People expect feminist women to look masculine and feminist men to look feminine

Feminist women are visually stereotyped as more masculine while the opposite is true for feminist men, according to new research published in the journal Sex Roles.

The researchers noted that feminist women are often derided for being unattractive or manly. Their study aimed to uncover whether it was “possible that these associations can be observed not only in the form of verbal stereotypes but also in the way people visually represent feminists at a fundamental, perceptual level?”

The study of 389 Norwegian participants found that people tended to assume more masculine-looking women were feminists, while more feminine-looking men were assumed to be feminists. Masculine-looking women were also perceived as less empathetic, trustworthy, and warm, but more dominant and threatening.

“Feminist women often experience harassment due to their political views. The present paper highlights mechanisms that at a perceptual level may contribute to this phenomenon,” the researchers said.

The participants were presented with two gray-scale facial images and asked to predict which person was most likely to hold strong feminist attitudes. (A video of the task can be viewed here.)

Male participants and those who scored high on a measure of hostile sexism were particularly inclined to view masculine-looking women as feminists. Female participants, on the other hand, were more inclined than men to view feminine-looking men as feminists.

Surprisingly, hostile sexism predicted a more masculine representation of feminist men.

The researchers noted that the stereotypes existed even among participants in one of the world’s most gender-equal societies.

“Gender stereotypes are widespread, their effects are pervasive, and, as the present paper demonstrates, even extend to a fundamental perceptual level,” the authors of the study wrote. “Many feminist women experience harassment, and our results suggests that, at least at a perceptual level, this may be because some people perceive them as less feminine, more masculine, and consequently as more of a threat.”

The study, “Feminist ≠ Feminine? Feminist Women Are Visually Masculinized Whereas Feminist Men Are Feminized“, was authored by Aleksander B. Gundersen and Jonas R. Kunst.