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Is There a Problem With Bearded Men?

... and should women be concerned?

Source: sevpetro/Shutterstock

Australian psychologists have discovered that men who grow beards are more sexist than their clean-shaven peers. The researchers had men in the United States and India complete a brief survey about sexist attitudes. Next, they divided the men into two groups—one of clean-shaven men; the other, mustachioed, goateed, and bushy-bearded.

They then compared the sexism scores of men with no facial hair to those of men with any kind of facial hair—and the hairy men scored higher on measures of hostile sexism but not benevolent sexism.

Hostile sexist attitudes include the idea that women are inferior to men. Men who score high on measures of hostile sexism more strongly agree with statements such as “Once a woman gets a man to commit to her, she usually tries to put him on a tight leash," or “Women seek to gain power by getting control over men."

Benevolent sexism is characterized by protective paternalism and complementary gender differentiation, and support for statements such as “Women should be cherished and protected by men."

Writing in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, the researchers argued that other variables cannot fully explain away the relationship between hirsuteness and sexism. According to co-authors Julian Oldmeadow and Barnaby Dixson:

“After controlling for nationality, age, education level, relationship status, and sexual orientation, men with facial hair scored significantly higher on hostile sexism than clean shaven men. Furthermore, hostile sexist attitudes and nationality were the only significant predictors of whether or not men chose to grow facial hair."

Indian men in the participant group, 86% of whom had facial hair, scored higher on sexism than American men (65% of whom had facial hair). Higher levels of education were associated with more benevolent sexism but less hostile sexism.

A Mask of Masculinity

The researchers speculate that men who already hold sexist views may choose to grow out their beards because a hairy face highlights the differences between the sexes: “Facial hair may appeal to hostile sexist males because it maximizes facial masculinity and augments perceived dominance." Previous research has shown that men driven to develop a more muscular physique also hold more sexist attitudes.

Another possibility is that wearing facial hair causes men to adopt sexist attitudes. In studies, bearded men are generally rated as more masculine, mature, dominant, and aggressive. These social perceptions may lead men with beards to behave according to established masculine norms, and more readily endorse hostile sexist attitudes.

Dixson’s previous research on male facial hair has shown that men who are clean-shaven or who wear light stubble are considered more attractive than men with beards, and that the current trend for bushy or “hipster” beards may be on the way out due to “negative-frequency-dependent sexual selection,” which describes how traits can plummet in appeal when we encounter them more often.

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Oldmeadow, J. A., & Dixson, B. J. (in press). The association between men’s sexist attitudes and facial hair. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

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