Would You Like Men More If You Thought of Them as Fathers?
A new study suggests that father stereotypes might help change male stereotypes.
Posted Jun 15, 2018
Social role theory suggests that people experience sociocultural pressures to engage in behaviors that are consistent with their culturally defined roles. People with those roles may even internalize these role-related behaviors, meaning that they might eventually act in role-consistent ways because of internal motivations and not because of external pressures.
Think of a college professor. A professor is often expected to speak intelligently in all situations, even at a party. At some point the professor might internalize these expectations; therefore, she may not allow herself to make unintelligent remarks even, say, as an anonymous member of some online forum.
Let us switch to a different example, that of therapists, to discuss another interesting phenomenon that might occur as a result of these social roles.
When certain types of people are over-represented in certain roles (e.g., women as therapists), role-related traits can become associated with those kinds of people. For example, given that therapists are much more likely to be women than men, and given that therapists are usually required by their role to act in warm and compassionate manner, women as a group might be seen as caring and compassionate.
Similarly, given that surgeons need to be decisive and bold, if surgeons are more likely to be men, then men are more likely to be seen as decisive and fearless.
Of course, social roles can change and may, as a result, change the group stereotype. For instance, if the nature of providing therapy changes and becomes more confrontational, then, assuming that therapists will consist of more women than men, the stereotype of women changes too.
Looking at the previous century, it seems that stereotypes of women have changed somewhat, becoming more "masculine," perhaps because of new social roles and involvement in the work force. The male stereotype, however, appears to remain relatively stable.
The authors of the present study also note that male stereotypes, though associated with some characteristics that are usually seen in positive light (e.g., status and power), are associated with reluctance to seek help, unhealthy habits (e.g., drinking), and other negative behaviors and characteristics. Therefore, a more flexible and broader conception of the male stereotype is likely to have positive consequences.
Unlike the male stereotypes, father stereotypes have undergone a lot of change over the years, as fathers have become increasingly involved in raising children; as a result, the father stereotypes have evolved to include more maternal (e.g., intuitive) and less paternal (e.g., ambitious) characteristics.
Could men’s stereotypes change in a positive direction if we were to emphasize their social roles as fathers?
To test this theory experimentally, Park and Banchefsky first investigated whether the stereotype of men is significantly different from the stereotype of fathers. The results showed that unlike the close association between women/mother stereotypes, men and father stereotypes had relatively less in common.
Namely, male stereotypes were characterized by traits such as daring, intimidating, and coarse, whereas men and fathers shared very few characteristics in common (e.g., analytical, stern).
In the second study, the participants read about some current trends (either about men or fathers), and then rated which traits characterized men. Those who had seen the father-related news were more likely to rate men using traits that define both manhood but also fatherhood.
The third investigation was related to some previous research which had shown that when there were threats to the social category of men, men react by opposing policies that might benefit low status groups such as immigrants or women. The authors had hypothesized that men’s social roles as fathers might mitigate such effects.
Therefore, in this third study, the participants first read an article about men failing in society, then they read about increasing involvement of fathers in their children’s lives. The findings revealed that the participants showed significantly less opposition to policies that benefit low status groups (.e.g, women, immigrants, minorities).
It may be that if we highlighted the role of men as fathers more often (in songs, movies, TV shows, the lives of public figures, etc), we might be able to change the stereotype of men, making these stereotypes less rigid and fragile.
As the authors note, this would help free men from the “burden of fighting to maintain precarious manhood, and families would be strengthened through better overlapping goals of mothers and fathers.” It might even result in a more flexible workplace that would be willing to accommodate men who have family obligations. In other words, this outcome would be a “win all around.”
Park, B., & Banchefsky, S. (in press). Leveraging the social role of dad to change gender stereotypes of men. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Doi: 10.1177/0146167218768794.