage the “fairer sex” to limit their personal ambitions in exchange for the love and protection of men. This proposition is consistent with social structural theories of gender relations that emphasize the subtle ways that women may be co-opted


into supporting male dominance (Glick & Fiske, 1999; Jackman, 1994; Ridgeway, 2001b).

In addition, we underscore the consequences of traditional roman- tic scripts for men, who may experience conflict between cultural notions of masculinity and their natural desire to express feelings of love and nurturance toward their romantic partners. Like women, men may also feel forced to live up to unrealistic cultural ideals about their romantic role. If this chapter has a provocative aim, it is this: to help readers consider whether the benefits of romantic love can be retained and perhaps even enhanced for partners of both sexes once they are freed from the constraining, traditional cultural notions of how a man should love a woman and a woman should love a man.

The Benefits of Romantic Love

Romantic love itself is wonderful and life affirming. It is easy to see why falling in love is viewed as a panacea for people’s ills, and there is considerable evidence to support the many cultural references to love as a mood-altering drug. Subjectively, people report feelings of high energy and euphoria, accompanied by impressions of transcendence, such as feelings of “walking on air” (Hatfield & Rapson, 1993; Hendrick & Hendrick, 1992). Love can be so powerful that it may be difficult to concentrate on anything other than blissful thoughts of the loved one. Moreover, people in love report more positive attitudes toward the world in general, viewing reality through rose-colored glasses (Hen- drick & Hendrick, 1988).

Objectively, men and women alike experience passionate love as a neurological and hormonal high. People in love show activity in neural substrates that are positively linked to elation and negatively linked to depression (Bartels & Zeki, 2000). When falling in love, men and women automatically coordinate their testosterone levels (with men showing lower and women higher levels) to accommodate mutual sexual desire (Marazziti & Canale, 2004). Studies of pair bonding in monogamous prairie voles suggest that the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin are also part of the “cocktail” of romantic love that prepares people for mating (Winslow & Insel, 2004); both of these hormones are produced by the street drug Ecstasy, known for its hypersocial, euphoric effects (Wolff et al., 2006). When couples who have recently fallen in love view pictures of their partner, it activates the motivation and reward systems in the brain, suggesting that passion is a drive whose fulfillment is as

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rewarding as sating an addict’s need for cocaine (Aron et al., 2005). In other words, falling in love may be a drive as primal as hunger or thirst. Finally, the notion that people are “out of their minds” when they fall in love suggests a strong connection between sexual pleasure and ecstasy (derived from Greek roots meaning “to stand outside of oneself, or outside of one’s mind”; Baumeister, 1989, p. 100), and sexual pas- sion has long been described as ecstatic. Taken together, the findings are tantalizing in their suggestion that love acts like a euphoric drug on the human body.

When people fall in love, they long to merge with their beloved, to cease being two separate selves. There is evidence that their desire is cognitively manifested; newlyweds automatically identify with the traits that describe their partners but not themselves, suggesting that love blurs the boundaries between two people (Aron, Paris, & Aron, 1995). For example, imagine that your partner is athletic (but you are not), whereas you are musical (but your partner is not). On reaction time tests, you might quickly and mistakenly recognize the athletic trait as belonging to yourself, and your partner might similarly adopt the musi- cal trait.

People also show a strong tendency to endow their romantic part- ners with highly favorable, often idealized, attributes, a practice that appears to benefit the health of close relationships (Murray, Holmes, & Griffin, 1996; Murray & Holmes, 1997). That is, couples who idealize their partners tend to have less conflict and more stable relationships than those who view their partners as flawed, mortal beings. Ironically, oft-heard marital advice to “be realistic” about the virtues and vices of our partners may act to undermine, rather than benefit, our romantic relationships.

By any measure, satisfactory intimate relationships powerfully enhance the psychological and physiological well-being of both sexes (Berscheid & Reis, 1998). Thus, romantic love and its sexual expression are among the most sought after and intense experiences two people can share. However, when wrapped in traditional romantic ideologies that exalt women for their beauty and selfless “purity” (e.g., their devo- tion to others), love becomes culturally fused with benevolent sexism and may encourage women to accept less independence and autonomy in exchange for men’s romantic adoration and love. Such traditional notions can also constrain men, who may feel that they need to live up to romanticized ideals, like the “knight in shining armor,” in order to attract a female partner. In the following section, we review the histori- cal and cultural development of traditional notions of romance.


The Cultural Evolution of Love as the Basis for Marriage

To understand traditional ideologies of romance, it is crucial to con- sider their cultural evolution. Not that long ago, people did not marry for love, even in individualistic cultures. In fact, the concept of pas- sionate love as a basis for marriage is only about 200 years old (Coontz, 2005; Westermack, 1903). Before then, men and women married to secure alliances, to increase their families’ property and wealth, and to ensure that sufficient progeny would be around to inherit the gains. If a wife did not produce children (or had only female children), this “failure” was deemed grounds for divorce. Before the Industrial Revolu- tion, living conditions were sufficiently bleak that marriage was based on enhancing one’s chances of survival rather than the desire for self- fulfillment that now leads people to emphasize appearance, personality, and mutual attraction (Hafner, 1993). Nonetheless, pragmatic marriages remain common in many parts of the world where the typical union is arranged through the couple’s relatives; often, bride and groom do not see each other until shortly before they are wed (Kottak, 2004). The suc- cess of these marriages is often a source of puzzlement to Westerners. However, when people do not expect much emotional or sexual fulfill- ment from marriage, they are not greatly disappointed by its absence (Hafner, 1993; McNulty & Karney, 2004). Moreover, arranged marriages can lead to increased love and passion over time as the couple’s mutual appreciation unfolds (Brehm, 1998; Gupta & Singh, 1982).

The expectation of emotional rewards from marriage was a luxury made possible by the rising standard of living during the Industrial Age. Even so, women, as the more biologically and socially vulnerable sex, were encouraged to be more pragmatic than men when choosing a mate (Maushart, 2001). Today, many Westerners would consider a prag- matic match (e.g., based on financial security) to be hopelessly crass, a sign of the advances that women have made in securing their economic independence but also of the value placed on emotional gratification when people marry for the sake of love. Ideally, the couple “falls madly in love,” and this propels them to legalize their union.

Medieval to Modern Notions of Romance

Although love-based marriages are a recent historical phenomenon, the idea of romance began much earlier. Historians have pegged its beginnings to 12th-century France, in the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine

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(Heer, 1962). Inspired by the feudal system and adopted at first in the spirit of play, this new form of gender relations involved knights court- ing ladies of higher birth, with women playing the role of lord and men the role of servant. To win a lady’s esteem and affection, knights carried out various wishes for them, which ranged from simple services to acts of bravery and heroism. In return, knights sought tokens of affection, such as a kiss or a perfumed handkerchief, and would kneel to receive them, a ritual that survives today in men’s practice of kneeling before a woman to propose marriage. In other words, romance as an ideology began between men and women of different status, with women hav- ing the upper hand. Thus, we can trace the origins of men putting the women they love “on a pedestal” to the medieval origins of romance. Elevating women to a “higher status” in matters of the heart began because of the genuine disparity in social class between ladies and knights in medieval France. Today, however, it informs heterosexual relations across the social strata (De Rougemont, 1956), and the notion of the “pedestal” of love may restrict women as much as it elevates them in men’s affections. Further, although such romantic ideologies were once confined to industrialized nations, they are now embedded across a wide spectrum of cultures in an increasingly interconnected world (Hatfield & Rapson, 2006).

In their current manifestation, traditional romance narratives endow women with the trappings of superior status in a superficial and placating way. While women are “courted” by men, the qualities for which they are sought after, such as youth, beauty, and sexual modesty, are actually low in status (and short in shelf-life) compared with the qualities for which male partners are valued (e.g., power and wealth). Moreover, they accentuate prescriptive stereotypes that men are active initiators, whereas women are passive, emotional responders. From their intensive study of college students, Holland and Skinner (1987) describe the typical course of conventional notions of romance as hav- ing more than a hint of these stereotypes. After a man and a woman discover their mutual attraction:

The man learns and appreciates the woman’s qualities and uniqueness as a person. Sensitive to her desires, he shows his attraction by treating her well: for example, he pays attention to her, he buys things for her, takes her places she likes, and shows that he appreciates her special qualities. She in turn shows her admiration and care for him and allows the relation- ship to become more intimate. The relationship provides intimacy—both emotional and physical. It also provides prestige by demonstrating that



the woman is attractive—she has attracted a man… If the woman is more attractive than the man, he can compensate by treating her especially well. The man’s treatment of the woman is a sign of (his assessment of) her attractiveness relative to his. If the woman’s attractiveness is the lesser of the two, she compensates by lowering her expectations for good treatment. The woman’s expectations of the man are a sign of (her assessment of) his attractiveness relative to hers. (Holland & Skinner, 1987, pp. 89–90, 101–102)

According to this gendered script, the man is stereotypically active (“buying her things” and “taking her places”) while the woman passively “admires” him. Moreover, the script itself is not particularly intimate or loving in that it treats both partners as commodities in a sexual market- place, specifying (1) a set of gender-based exchanges (the man appreci- ates her by expending resources, the woman cares for him and consents to sex), and (2) a means of compensating for unequal attractiveness (his less favorable treatment of her, her lowered expectations of him). These exchanges are also viewed as a means of providing both partners with a source of social prestige; she has captured a man’s attentions, and he has (ideally) captured an attractive woman.

One of the hallmarks of a culturally defined schema or ideology is that, although actual relationships are not destined to follow the model, “experience is anticipated, interpreted, and evaluated in light of it” (Holland & Eisenhart, 1990, p. 94). For example, women who cut their romantic teeth on Gone with the Wind might expect their mate to sweep them off their feet and carry them up a staircase to the bedroom. When reality does not match the model, it may be brought into sync with men- tal tricks. In one study, researchers had women read a story describing a whirlwind romance; the women claimed it was very much like their own love story even though their own experience (reported weeks earlier) shared very little in common with it (Averill, 1985).

In sum, traditional romantic ideologies have been translated from the royal courts of France to the present in ways that help us to trace the roots of modern practices, including men’s “courting” of women and holding them in high esteem for traits such as modesty and depen- dence. Also the idea that men grant women’s wishes through deeds and services in exchange for affection has survived, with the added reward of sexual favors. Our conventional notions of romance began as a game played by knights and their ladies, who had greater social and economic status than their courtly suitors. Ironically, today these traditional ideas may help to maintain women’s lower cultural status. Women may be

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worshipped as “the fairer sex” and placed on a pedestal by men who seek to capture their devotion and love, but, as we describe later, this exchange is not conducive to gender equality.

Romance and Ambivalent Sexism

Recall that placing women on a pedestal is an aspect of benevolent sex- ism, and benevolent sexism harms gender equality because it envisions women as a “protected class” (with men, knights or not, doing the pro- tecting). Benevolent sexism exalts women on dimensions (e.g., unself- ishness and purity) that maintain their low status as a group by uphold- ing feminine ideals that, if lived up to, undermine women’s power and influence in public life. Women’s traditional purviews are love, family, relationships, and tending to others, which endow them with a duty to be selfless (e.g., willing to sacrifice personal ambitions to help the family as a whole). Highly gendered romantic ideologies encourage women to exchange men’s protection for their autonomy: their right to be men’s equals on the dimensions that society values most, such as achievement, recognition, money, and power.

It was not as though women had better options than to accept this traditional exchange. At the time that the ideology of romance blos- somed in France, prevailing views of women were based on a hostile sexism reinforced by religious justifications (Painter, 1940). Medieval Christianity was explicit about women’s inferiority to men. Steeped in a religion that blamed Eve, the first woman, for people’s fall from grace, impugned women as “unclean,” and sometimes burned them at the stake as heretic witches, a benevolent view of their sex must have seemed like a miracle to medieval women. In this context, romantic ideologies that worshipped women were an important counterbalance to hostile sexism.

Moreover, even today conventional scripts about romance serve some positive functions. They offer a ritualized set of “rules” that enable the sexes to overcome a highly segregated childhood, marked by avoidance of the other gender (see Chapter 3). Further, by encouraging benevolence, romantic scripts may counter male tendencies to compete, dominate, and aggress, making them kinder, gentler partners. Thus, men’s benevolence toward women is not solely designed to perpetuate the status quo but also reflects a genuine desire to share a long and happy life with a devoted partner.

However, the same positive features of traditional romantic ide- ologies described previously can easily devolve into justifications for


inequality. For instance, traditional romantic ideology suggesting that it takes “the love of a good woman” to “civilize” a man can easily become a rationalization for traditional roles. For example, in an attempt to appeal to female voters, President Reagan once jovially stated that “If it wasn’t for women, us men would still be walking around in skin suits carrying clubs.” Although he meant this as a compliment, his audience—representatives of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women—did not see it that way. As one Republican woman commented, “To me he seemed to be saying that the only rea- son we’re here is to create families” (Isaacson, 1983).

Such views of women as the fairer sex who need men as their pro- tectors once justified excluding women from dangerous, demanding, or stressful occupations (e.g., firefighters, pilots, police work) “for their own good.” While employment discrimination based on sex is now ille- gal, benevolently justified or protective restrictions may still occur in romantic relationships, where the notion of men as protectors remains prevalent. This kind of protectiveness may have mixed motives: It may simply be loving but could also be based on sexist assumptions that women cannot take care of themselves, or it might even be manipulative (a strategy of control). Thus, a male partner’s protectiveness can create interpretational ambiguity for female partners. For example, imagine a husband who assumes control of the family finances because it would be “too demanding and stressful” for his wife. Is he being benevolent or sexist or both (i.e., thinking he is being nice, but making sexist assump- tions), or is he simply using protectiveness as an excuse? Given the long history of paternalism in gender relations, the wife may be uncertain about her husband’s motives. (A similar situation in close relationships would be a father who imposes greater restrictions on his daughter than his son.)

Determining how to react to a male partner’s protective restrictions may be especially difficult in romantic relationships because partners are rightly expected to care for each other, with the male partner tra- ditionally enacting a protective role. Not only are men socialized to be protective toward female partners, but some women (those who endorse benevolent sexism) may expect or even demand male protectiveness, even at the cost of restrictions on their freedom.

A pair of studies conducted in Spain (Moya, Glick, Expósito, de Lemus, & Hart, 2007) examined how women deal with the tricky issue of a male partner’s protective restriction of their behavior. In one study, female psychology majors were told that they were eligible to participate in a counseling internship involving clinical work with men who had

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been convicted of domestic abuse or sexual assault. The women were informed of this opportunity during a session attended by their steady male romantic partners, ostensibly to make sure that the internship would not “cause problems” for their relationship. The male partners, sequestered in another room, were recruited as experimental confeder- ates to write a note strongly opposing participation in the internship, claiming “I would convince her not to do it.” The notes were scripted, but in the boyfriends’ own handwriting. Depending on random assign- ment, the boyfriend simply opposed the girlfriend’s participation or added a benevolent justification (“I would be very concerned for her safety”).

How did women react when given the note from their boyfriends? When a benevolent justification was provided, most women reacted positively. However, when the boyfriend gave no justification, women’s reactions depended on their own endorsement of benevolent sexism: Those with high scores reacted positively and did not view their boy- friends as “discriminating against me as a woman,” but those with low scores reacted less positively and suspected that the boyfriend was being at least somewhat sexist.

In a second study, Moya et al. (2007) used a similar scenario but added another benevolent justification. Spanish law students imagined being offered a legal internship working with male criminals incarcer- ated for violent crimes but who claim to have been falsely convicted. They also imagined their romantic partner strongly opposing the internship, again with no explanation or with a benevolent justifica- tion. This time, however, female law students were exposed to one of two benevolent justifications: (1) their male partner saying “I am con- cerned that it would not be safe for you” or (2) “I am concerned that it would not be safe for a woman” [italics added]. Women who endorsed benevolent sexism reacted positively in all three conditions, regardless of whether a justification was provided or the benevolence was per- sonalized (“… for you”) or generic (“… for a woman”). However, for women who reject benevolent sexism, the justification mattered a great deal. As before, they did not react positively to a restriction without an explanation but did react positively to a personalized benevolent justifi- cation. Interestingly, the simple change from “for you” to “for a woman” had a big impact on these women’s reactions. Although they accepted a personalized benevolent justification and saw it as nondiscriminatory, they viewed the generic justification (which invoked their gender cat- egory) much less positively and rated is as discriminatory. In subsequent debriefings, women were made aware that their boyfriends’ statements


were not genuine, and the authors made sure no harm was done to their relationships as a result of their participation in the study.

In sum, women who endorse benevolent sexism appear to accept that their male partners are acting “for their own good” when imposing a protective restriction, even when the partner does not explicitly say so. By contrast, women who reject benevolent sexism pay close atten- tion to their male partner’s explanations, accepting at face value the justification that “I am concerned for your safety.” But when a benevo- lent justification explicitly referred to their perceived vulnerability “as a woman,” they suspected that they were facing discrimination.

Is there anything inherently wrong with a boyfriend having con- cern for a girlfriend’s safety? Of course not, and she should be con- cerned with his safety as well. The problem, however, is that protective paternalism has long been used, either intentionally or unintentionally, to restrict women’s freedom and independence. In romantic relation- ships, both women and men may have a tough time deciding where the line between justified concern and protective paternalism should be drawn. In specific cases, whether a male partner’s protective actions are only benevolent, benevolently sexist, or even deliberately manipulative may depend on the eye of the beholder.

As the previous experiments suggest, people differ as to whether they want their relationships to be characterized by traditional roles (e.g., the man as the protector). These differences may depend on how they were socialized (e.g., whether parents encouraged their sons to be chivalrous “knights” and daughters to be “princesses”). At the same time, as the next section describes, all of us were exposed early and often to traditional romantic ideals. Women, in particular, are social- ized from a very young age to believe that their bodies, emotions, and psychology make them especially designed for romance, that it is the essence of being female.

Romantic Socialization: Scripts Even a Child Can Follow

Take a guess: Who is the author who appears in the Guinness World Book of Records as having published the most books? Is it Philip Roth? John Irving? Stephen King? As prolific as these authors are, they do not even come close to Dame Barbara Cartland, who published more than 700 books before she died in 2000 (at the age of 98). Her books sport titles such as The Wings of Love, The Drums of Love, The River of Love, and

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Love in the Clouds. Now guess who primarily reads her books: men or women? That one was easy.

Romantic socialization starts early for girls and is included in the pervasive cultural modeling of gender roles. Children are continually exposed to models of gender-linked behavior in storybooks, video games, and films and on television (see Bussey & Bandura, 1999, for a review). By age 4, girls prefer romantic fairy tales, whereas boys prefer adventure tales (Collins-Standley, Gan, Yu, & Zillman, 1996). The cur- rently popular marketing of “princess culture” to young girls (e.g., by Disney and Club Libby Lu) is projected to be the largest girls’ franchise in marketing history (Orenstein, 2006). By early adolescence, magazines for girls heavily promote attractiveness and dating as constant themes (Pierce, 1990), themes that continue in women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Glamour. Thus, women are encouraged to view their worth in terms of their ability to attract the other sex from an early age (K. A. Martin, Luke, & Verduzco-Baker, 2007).

A content analysis of the romantic fiction popular with women showed that men were depicted as desirable mates if they had material resources and were aggressive and bold, whereas women were depicted as desirable mates if they were beautiful, friendly, and timid (Whissell, 1996). Content analyses of television ads also yield a heavy reliance on gender stereotypes (Furnham & Mak, 1999; Lovdal, 1989), and women exposed to gender-typed media in laboratory studies show less inter- est in personal achievement compared with women exposed to neu- tral media (Davies, Spencer, Quinn, & Gerhardstein, 2002; Davies et al., 2005; Geis, Brown, Jennings, & Porter, 1984). In short, it does not appear that the Women’s Movement has made much of an impact on the cultural diet offered to girls and women when it comes to romantic fantasies. In the next section, we outline the ways that gender stereo- typing influences the development of romantic attachments in young women and men.

Adolescence and Romance

In Chapter 3, we described how children, absent the strong heterosex- ual impulses that motivate the majority of adolescents and adults to seek out members of the other sex, are free to ignore or even denigrate their gender out-group. The onset of puberty dramatically changes this situation as heterosexual adolescents become intensely interested in forming romantic attachments with members of the other sex. Not all is transformed, however. Gender differences in interaction styles, which


have been well practiced and honed in same-sex interactions through- out childhood, remain. The general themes of greater male assertive- ness and female accommodation continue, laying the groundwork for male dominance in adulthood.

Adolescence is a notoriously awkward time of life for many reasons, but the difficulty in negotiating romantic relations and a sexual (not just a gender) identity are chief among them. Adolescence is also a time of rapid and significant physical changes (many of them connected to sexual maturation) that increase both boys’ and girls’ self-consciousness about appearance, social acceptance, and self-identity. Some authors have contended that adolescence is particularly difficult for girls (e.g., Gilligan, 1982), whereas others have focused on the problems that boys experience negotiating the transition to adulthood (Pollack, 1998). Considering the stumbling blocks both sexes face, such as the greater prevalence of eating disorders among girls (Feingold & Mazella, 1998) or the behavioral problems and poor achievement that are more likely to be seen in boys (Hoff-Summers, 2000; Pollack, 1998), it seems safe to say that adolescence is troublesome for members of both sexes. To some extent, girls and boys face similar problems; however, already established differences in male and female behaviors and cultural expectations spe- cific to each sex also create differences in the nature and consequences of the challenges boys and girls face.

Attracting Members of the Other Sex and Physical Appearance

A central challenge for both sexes is how to attract romantic partners. In both adolescents and adults, physical attractiveness is an extremely important determinant of romantic attraction for heterosexuals (Spre- cher, 1989). This is also true for homosexual men (Sergios & Cody, 1986) but not necessarily for homosexual women (Deaux & Hanna, 1984). One of the most painful adolescent ironies is that the increased importance of physical appearance (in order to be sexually attractive) coincides with rapid physical changes, some of which, like facial acne, can diminish attractiveness.

Although adult males traditionally have been able to overcome def- icits in looks by amassing wealth or power (Sprecher, 1989), less physi- cally attractive adolescent males typically do not have such resources to boost their romantic eligibility. One advantage boys have compared with girls, however, is that the effects of puberty on the male body are more

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in line with the male cultural ideal (Rosenblum & Lewis, 1999). Boys experience an increase in muscle mass and a growth spurt that brings them closer to the desired physical appearance for men. An increase in physical strength and height can also translate into increased interper- sonal power and influence. These changes are so important that boys who do not “keep up” with their peers are at risk for taking anabolic steroids (Lenahan, 2003). By contrast, in cultures that value an unreal- istically thin body ideal for women, the physical changes girls experi- ence are more problematic. Girls’ percentage of body fat increases dur- ing puberty. This physical change, combined with a cultural value on a more wispy (or, increasingly, a well-toned) feminine form, seems like a potent recipe for eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, which girls experience at a much higher rate than boys (Feingold & Mazella, 1998).

Girls also have to contend with physical changes related to repro- duction. Menarche (the onset of menstruation) marks an abrupt and dramatic transition in a girls’ life. Menstruation can be a positive expe- rience, but it is also stigmatized (Roberts, Goldenberg, Power, & Pyszc- zynski, 2002) and can, therefore, increase adolescent self-consciousness. The fact that the menstrual cycle can affect mood feeds exaggerated ste- reotypes that adolescent girls and women are too emotional and irratio- nal. In terms of antisocial behavior, however, the reality is that boys and men are more likely to lash out in aggressive, irrational behavior (Pol- lack, 1998). Stereotypes about women’s emotionality, reinforced by the idea that women are uncontrollably moody as a result of hormones, pro- vide a convenient excuse for some men to disregard women’s concerns, whether in interpersonal relationships or the workplace. For instance, a boyfriend might blame a fight on his girlfriend “PMSing,” and men might dismiss the notion of female world leaders on the presumption that women become irrational on a monthly basis.

In short, the importance of physical appearance to attracting roman- tic partners combined with the physical changes of adolescence affects both sexes. Boys and girls alike experience increased self-consciousness and concern with their physical appearance. The physical changes of adolescence, however, may act to increase boys’ interpersonal power as they become larger and more muscled. In comparison, girls change in ways that bear a problematic relationship to contemporary physical ide- als for their sex. Nonetheless, both sexes are pressured to embody the unrealistic, cultural ideals of their gender, which can create anxiety and disrupt well-being (see Chapter 10).


Heterosexual Romance, Interdependence, and Power

After a childhood spent avoiding the other gender and developing dif- ferent social norms in peer relations, adolescent heterosexual relations are bound to be at least somewhat difficult to negotiate. Cultural scripts of romance, such as the norms about how a date is expected to proceed, provide normative guides to cross-sex interaction. In some cultures, scripts that rigidly proscribe sexual contact may be strongly enforced by adults, who select appropriate marital partners based more on an alli- ance of families than individual preference (Kottak, 2004). However, in Western nations, adolescent sexuality has become more a matter of indi- vidual freedom, subject to limited parental oversight (Giordano, 2003; Manning, Longmore, & Giordano, 2005). Nonetheless, cultural norms or scripts that inform adolescent expectations about how to interact with potential romantic partners remain strong. Further, the contents of such scripts are still consistent with relatively traditional gender norms and reinforce gender differences in interaction styles (Holland & Eisen- hart, 1990; Rose & Frieze, 1989, 1993).

For example, although formal dating is less common among con- temporary adolescents than used to be the case, dating scripts still sug- gest that the male partner takes a more active role than the female partner (Holland & Skinner, 1987; Rose & Frieze, 1989, 1993). The boy is supposed to initiate the date, pick the girl up, pay her way, and deliver her home safely. Boys are also expected to initiate sexual contact. In short, the cultural ideal is consistent with the gender schema that boys ought to be active and assertive and that the adult male assumes the role of protector and provider. Male chivalry is considered to be an integral part of romance.

Girls, however, are expected to act in line with a more passive, femi- nine gender schema. Cultural scripts advise girls about how they are expected to accommodate boys in order to attract them. This advice can be summed up as “play up to his ego, introduce topics that you know he knows something about or likes to talk about, don’t confront him openly or be too assertive, laugh at his jokes, and admire his accomplish- ments” (Maccoby, 1998, p. 196). After having spent their childhood short-circuiting male dominance by avoiding boys, adolescent girls are expected to allow boys to “take charge” in order to promote romance. Traditional romantic ideologies suggest that girls and women ought not to exert direct influence over male romantic partners. The female part- ner is expected to exert influence using more subtle and indirect strate- gies (such as getting him to be so devoted that he wants to please her).

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Power dynamics within adolescent romantic relationships are com- plex. On the one hand, boys’ generally more assertive interpersonal style increases the likelihood that they can exert direct influence within the relationship (Carli, 2001). For instance, whereas boys are more likely to state a preference or an opinion in a confident and assertive man- ner, girls are more likely to qualify what they say (e.g., “I don’t know, but … ”) or to turn a statement of preference into a question (e.g., “Maybe it would be fun to go to the movies?”). These differences are most evident in heterosexual, rather than same-sex, interactions, sug- gesting that girls are following the traditional cultural script to be less assertive toward male partners (Carli, 1990).

On the other hand, boys (as well as girls) are eager to please part- ners to whom they are attracted, lending the less interested partner a greater degree of power over the one who most fervently wants to begin or maintain the relationship (this is known as the “principle of least interest”; Waller & Hill, 1951). Differences in male and female sexuality can affect this balance of power. On average, adolescent boys and men tend to think about sex and to be motivated to engage in it more fre- quently than adolescent girls and women (for a review, see Baumeister, Catanese, & Vohs, 2001). This difference may be due to both biological factors (the evolutionary advantages of male promiscuity) and cultural reasons (a sexual double standard that encourages male conquests and derogates female promiscuity as being slutty). Women’s traditional role as gatekeepers to sex (deciding when and “how far to go”) can be a source of power within heterosexual romantic relationships. In essence, sex is often treated as a female resource that is exchanged in return for other desired “goods,” such as male attention (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004). Traditional cultural scripts of romance reinforce this idea. For instance, the central message of The Rules (Fein & Schneider, 1995), the female dating guidebook mentioned in Chapter 2, is that women ought to be “mysterious” and “play hard to get” in order to pique male interest and to give them power within heterosexual relationships.

For male adolescents, the combination of a persistent sex drive with a more assertive, aggressive style of interaction can spill over into sexual coercion. The prototypical rape scenario, in which a stranger forcibly assaults a woman, is relatively rare compared with sexual coer- cion by acquaintances, friends, boyfriends, and husbands (Hickman & Muehlenhard, 1997; see Chapter 11). Sometimes this can simply be a matter of misinterpretation. Both adolescent boys and men are prone to incorrectly interpreting female friendliness as sexual invitation (Abbey, 1991). Further, cultural scripts about sexual interaction, such as the


notion that girls and women ought to “play hard to get,” encourage boys and men to interpret “no” as a token form of resistance (i.e., to think that “‘no’ doesn’t really mean ‘no’”). This, in turn, makes men more likely to engage in sexual aggression (see Chapter 11).

In sum, adolescent relationships present both sexes with the chal- lenge of devising satisfying ways to interact with members of the other sex after a childhood spent apart. For heterosexual adolescents, sex segregation begins to break down as they attempt to become romanti- cally intimate. In heterosexual relationships, a new set of power dynam- ics evolves, but it remains shaped by traditional gender schemas and scripts that specify how romance is “supposed to” unfold. The relatively more assertive interpersonal styles that boys have practiced throughout childhood among their same-sex peers lend them more direct power in heterosexual relationships. Cultural scripts and ideals of heterosexual romance also reinforce the idea that girls ought to accommodate by flattering the male ego and letting the boy be more “in charge” in the relationship. As a result, an interest in heterosexual romance may be an initial step in the transition to greater male power in adulthood. This is not to say that power flows in only one direction: The traditional female role as sexual gatekeeper can lend girls, especially those who are consid- ered to be most desirable, considerable interpersonal power, although often this power is indirectly exercised and can be counteracted by male sexual coercion.

The Glass Slipper Effect

By the time women reach college age, they have been duly “educated in romance” (Holland & Eisenhart, 1990). Even today, women are chroni- cally subjected to the notion that their primary goal in life should be to attract a mate and raise a family rather than seek economic rewards and prestige directly. Advice from books on dating (The Rules), maga- zines like Cosmopolitan, and radio pundits like Laura Schlessinger (“Dr. Laura”) proclaims that “feminism is dead” and what a woman really ought to do is learn how to catch and keep a man. At the same time, women in college are strongly motivated, often with family support, to also be achievement oriented, independent, and focused on careers. These competing beliefs can create intrapsychic conflicts for women.

If you ask a roomful of young women, “How many of you are wait- ing for Prince Charming?” few hands are likely to be raised. Yet women may still be influenced by a lifetime of exposure to romantic fairy tales, pretend play in girlhood centered on traditional roles (girlfriend, bride,

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princess, and mother), and the social emphasis on attracting boys dur- ing adolescence (K. A. Martin et al., 2007). These well-learned cultural scripts of romance, repeatedly practiced in girls’ lives, may translate into a later power and resource disadvantage. If women implicitly believe that a man will provide for them, they may become less ambitious for them- selves. Childhood romantic fantasies may become so deeply embedded that they unconsciously affect adult women’s aspirations.

To test this hypothesis, Rudman and Heppen (2003) used the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald et al., 2002), which measures beliefs and attitudes that people may not be aware of and does so in a manner that cannot be easily controlled. As expected, women were reluctant to report associating male romantic partners with chivalry; nonetheless, they demonstrated this association on the IAT. That is, they were more likely to associate their romantic partners with fairy tale words (e.g., Prince Charming, White Knight, protector, hero, magic, cas- tle) than with similarly favorable reality-based words (e.g., kind, patient, intelligent, witty), a sign that they possessed implicit romantic fantasies. In addition, the more women possessed implicit romantic fantasies, the less interest they showed in obtaining direct power for themselves. Spe- cifically, compared with women who scored low on the romantic fan- tasy IAT, women who scored high aspired to lower income careers and showed less interest in prestigious occupations (e.g., being CEOs, corpo- rate lawyers, and politicians). They also showed less interest in further education (e.g., a graduate or professional degree) and were less willing to volunteer for a leadership role in an upcoming experiment.

We caution readers that Rudman and Heppen’s (2003) research is based on correlations and, therefore, does not show that implicit roman- tic beliefs have a causal influence on women’s aspirations. Nonetheless, they termed their results the “glass slipper” effect because women who implicitly idealized men as romantic heroes who will rescue and provide for them were less interested in pursuing their own fortunes. As a result, women who have absorbed gendered romantic scripts may hobble their own ambitions and aspirations, putting their faith in romance. Although traditional romantic ideologies are subjectively pro-female, they are also benevolently sexist. The glass slipper effect suggests that women may be co-opted by romance in ways that lead them to cede power, status, and resources to men, presumably as a result of the implicit belief that these will “trickle down” once Prince Charming rides in, thereby reinforcing gender inequality.

What about men? Rudman and Heppen (2003) found that men did not implicitly associate their romantic partners with fairy tale fanta-


sies (e.g., Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, princess, and maiden), but they did associate them with sexual fantasies (e.g., Venus, sex goddess, and sex kitten). However, men’s implicit fantasies were not related to their anticipated income, interest in high-status occupations, or willingness to be a group leader. Thus, the research suggests that only women may have to fight implicit romantic beliefs in themselves before they can step out of their “glass slippers” and rise through the glass ceiling. Because implicit beliefs are likely to be nonconscious, they may act as hidden barrier to women’s ability to capitalize on their hard-won advances and opportunities. However, awareness of socialization processes that can foster implicit romantic fantasies may help women to counteract them when they ponder decisions that affect their future.

The Costs of Romantic Ideologies for Men

The prior discussion might suggest that men are not particularly affected by romantic ideologies. As noted earlier, boys’ fantasy play is focused on adventure without romance. As adolescents and adults, men tend to eschew romance novels and make fun of “chick flicks.” Yet men experi- ence intense feelings of passionate love, and they have also absorbed cultural scripts of romance. For example, cross-cultural research sug- gests that men and women share more similarities than differences in their attitudes toward romantic love (Sprecher et al., 1994), and they experience love with the same intensity (Hatfield & Rapson, 1996). Even teenage boys have been found to be unexpectedly emotional when they fall in love (Giordano, Longmore, & Manning, 2006). For example, they report feeling disoriented and unable to speak in the presence of their girlfriends; they also report having less sexual power in the relationship than do teenage girls. These results so contradicted the stereotype of teenage boys being more interested in “hooking up” than having com- mitted relationships that they received considerable media attention (Grossman, 2006).

In fact, men may be even more romantic than women. Men tend to fall in love more often and faster than women, and it is harder for them to end a premarital relationship (Baumeister & Bratslavsky, 1999; Dion & Dion, 1985; Hendrick & Hendrick, 1995; Hill, Rubin, & Peplau 1979; Peplau & Gordon, 1985). They also tend to believe in love at first sight and that love can overcome all obstacles more so than women (Spauld- ing, 1970). Compared with women, men tend to score higher on explicit measures of traditional romantic beliefs (Rudman & Heppen, 2003; Sprecher & Metts, 1989). Moreover, men are just as likely as women to

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idealize their partners, viewing them as especially attractive, intelligent, and kind (Murray et al., 1996). Thus, rose-colored glasses are worn by both sexes when they fall in love (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1988).

Like women, men experience a conflict between romantic ideolo- gies and their quest for independence, but in a different way. Whereas it is socially expected for women to “put love above all,” men are expected not to fall too deeply in love, a state that suggests weakness and dependence rather than masculine autonomy. As a result, strong feelings of love and attachment may cause men to question their gen- der identity. For example, teenage boys report feeling “like a little girl in a relationship” (Grossman, 2006, p. 41) and worry that it is “effemi- nate [for a guy] to fall in love so hard it’s like the whole world has been turned around” (Dion & Dion, 1985, cited in Myers, 2005, p. 450). Similarly, adult men report strong feelings of tenderness, devotion, and love toward their partners with the caveat that “they are not like other men,” even though they are (Hite, 2006, p. 121). Because men deny their feelings to other men, they are unaware of their gender’s emotional similarities. As a result, the stereotype that romantic love is primarily a female emotion can be a cause of distress and shame for men when they fall in love.

Indeed, there is some evidence that men in relationships can be more emotionally vulnerable than women. When couples are instructed to talk about serious conflict or breaking up, their physiological responses reveal that men’s heart rate and blood pressure increase more so than women’s (Gottman, 1993). This suggests that thoughts of ending the relationship are especially physically taxing and aversive for men. One reason why men may feel more turmoil over breakups con- cerns the fact that they are socialized not to disclose their emotions to their male friends, whereas women can find comfort and support from their female friends (Douvan & Adelson, 1966; Sharabany, Gershoni, & Hofman, 1981). In contrast to women’s socialized need for intimacy, men are socialized against intimacy. In fact, wives and girlfriends often serve as the one socially acceptable outlet for men’s self-disclosure. As a result, men in romantic relationships are more likely to have put all of their emotional eggs in one basket. Therefore, the loss of a girlfriend or wife comes at a great emotional cost for men. Consistent with this view, most married men report that their wives are their best friends, whereas women are more likely to have a same-sex friend serve this role (Hite, 2006). In addition, both men and women report having more meaningful interactions with women, as opposed to men, and the amount of time they spend with women is negatively related to loneli- ness (Wheeler, Reis, & Nezlek, 1983).


The dark side of this asymmetry is that men can have a difficult time disengaging from romantic relationships. Although films such as Fatal Attraction, The Crush, and Swimfan have popularized the idea that women are psychologically unstable when men reject them, the reality is that rejected men do most of the stalking (Davis, Coker, & Sanderson, 2002; Haugaard & Seri, 2003). Stalking consists of repeated physical following or unwanted communication (e.g., by letter, e-mail, or other means). It typically coincides with incessant rumination about the target and feelings of depression, anger, or jealousy (Dennison & Stewart, 2006). Because stalking and physical abuse are highly corre- lated (Melton, 2007), and stalking can cause victims serious mental and physical health problems (Amar, 2006; Davis et al., 2002), it represents a serious crime. Yet it was not until 1990 that stalking was classified as such in the United States, and the justice system is not always responsive to stalking victims (Logan, Walker, Jordan, & Leukefeld, 2006).

Men are also more prone to physically harming intimate partners, often in reaction to female rejection (e.g., breaking up or sexual infidel- ity; see Chapter 11). For 20% of female victims of nonfatal violence, offenders were intimates such as husbands or boyfriends compared with 3% of male victims who were harmed by wives or girlfriends; the per- centages for murder victims (i.e., people murdered by their partners) are 33% for women and 4% for men (Rennison, 2003). An insidious way that traditional romantic ideologies support these behaviors is by labeling them as crimes of passion. Crimes of passion are acts of abuse, especially assault or murder, against a spouse or other loved one attrib- uted to a sudden strong impulse, such as a jealous rage or heartbreak, as opposed to a premeditated crime. Although the term is not officially recognized in law, it is sometimes used by defense lawyers because a crime is viewed more sympathetically by jurors when it is a crime of passion. Ironically, people hurt the ones they love with more impunity than total strangers, even though the former constitutes a gross betrayal of trust in addition to a heinous crime.

Why would abusive behavior be viewed as less immoral when the perpetrator is in love? People’s external attributions for crimes con- ducted in the throes of passion (e.g., as less calculated and controllable) are partly to blame. The ancient Greeks used the term theia mania (or madness from the gods) to describe the sudden overthrow of reason associated with falling in love, and the connection between love and madness has survived to present times. As the Spanish proverb states, “Love without madness is not truly love.” Sexual arousal can cause peo- ple to “throw caution to the wind” and behave in morally question-

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able ways (Ariely & Lowenstein, 2006). At its extreme, passionate love can cause people to sacrifice everything that society deems important: their family, their career, their dignity, and even rationality itself (E. N. Aron & Aron, 1997). Indeed, people in love have been known to exhibit symptoms that appear under the clinical diagnostic headings of mania, depression, and obsessive–compulsive disorder (Tallis, 2005). If men are thought to be literally out of their minds when they stalk or abuse the women they love, then they cannot be held responsible for their actions. This provides insight into why domestic violence was long thought to be a private matter and not a serious crime (Lemon, 2001). Chapter 11 reviews relationship violence, committed by women as well as by men, in greater detail. As women’s status relative to men has risen, so too has gender parity in relationship aggression.

In sum, it is not just women who are constrained by traditional ideologies of romance and mixed messages in contemporary culture. Men are socialized to be bold and assertive but are also expected to restrain these traits in heterosexual romantic relationships, treating their partners with chivalrous politeness and solicitous protection. They are simultaneously pressured to not be overtly dependent on their partners or “too emotional.” Thus, traditional romantic ideologies can make negotiating romantic relationships difficult for men, especially in a contemporary culture where their female partners are increasingly independent so that the old “rules” seem not to apply. The next section specifically considers the perceived conflict between traditional roman- tic ideologies and the quest for gender equality. This is popularly mis- taken as an inherent conflict between feminism and romance.

Feminism and Romantic Relationships

Popular stereotypes of feminists, such as media portrayals of feminists as lesbians who resent men (Bell & Klein, 1996; Misciagno, 1997), char- acterize them as radical man-haters. There are at least two reasons why this has happened. First, feminist thinkers pointed out how traditional gender roles within heterosexual romantic relationships foster gender inequality long before social scientists conducted the research we have reviewed in this chapter. For example, Simone de Beauvoir (1952) argued that traditional marital relationships functioned to imprison women (see also Firestone, 1970; Hite, 1987; Millett, 1970). It is easy to caricature such criticisms of traditional romantic roles as being a com- plete rejection of heterosexual romantic relationships and as generally


hostile toward men. (This is one reason why we have been so careful to distinguish heterosexual romantic love itself from traditional ideolo- gies about romance.) The mistaken perception that feminists generally reject both heterosexual relationships and dislike men feeds a popular stereotype that feminists are “man-hating lesbians.”

Second, the outspokenness of feminist activists violates traditional prescriptions that women should be nice, polite, and modest. As Chap- ters 6 and 7 showed, female assertiveness elicits hostile backlash. More particularly, feminists are often viewed as wanting women to “have con- trol over men” rather than seeking equality between the sexes. This notion is a frequent theme of items on contemporary measures of sex- ist hostility toward women (e.g., Glick & Fiske’s, 1996, Hostile Sexism scale). Many people seem to view feminists as both angry (toward men) and as “gender deviants” (Unger & Crawford, 1996). Many women, as well as men, endorse negative feminist stereotypes (e.g., that they are unattractive lesbians; Swim et al., 1999; Unger et al., 1982; Williams & Wittig, 1997).

Negative cultural stereotypes of feminism have led many women to avoid identifying themselves as feminists (e.g., Buschman & Lenart, 1996; Williams & Wittig, 1997). In her interviews with women of vari- ous ages, Sigel (1996) found (understandably) mixed attitudes toward feminism; although women appreciated the benefits derived from the Women’s Movement, they worried it had gone too far and undermined relations with men. This suggests that popular negative portrayals of feminists (e.g., as “feminazis”) have tainted people’s conceptions of feminism’s goals. A belief that feminism is incompatible with hetero- sexual romantic relationships (and not just with traditional ideologies of romance) may be particularly damaging to people’s willingness to identify as feminists. The next section reviews research that examines the sources of these popular beliefs about feminism as well as whether these beliefs have any merit. Importantly, this research suggests that, far from detracting from heterosexual romantic relationships, feminist beliefs (especially when endorsed by male partners) actually enhance their health, stability, and well-being.

Feminism and Romance Are Popularly Perceived to Be Incompatible

Given unflattering feminist stereotypes, it seemed likely that feminism might be viewed as incompatible with romance, and, if so, this may help to account for feminism’s current lack of popularity. In other words,

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people may shy away from feminism because they mistakenly perceive it to be a roadblock to emotional or sexual happiness in heterosexual romantic relationships.

To test this hypothesis, Rudman and Fairchild (2007) examined the relationship between feminist orientations (i.e., feminist identity and attitudes toward feminists) and beliefs that feminism provokes hetero- sexual relationship conflict. As expected, women and men alike scored low on feminist orientations if they perceived feminism to be trouble- some for romance. For example, people who endorsed beliefs that “fem- inism can cause women to resent men,” “feminism can add stress to rela- tionships with men,” and “most men would not want to date a feminist” were less likely to identify with feminists, to report positive attitudes toward them, and to endorse women’s civil rights (e.g., support the Equal Rights Amendment). In an additional study, Rudman and Fairch- ild asked people to judge photos of plain and pretty women. Consistent with the unattractive feminist stereotype, plain women were rated as more likely to be feminists than pretty women (see also Goldberg et al., 1975; Unger et al., 1982). However, the unattractive feminist stereotype was wholly explained by beliefs that plain women are low on sex appeal or likely lesbians, suggesting that people believe that “unsexy” women (i.e., women who cannot rely on men to provide for them) instead turn to feminism. These unfavorable beliefs can lead young adults to view feminism as antithetical to romance and a hindrance to their own rela- tionships.

But Is Feminism Actually Good for Relationships?

Many people may perceive a conflict between feminism and romance, but are these beliefs accurate? Rudman and Phelan (2007) conducted both a laboratory survey (with college students) and an online survey (with older adults) to investigate whether feminist women, or men with feminist partners, experience troubled relationships. As a measure of feminism, responses to the statement “I am a feminist” were combined with how warmly people felt toward feminists and career women. Com- parable items (e.g., “My partner is a feminist” and partner’s attitudes toward feminists and career women) were combined to assess percep- tions of the partner’s feminism.

Looking only at heterosexuals who reported currently being in a relationship, both studies showed that women paired with feminist men reported better relationship health (greater relationship quality, stabil- ity, and sexual satisfaction) than women who were paired with nonfemi-


nist men. Thus, irrespective of a woman’s own feminism, a feminist male partner may be beneficial for romantic relationships. In addition, for the older adults, men paired with feminist (as opposed to nonfemi- nist) women reported greater relationship stability and sexual satisfac- tion. Thus, men may benefit from, as opposed to being troubled by, feminist female partners.

Does women’s feminism hurt relationships? The straightforward answer is no. There were no direct correlations between women’s feminism and relationship health indicators in either survey. However, female feminists were more likely to select feminist men as their part- ners, and because male partners’ feminism predicted healthy relation- ships for women, it appears that women’s feminism is also good for intimate unions.

Finally, Rudman and Phelan (2007) were able to test whether femi- nist stereotypes are accurate by combining the samples from both of their studies. If feminist stereotypes are accurate, then feminist women should be more likely to report themselves as being single, lesbian, or sexually unattractive compared with nonfeminist women (cf. Goldberg et al., 1975; Rudman & Fairchild, 2007; Swim et al., 1999; Unger et al., 1982). The findings showed no support for these hypotheses. In fact, feminist women were more likely to be in a heterosexual romantic rela- tionship than nonfeminist women.

In sum, people perceive feminism and romance to be incompatible, but the evidence suggests that these beliefs are inaccurate. On the con- trary, men report greater relationship stability and sexual satisfaction when their female partners are feminists. Further, women paired with male feminists report particularly happy and stable relationships, irre- spective of their own feminism. In addition, because feminist women are likely to select feminist men as their partners, women’s feminism indirectly benefits their relationships. Thus, contrary to popular beliefs, feminism may actually be beneficial rather than detrimental to relation- ships for both women and men.

Finally, although we can only speculate, it is worth considering why feminists, alone among civil rights pioneers, have been subjected to unflattering media portrayals and inaccurate stereotypes that cast them as unattractive lesbians. Because stereotypes of feminists demonize them on sexual dimensions, these views are similar to attacks directed at women who challenge male dominance by being successful and pow- erful. Recall from Chapter 7 that the media often portray such women as frigid, “castrating bitches” and thus unsuitable sexual partners. The

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similarity of these attacks to feminist “lesbian baiting” is that they may make women anxious that if they are overly ambitious, assertive, or inde- pendent, men will not love them. Whenever women challenge patriar- chy, they risk derogation of their sexuality, which implies that they will wind up lonely spinsters if they do not toe the line. The result is that women may understandably curb their personal ambitions or refrain from embracing their collective power if they believe that the alterna- tive puts their relationships and emotional lives at risk.

Chapter Summary

In this chapter, we confronted the intersection of male dominance and heterosexual independence through the lens of traditional ideologies of how romance is “supposed” to be enacted that perpetuate prescrip- tions for male assertiveness and female passivity. From adolescence to adulthood, romantic socialization may promote patriarchy by encourag- ing men to take the initiative and women to acquiesce, with the excep- tion of sexual gatekeeping. Cultural romantic scripts are rooted in a historical past in which knights courted ladies, and they flourished dur- ing a medieval period when there was a strong need for benevolence to counter overtly hostile sexism. In the modern world, the trappings of traditional romance ostensibly place women in high esteem, but this ideology values women more for their selfless devotion to others than for their ability to succeed in public spheres. Men also suffer from cul- tural romantic scripts, not least because traditional notions of romance undermine men’s ability to directly express their intense feelings of love and devotion without fear of being judged as “unmanly.” In addition, the cultural scripts that dictate having more shallow male friendships may make men overly reliant on female partners for emotional suste- nance and, in some cases, leave them vulnerable to behaving badly if their partners reject or abandon them.

The tendency for young adult women to implicitly associate male partners with chivalry and heroism suggests that romantic socializa- tion may condition women to rely on men for protection and provision rather than to seek power directly. Further, women are just as likely as men to eschew feminism when they believe it will undermine romance, a charge that is contradicted by evidence that feminist beliefs may be beneficial to maintaining a healthy and satisfying heterosexual roman- tic relationship. The fact that both genders eschew feminism when it


is perceived as incompatible with love is understandable; however, the perception is not only unwarranted, but may undermine women’s abil- ity to capitalize on collective power to advance gender equality.

Heterosexual men and women rely on each other to fulfill basic needs (e.g., for love, sexual gratification, and reproduction). As we have stressed, romantic love is one of the most rewarding experiences two people can share. However, a childhood steeped in antipathy toward the other sex does not prepare people particularly well for intimate adult partnerships. Traditional cultural scripts of romance may enable women and men to overcome childhood hostility by idealizing one another as loving caregivers or heroic protectors. However, to the extent that these ideals reflect restrictive cultural views that prescribe men to be bold, assertive, and unemotional and women to be passive and modest and to wait for their prince to rescue them, gender equality is not well served. Traditional gender-typed “love roles” limit people’s ability to express their full human capacities, and diminish their ability to form more perfect unions. Fortunately, heterosexual romantic love can flourish without a reliance on traditional romantic ideologies that restrict the emotional and professional lives of either partner.

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Person, Gender, and Cultural Differences in Conformity

Learning Objectives

Summarize the social psychological literature concerning differences in conformity between men and women.

Review research concerning the relationship between culture and conformity.

Explain the concept of psychological reactance and describe how and when it might occur.

Although we have focused to this point on the situational determinants of conformity, such as the number of people in the majority and their unanimity, we have not yet considered the question of which people are likely to conform and which people are not. In this section, we will consider how personality variables, gender, and culture influence conformity.

Person Differences

Even in cases in which the pressure to conform is strong and a large percentage of individuals do conform (such as in Solomon Asch’s line-judging research), not everyone does so. There are usually some people willing and able to go against the prevailing norm. In Asch’s study, for instance, despite the strong situational pressures, 24% of the participants never conformed on any of the trials.

People prefer to have an “optimal” balance between being similar to, and different from, others (Brewer, 2003). When people are made to feel too similar to others, they tend to express their individuality, but when they are made to feel too different from others, they attempt to increase their acceptance by others. Supporting this idea, research has found that people who have lower self-esteem are more likely to conform in comparison with those who have higher self-esteem. This makes sense because self-esteem rises when we know we are being accepted by others, and people with lower self-esteem have a greater need to belong. And people who are dependent on and who have a strong need for approval from others are also more conforming (Bornstein, 1992).

Age also matters, with individuals who are either younger or older being more easily influenced than individuals who are in their 40s and 50s (Visser & Krosnick, 1998). People who highly identify with the group that is creating the conformity are also more likely to conform to group norms, in comparison to people who don’t really care very much (Jetten, Spears, & Manstead, 1997; Terry & Hogg, 1996).

However, although there are some differences among people in terms of their tendency to conform (it has even been suggested that some people have a “need for uniqueness” that leads them to be particularly likely to resist conformity; Snyder & Fromkin, 1977), research has generally found that the impact of person variables on conformity is smaller than the influence of situational variables, such as the number and unanimity of the majority.

Gender Differences

Several reviews and meta-analyses of the existing research on conformity and leadership in men and women have now been conducted, and so it is possible to draw some strong conclusions in this regard. In terms of conformity, the overall conclusion from these studies is that that there are only small differences between men and women in the amount of conformity they exhibit, and these differences are influenced as much by the social situation in which the conformity occurs as by gender differences themselves.

On average, men and women have different levels of self-concern and other-concern. Men are, on average, more concerned about appearing to have high status and may be able to demonstrate this status by acting independently from the opinions of others. On the other hand, and again although there are substantial individual differences among them, women are, on average, more concerned with connecting to others and maintaining group harmony. Taken together, this means that, at least when they are being observed by others, men are likely to hold their ground, act independently, and refuse to conform, whereas women are more likely to conform to the opinions of others in order to prevent social disagreement. These differences are less apparent when the conformity occurs in private (Eagly, 1978, 1983).

The observed gender differences in conformity have social explanations—namely that women are socialized to be more caring about the desires of others—but there are also evolutionary explanations. Men may be more likely to resist conformity to demonstrate to women that they are good mates. Griskevicius, Goldstein, Mortensen, Cialdini, and Kenrick (2006) found that men, but not women, who had been primed with thoughts about romantic and sexual attraction were less likely to conform to the opinions of others on a subsequent task than were men who had not been primed to think about romantic attraction.

In addition to the public versus private nature of the situation, the topic being discussed also is important, with both men and women being less likely to conform on topics that they know a lot about, in comparison with topics on which they feel less knowledgeable (Eagly & Chravala, 1986). When the topic is sports, women tend to conform to men, whereas the opposite is true when the topic is fashion. Thus it appears that the small observed differences between men and women in conformity are due, at least in part, to informational influence.

Because men have higher status in most societies, they are more likely to be perceived as effective leaders (Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992; Rojahn & Willemsen, 1994; Shackelford, Wood, & Worchel, 1996). And men are more likely to be leaders in most cultures. For instance, women hold only about 20% of the key elected and appointed political positions in the world (World Economic Forum, 2013). There are also more men than women in leadership roles, particularly in high-level administrative positions, in many different types of businesses and other organizations. Women are not promoted to positions of leadership as fast as men are in real working groups, even when actual performance is taken into consideration (Geis, Boston, & Hoffman, 1985; Heilman, Block, & Martell, 1995).

Men are also more likely than women to emerge and act as leaders in small groups, even when other personality characteristics are accounted for (Bartol & Martin, 1986; Megargee, 1969; Porter, Geis, Cooper, & Newman, 1985). In one experiment, Nyquist and Spence (1986) had pairs of same- and mixed-sex students interact. In each pair there was one highly dominant and one low dominant individual, as assessed by previous personality measures. They found that in pairs in which there was one man and one woman, the dominant man became the leader 90% of the time, but the dominant woman became the leader only 35% of the time.

Keep in mind, however, that the fact that men are perceived as effective leaders, and are more likely to become leaders, does not necessarily mean that they are actually better, more effective leaders than women. Indeed, a meta-analysis studying the effectiveness of male and female leaders did not find that there were any gender differences overall (Eagly, Karau, & Makhijani, 1995) and even found that women excelled over men in some domains. Furthermore, the differences that were found tended to occur primarily when a group was first forming but dissipated over time as the group members got to know one another individually.

One difficulty for women as they attempt to lead is that traditional leadership behaviors, such as showing independence and exerting power over others, conflict with the expected social roles for women. The norms for what constitutes success in corporate life are usually defined in masculine terms, including assertiveness or aggressiveness, self-promotion, and perhaps even macho behavior. It is difficult for women to gain power because to do so they must conform to these masculine norms, and often this goes against their personal beliefs about appropriate behavior (Rudman & Glick, 1999). And when women do take on male models of expressing power, it may backfire on them because they end up being disliked because they are acting nonstereotypically for their gender. A recent experimental study with MBA students simulated the initial public offering (IPO) of a company whose chief executive was either male or female (personal qualifications and company financial statements were held constant across both conditions). The results indicated a clear gender bias as female chief executive officers were perceived as being less capable and having a poorer strategic position than their male counterparts. Furthermore, IPOs led by female executives were perceived as less attractive investments (Bigelow, Lundmark, McLean Parks, & Wuebker, 2012). Little wonder then that women hold fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 chief executive positions.

One way that women can react to this “double-bind” in which they must take on masculine characteristics to succeed, but if they do they are not liked, is to adopt more feminine leadership styles, in which they use more interpersonally oriented behaviors such as agreeing with others, acting in a friendly manner, and encouraging subordinates to participate in the decision-making process (Eagly & Johnson, 1990; Eagly et al., 1992; Wood, 1987). In short, women are more likely to take on a transformational leadership style than are men—doing so allows them to be effective leaders while not acting in an excessively masculine way (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & van Egen, 2003).

In sum, women may conform somewhat more than men, although these differences are small and limited to situations in which the responses are made publicly. In terms of leadership effectiveness, there is no evidence that men, overall, make better leaders than do women. However, men do better as leaders on tasks that are “masculine” in the sense that they require the ability to direct and control people. On the other hand, women do better on tasks that are more “feminine” in the sense that they involve creating harmonious relationships among the group members.

Cultural Differences

In addition to gender differences, there is also evidence that conformity is greater in some cultures than others. Your knowledge about the cultural differences between individualistic and collectivistic cultures might lead you to think that collectivists will be more conforming than individualists, and there is some support for this. Bond and Smith (1996) analyzed results of 133 studies that had used Asch’s line-judging task in 17 different countries. They then categorized each of the countries in terms of the degree to which it could be considered collectivist versus individualist in orientation. They found a significant relationship: conformity was greater in more collectivistic than in individualistic countries.

Kim and Markus (1999) analyzed advertisements from popular magazines in the United States and in Korea to see if they differentially emphasized conformity and uniqueness. As you can see in Figure 6.14, “Culture and Conformity,” they found that while U.S. magazine ads tended to focus on uniqueness (e.g., “Choose your own view!”; “Individualize”) Korean ads tended to focus more on themes of conformity (e.g., “Seven out of 10 people use this product”; “Our company is working toward building a harmonious society”).


Figure 6.14 Culture and Conformity

Kim and Markus (1999) found that U.S. magazine ads tended to focus on uniqueness whereas Korean ads tended to focus more on conformity.

In summary, although the effects of individual differences on conformity tend to be smaller than those of the social context, they do matter. And gender and cultural differences can also be important. Conformity, like most other social psychological processes, represents an interaction between the situation and the person.

Psychological Reactance

Conformity is usually quite adaptive overall, both for the individuals who conform and for the group as a whole. Conforming to the opinions of others can help us enhance and protect ourselves by providing us with important and accurate information and can help us better relate to others. Following the directives of effective leaders can help a group attain goals that would not be possible without them. And if only half of the people in your neighborhood thought it was appropriate to stop on red and go on green but the other half thought the opposite—and behaved accordingly—there would be problems indeed.

But social influence does not always produce the intended result. If we feel that we have the choice to conform or not conform, we may well choose to do so in order to be accepted or to obtain valid knowledge. On the other hand, if we perceive that others are trying to force or manipulate our behavior, the influence pressure may backfire, resulting in the opposite of what the influencer intends.

Consider an experiment conducted by Pennebaker and Sanders (1976), who attempted to get people to stop writing graffiti on the walls of campus restrooms. In some restrooms they posted a sign that read “Do not write on these walls under any circumstances!” whereas in other restrooms they placed a sign that simply said “Please don’t write on these walls.” Two weeks later, the researchers returned to the restrooms to see if the signs had made a difference. They found that there was much less graffiti in the second restroom than in the first one. It seems as if people who were given strong pressures to not engage in the behavior were more likely to react against those directives than were people who were given a weaker message.

When individuals feel that their freedom is being threatened by influence attempts and yet they also have the ability to resist that persuasion, they may experience psychological reactance, a strong motivational state that resists social influence (Brehm, 1966; Miron & Brehm, 2006). Reactance is aroused when our ability to choose which behaviors to engage in is eliminated or threatened with elimination. The outcome of the experience of reactance is that people may not conform or obey at all and may even move their opinions or behaviors away from the desires of the influencer.

Reactance represents a desire to restore freedom that is being threatened. A child who feels that his or her parents are forcing him to eat his asparagus may react quite vehemently with a strong refusal to touch the plate. And an adult who feels that she is being pressured by a car sales representative might feel the same way and leave the showroom entirely, resulting in the opposite of the sales rep’s intended outcome.

Of course, parents are sometimes aware of this potential, and even use “reverse psychology”—for example, telling a child that he or she cannot go outside when they really want the child to do so, hoping that reactance will occur. In the musical The Fantasticks, neighboring fathers set up to make the daughter of one of them and the son of the other fall in love with each other by building a fence between their properties. The fence is seen by the children as an infringement on their freedom to see each other, and as predicted by the idea of reactance, they ultimately fall in love.

In addition to helping us understand the affective determinants of conformity and of failure to conform, reactance has been observed to have its ironic effects in a number of real-world contexts. For instance, Wolf and Montgomery (1977) found that when judges give jury members instructions indicating that they absolutely must not pay any attention to particular information that had been presented in a courtroom trial (because it had been ruled as inadmissible), the jurors were more likely to use that information in their judgments. And Bushman and Stack (1996) found that warning labels on violent films (for instance, “This film contains extreme violence—viewer discretion advised”) created more reactance (and thus led participants to be more interested in viewing the film) than did similar labels that simply provided information (“This film contains extreme violence”). In another relevant study, Kray, Reb, Galinsky, and Thompson (2004) found that when women were told that they were poor negotiators and would be unable to succeed on a negotiation task, this information led them to work even harder and to be more successful at the task.

Finally, within clinical therapy, it has been argued that people sometimes are less likely to try to reduce the harmful behaviors that they engage in, such as smoking or drug abuse, when the people they care about try too hard to press them to do so (Shoham, Trost, & Rohrbaugh, 2004). One patient was recorded as having reported that his wife kept telling him that he should quit drinking, saying, “If you loved me enough, you’d give up the booze.” However, he also reported that when she gave up on him and said instead, “I don’t care what you do anymore,” he then enrolled in a treatment program (Shoham et al., 2004, p. 177).

Key Takeaways

Although some person variables predict conformity, overall situational variables are more important.

There are some small gender differences in conformity. In public situations, men are somewhat more likely to hold their ground, act independently, and refuse to conform, whereas women are more likely to conform to the opinions of others in order to prevent social disagreement. These differences are less apparent when the conformity occurs in private.

Conformity to social norms is more likely in Eastern, collectivistic cultures than in Western, independent cultures.

Psychological reactance occurs when people feel that their ability to choose which behaviors to engage in is eliminated or threatened with elimination. The outcome of the experience of reactance is that people may not conform or obey at all and may even move their opinions or behaviors away from the desires of the influencer.

Exercises and Critical Thinking

Following this paragraph are some examples of social influence and conformity. In each case, the person who is conforming has changed his or her behavior because of the expressed opinions or behaviors of another person. In some cases, the influence of the others is more obvious; in other cases, less so. Using the principles discussed in the chapter “Introducing Social Psychology”, first consider the likely role of the social situation versus the individual person. Did the person freely engage in the behavior, did the social situation force him to engage in the behavior, or was there some combination of both? Then consider the role of underlying human goals—concern for self and concern for others. Did the conformity occur primarily because the person wanted to feel good about himself or herself or because he or she cared for those around him or her? Then ask yourself about the role of cognition, affect, and behavior. Do you think the conformity was primarily behavioral, or did it involve a real change in the person’s thoughts and feelings?

Bill laughed at the movie, even though he didn’t think it was all that funny; he realized he was laughing just because all his friends were laughing.

Frank realized that he was starting to like jazz music, in part because his roommate liked it.

Jennifer went to the mall with her friends so that they could help her choose a gown for the upcoming prom.

Sally tried a cigarette at a party because all her friends urged her to.

Phil spent over $150 on a pair of sneakers, even though he couldn’t really afford them, because his best friend had a pair.


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