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Class, Gender, and Social Dynamics

How Status Differences in Marriage Affect Rates of Domestic Violence

Changes in societal context can tangibly affect the lives of individuals. How do we trace the effects of contextual changes in gender equality on the safety of individual women? In a recent study, IPR sociologist Julia Behrman investigates how declines in educational hypergamy, or marriages in which a woman has a lower educational attainment than her husband, influence rates of intimate partner violence. Using Demographic Health Survey data on 12,230 couples gathered between 2000 and 2010 in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, Behrman found that women’s rising education levels—lessening the gap between them and their husbands—can influence their safety, but that the nature of this influence differs regionally. In Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, women’s rising status led to increased intimate partner violence, possibly due to men feeling that their social dominance was under attack. In Malawi, however, rising status led to fewer reports of domestic violence against women, perhaps due to matrilineal cultural norms and less public acceptance of violence against women. These two competing outcomes suggest that policy aiming to uplift women’s social status and standard of living must vary by region.

Where Does the Content of Stereotypes Come From?

Stereotypes have consequences in our daily lives, but to change them we need to understand their source, IPR psychologist emerita Alice Eagly and her co-author Anne Koenig (PhD 2007) of the University of San Diego point out in Social Psychology Quarterly. They examine two prominent theories about the origins of stereotypes, using four experiments to test the theories’ validity and whether they are compatible with each other. Both theories hold that stereotypes arise from people’s observations of behaviors. One emphasizes the importance of social roles—such as the stereotype of women as nurturing because of their role in the family as mothers. The other theory focuses on the interrelations between groups, such as seeing the middle class as more competent due to an attribution of higher status when compared to the working class. Over 500 participants across the first three experiments either read about a fictional tribe or were assigned to play roles in a fictional society. Although both social roles and intergroup relations, presented separately, affected stereotypes, the researchers learned that the two sources of information work together in creating stereotypes. Eagly and Koenig test this in a fourth experiment, surveying 500 people about views of common groups in the U.S. They conclude that the two theories focus on different levels of social structure—roles and groups—and both are sources of stereotypes. Changing stereotypes at their source is difficult but not impossible, they note. For example, a group’s role in relation to others could be shifted by public policy such as raising the minimum wage or expanding education opportunities. Eagly is the James Padilla Emerita Chair of Arts and Sciences.

Defining Gender Identity

How do people define their gender identity, and how much of that identity is due to nature versus nurture? Eagly and Wendy Wood of the University of Southern California review the evidence. Writing in
the inaugural issue of Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, they note that a great deal of children’s socialization involves gender, with children learning what to expect of men and women from both observation and direct experience. As children mature, they begin to form ideas of gender roles based on the division of labor between the sexes. These stereotypes promote conformity in both men and women, and they form the basis for gender identities. Eagly and Wood note that the division of labor, which often informs stereotypes, is itself informed by biology. Each sex’s unique physical attributes—including men’s greater size and women’s capacity for childbearing—are often tied to typical roles. However, as societal changes have decreased childbearing and revolutionized work so that it does not typically prioritize physical strength, the gender identities of men and women have partially converged. The researchers note these changes reflect a cascade of intertwined biological and social processes.

Look Like Girls, but Act Like Boys: Adolescent Girls’ Adherence to Masculinity Norms

Conforming to gender norms has often been considered a healthy part of development. But in societies that value masculine qualities, such as emotional stoicism, over feminine ones, such as displaying emotions, girls are torn between the pressure to look feminine in appearance but act masculine in behavior. In a study, IPR psychologist Onnie Rogers looks at girls in the United States and China to understand how the pressure to conform to masculine behaviors can affect their psychological well-being. Rogers and her colleagues looked at data from two longitudinal mixed-methods studies of middle school girls—1,047 from the United States and 710 from China—that asked the girls to rank statements about masculinity and their psychological well-being. They find that in both countries when girls reported conforming to masculine behavior, it was linked with low self-esteem, lack of peer-support, and depressive symptoms. Though Chinese girls showed slightly more signs of adhering to masculine norms compared to U.S. girls, the results reveal that the consequences of conforming to masculine behaviors on well-being consistent across cultures. “We interpret the finding as consistent with our theory that norms of masculinity are at odds with what humans—girls and boys alike—need most in order to thrive, which is connection, and such connection is fostered via emotional vulnerability and intimacy,” wrote Rogers and her co-authors.

Stereotypes and Identity Development

In further work, Rogers is seeking to understand how racial and gender identities intersect, as well as how stereotypes impact identity development. She gathered primary data from 2013–16, using in-depth interviews, survey measures, and experimental techniques. With a sample of 240 children aged 7–14 at predominantly low-income public schools, Rogers is analyzing how children speak about and make sense of social groups, including race, gender, academics, and athletics. She asked the children about their thoughts on race and gender, identity and self-perceptions, school and learning, peers and friendships, and future aspirations. The ongoing qualitative analysis is focused on how the content of children’s identity narratives changes over time and how their understandings differ across social identities. In addition, Rogers is exploring the relationship between multiple identities and stereotypes. For example, she examines how children understand what it means to be African American, what it means to be a boy, and what it means to be an African American boy.

Understandings of Leadership Among Female School Principals

Gendered expectations of emotional labor, or the ability to manage one’s own and other’s emotions, can undermine women’s ability to take on authority in their jobs. In Gender & Society, IPR education sociologist Simone Ispa-Landa looks at how gender and race intersect with women’s emotional labor in a school setting. Ispa-Landa and doctoral student and former IPR graduate research assistant Sara Thomas analyzed 132 interviews from 2010–2015 with 21 first-time female principals—8 white and 13 black and Latina. The researchers show that the white female principals started off wanting to emotionally support their staff, but expressed tension between being nurturing and holding teachers accountable. After their first year, all but one of them shifted to a more direct leadership style. In contrast, the female principals of color began acting with more managerial authority as soon as they started and maintained a more direct, “take charge” leadership style. They considered this leadership style as complementary to being nurturing. The researchers conclude that each group’s understanding of authority and emotional labor related to their management of teachers: For the white women principals, their understanding created “binds” on their ability to initially engage in direct leadership. For the women principals of color, their understanding led to them to experience “freedoms” in adopting a more direct leadership style from the start.

Believing in a Positive Future Can Help Resist Stigma

Research has shown how stigmatized people resist negative stereotypes about themselves, but little work has been done to understand how emotions are related. In Deviant Behavior, Ispa-Landa examines the role emotions play in resisting stigma by focusing on a subset of a larger sample of people with criminal records who participated in an interview study about the collateral consequences of a criminal record history in Illinois between 2012 and 2013. This subset comprised 17 people with felony convictions in Illinois. These individuals had hoped to expunge their criminal records but were denied. Interviewees were angry with the legal system for not giving them a second chance and also because they believed the stigma of a criminal record was unfair. Ispa-Landa explains that displays of anger can be used to challenge stigma. The interviewees were able to interpret their denials for expungement as a result of legal bureaucracy, rather than as a statement of their personal worth or deservingness. All those interviewed but for one were optimistic about their future despite the fact that their records had not been expunged. Ispa-Landa discovers they were able to use anger and optimism to construct positive identities of themselves. She suggests that healthy resistance to stigma for ex offenders may look like refusing to take “blame for the ways in which past criminal justice contact continues to negatively impact their lives.”