Feminists tend to hold positive attitudes towards men, comparable to those of nonfeminists, according to new research published in Psychology of Women Quarterly. The research, spanning multiple Western or non-Western cultures and involving nearly 10,000 participants, indicates that common perceptions of feminists’ attitudes are not grounded in reality.
Feminism, as a social and political movement, has a long history of advocating for women’s rights and challenging gender-based discrimination. Throughout its evolution, feminism has achieved significant advancements for women, including securing voting rights, property ownership, reproductive autonomy, and legal protections against marital rape. Despite these accomplishments, feminism has not been without its critics and skeptics.
However, recent years have seen a resurgence of feminist identity, especially among young women, with a majority of 18- to 24-year-old women in the UK identifying as feminists. In the United States, while the feminist identity has gained ground, it is still perceived as polarizing by a substantial portion of both women and men, with many believing that feminism unfairly blames men for women’s challenges.
“We had started to notice a trend in the popularity of feminism among younger women and were interested in this social change given the negative stereotypes associated with feminists in the media,” said study author Aífe Hopkins-Doyle, an assistant professor at the University of Surrey.
“After some reading of the literature, we discovered there were very few empirical tests of the accuracy of the most widespread stereotype about feminists – that they are ‘man-haters.’ In particular, previous studies had been limited by the measures used, which focused more on ideological beliefs about men rather than warmth of feeling or liking, but also by the relatively few feminists in those samples (e.g., often < 30% in female student samples in the US).”
“We decided that the uptick in feminist identification was an opportunity to conduct an in-depth test of the misandry stereotype. Beyond this, we were also interested in why people think that feminists hate men and set out to examine the faulty perceptions we hold about other people’s beliefs and how these can lead us to incorrect conclusions.”
To address the misandry stereotype, the researchers conducted five separate studies with a total of 9,799 participants from nine different countries, including two nationally representative samples. The research aimed to explore whether this stereotype accurately reflects feminists’ attitudes toward men and to investigate potential reasons behind such attitudes.
In these studies, feminism was operationalized using multiple measures, including identification with feminism, ideological beliefs, and engagement in collective feminist action. Attitudes toward men were assessed through several explicit measures, capturing various dimensions such as warmth, liking, trust, and emotional reactions. In addition, the researchers also examined hostile attitudes towards men (e.g. “Men act like babies when they are sick”), benevolent attitudes towards men (“Men are more willing to take risks than women”) and collective anger (“I am furious with the sexual harassment of women”).
The first study focused on explicit attitudes toward men among women from Italy, Poland, the United States, and the United Kingdom. These countries were chosen to represent different cultural contexts with varying degrees of gender equality.
The results from this study revealed that both feminists and nonfeminists held positive attitudes toward men. Contrary to the misandry stereotype, feminists did not exhibit significantly different attitudes toward men compared to nonfeminists. While there was no significant difference in hostility toward men, feminists were found to be less benevolent toward men than nonfeminists.
Hopkins-Doyle and her colleagues also found that feminist collective action, such as participation in the #MeToo movement, was unrelated to explicit attitudes towards men. However, it was positively associated with collective anger about women’s experiences of sexual misconduct.
“Feminism is associated with anger about men’s mistreatment of women, but not with negative overall evaluations of men,” Hopkins-Doyle told PsyPost.
Building on the first study, the researchers extended their investigation to non-Western countries in Asia, including China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. These countries were chosen to explore how cultural contexts influenced attitudes toward men and feminism. The results of this study were consistent with the previous findings, demonstrating that feminists in non-Western countries also held positive attitudes toward men.
In the third study, the researchers delved into implicit attitudes by using a Single-Category Implicit Association Test (SC-IAT) to assess participants’ automatic associations between male words and positive or negative categories. This study provided further evidence that both feminists and nonfeminists had positive implicit attitudes toward men, and there was no significant difference between the two groups.
The findings indicate “that feminists have largely positive attitudes toward men, which are similar to those of non-feminist people,” Hopkins-Doyle explained.
Study 4 aimed to uncover the underlying mechanisms shaping feminists’ attitudes toward men. It also explored participants’ metaperceptions, or their beliefs about feminists’ attitudes toward men. The study revealed that feminists perceived men as both more similar to women and more threatening than nonfeminists did.
“Compared to nonfeminists, feminists did think that men represent more of a threat to women’s dignity and welfare,” Hopkins-Doyle told PsyPost. “This was associated with less positive attitudes to men. However, counteracting this tendency, feminists also perceived that men and women were more similar, and this led in turn to more positive attitudes.
“Further while our pattern of findings for feminist self-identification consistently showed no negativity toward men, we did find some evidence that women who subscribe to some less mainstream feminist ideologies have less positive attitudes toward men. That being said, these effects were small in size and should be replicated and extended in future research.”
Interestingly, both feminists and nonfeminists inaccurately perceived feminists’ attitudes as more negative than they actually were. They overestimated the perceived threat feminists felt from men while underestimating their perceived gender similarity with men.
In the fifth study, the researchers sought to replicate and extend their findings in a nationally representative sample of UK adults. This study confirmed that feminists in the UK held positive attitudes toward men, and there was no significant difference in attitudes between feminists and nonfeminists. Additionally, feminist collective action and collective anger were unrelated to attitudes toward men.
Finally, to provide a comprehensive overview of the findings across all studies, the researchers conducted meta-analyses. These analyses confirmed that feminists, across different nations and measures, consistently held positive attitudes toward men, and there was no evidence to support the misandry stereotype.
“We were surprised by the size and consistency of the effects we found,” Hopkins-Doyle said. “Across many different samples, methods, and national contexts, and using meta-analysis of all our data we found very little evidence that feminists hold negative attitudes toward men as the misandry stereotype suggests.”
“We call the stereotype that feminists tend to have negative attitudes to men the ‘misandry myth’ because it conforms to the dictionary definition of a ‘myth’ as a false yet widespread belief. In sum, these findings mean we are wrong to dismiss feminism on the grounds that it is about hatred of men.”
While this research offers valuable insights, it is not without limitations. With the exception of Study 3, the studies primarily rely on self-report measures, which may be subject to social desirability bias. Future research could explore attitudes toward men using alternative methods to complement self-report data.
Although the findings provide compelling evidence that feminists generally have positive attitudes toward men, it’s important to acknowledge that some individuals deviate from this pattern. “There is little doubt that some feminists do hold negative attitudes toward men, and some attest that it is a necessary and legitimate response to the inequality and misogyny women experience (see Pauline Harmange’s book).”
The study, “The Misandry Myth: An Inaccurate Stereotype About Feminists’ Attitudes Toward Men“, was authored by Aífe Hopkins-Doyle, Aino L. Petterson, Stefan Leach, Hannah Zibell, Phatthanakit Chobthamkit, Sharmaine Binti Abdul Rahim, Jemima Blake, Cristina Bosco, Kimberley Cherrie-Rees, Ami Beadle3, Victoria Cock, Hazel Greer, Antonina Jankowska, Kaitlin Macdonald, Alexander Scott English, Victoria Wai Lan YEUNG, Ryosuke Asano, Peter Beattie, Allan B. I. Bernardo, Chinun Boonroungrut, Anindita Chaudhuri, Chin-Lung Chien, Hoon-Seok Choi, Lixian Cui, Hongfei Du, Kei Fuji, Hidefumi Hitokoto, Junko Iida, Keiko Ishii, Ding-Yu Jiang, Yashpal Jogdand, Hyejoo J. Lee, Nobuhiro Mifune, Chanki Moon, Aya Murayama, Jinkyung Na, Kim One, Joonha Park, Kosuke Sato, Suryodaya Sharma, Eunkook M. Suh, Arun Tipandjan, and Robbie M. Sutton.