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Saturday, May 28, 2022

The “Equal-Opportunity Jerk” Defense: Rudeness Can Obfuscate Gender Bias

Belmi, P., Jun, S., & Adams, G. S. (2022). 
Psychological Science, 33(3), 397–411.


To address sexism, people must first recognize it. In this research, we identified a barrier that makes sexism hard to recognize: rudeness toward men. We found that observers judge a sexist perpetrator as less sexist if he is rude toward men. This occurs because rudeness toward men creates the illusion of gender blindness. We documented this phenomenon in five preregistered studies consisting of online adult participants and adult students from professional schools (total N = 4,663). These attributions are problematic because sexism and rudeness are not mutually exclusive. Men who hold sexist beliefs about women can be—and often are—rude toward other men. These attributions also discourage observers from holding perpetrators accountable for gender bias. Thus, rudeness toward men gives sexist perpetrators plausible deniability. It protects them and prevents the first perceptual step necessary to address sexism.

Statement of Relevance

Sexism can be challenging to identify and eventually root out. However, we contend that even blatant forms of sexism are sometimes difficult to recognize. In this research, we demonstrated how rudeness can makes blatant forms of sexism harder to identify. We found that a man does not seem sexist if he treats everyone—both men and women—poorly. This is problematic because sexism and rudeness are not mutually exclusive.  Men who are sexist can be—and often are—rude toward other men. We found that rudeness obscures the recognition of sexism by creating the perception that the sexist perpetrator does not
notice or pay attention to gender when dealing with other people. This misleads observers into thinking that an intervention such as gender-bias training is less necessary. Rudeness can therefore protect sexist perpetrators, making their prejudice harder to recognize and correct.

From the Discussion

It has been noted that overtly discriminatory conduct—characterized by blatant antipathy, antiquated
beliefs about women, and endorsement of pejorative stereotypes—is becoming less common because of
sweeping changes in antidiscrimination laws, practices, and ideologies in the United States (Brief et al., 1997; Dovidio & Gaertner, 1998; Swim et al., 1995). However, blatant, unambiguous, and obvious forms of sexist conduct continue to exist in society (Dovidio & Gaertner, 1998) and within organizations in particular (e.g., Cortina, 2008). Our findings suggest that one reason for their persistence is that observers may not recognize that everyday acts of rudeness can serve as a convenient mask for bias against women (Cortina, 2008). This has an important practical implication: When a sexist manager is rude toward men, it may appear as though he is not sexist. Thus, women victimized by his behavior will have a more difficult time proving that he is sexist. Rudeness can therefore protect perpetrators.