Facial hair is not a universal signal for sexist attitudes, new findings suggest

New research indicates that facial hair is not a universal signal for sexist attitudes. The study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, suggests that the primary drivers of sexist attitudes are ideological traits.

“Two years ago, an original finding of a purported association between men’s facial hair and sexism was published,” said study author Kahl Hellmer of Uppsala University.

“This finding was unique to men in India, and, given that we were not able to replicate this in a sample of Swedish men, we came to the conclusion that the purported link was confounded with social contexts: Men do not grow beards to show that they are sexist, but to signal affiliation with social groups – and these groups differ between cultures.”

The initial study was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2015 and found facial hair was linked to negative attitudes about women. But a replication of that study failed to find the same results.

“When doing background research we noticed that there was a gap in the literature: There was no large studies on sexism which took several predictor variables into consideration simultaneously to be able to say which factors contribute the most, and if there are potential mediating factors,” Hellmer said.

The latest two-part study included a total of 2,199 participants. It found that two ideological traits were positively associated with sexist attitudes towards women: Right Wing Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation. The former describes the tendency to submit to political authority and be hostile towards other groups, while the latter is a measure of a person’s preference for inequality among social groups.

Religious belief and education level were also linked to sexism.

“Many people hold views that women are inherently less competent and deserving than men in several aspects, beliefs and attitudes which permeate every level of our societies,” Hellmer told PsyPost. “In our studies, we show that sexist attitudes are strongly correlated with anti-egalitarian, conservative, and authoritarian views, as well as with low education and high religiosity.”

“Not surprisingly, men were more sexist than women. However, some women are both sexist and misogynous, too – and these women’s sexism is underpinned by the same factors as men’s.”

The researchers were, however, surprised to find that a short full beard was a predictor of lower benevolent sexism scores in the second part of their study. But overall, facial hair was largely unrelated with the participants’ attitudes.

“Our studies are conducted in Sweden and in Swedish,” Hellmer explained. “Even though our findings are well in line with non-Swedish studies of prejudices, questions of how well our findings can be generalized to other cultures arise: For example, how religiosity predicted sexism in secular Sweden may differ in non-secular cultures with other primary religions.”

The study, “What’s (not) underpinning ambivalent sexism?: Revisiting the roles of ideology, religiosity, personality, demographics, and men’s facial hair in explaining hostile and benevolent sexism“, was also co-authored by Johanna T. Stenson and Kirsti M. Jylhä.