Did Trump’s Election Make Men More Aggressive?

New research finds an unexpected shift in men's behavior towards women.

Posted Apr 22, 2017

Here’s some new research that shows how attitudes that may have been aroused and reinforced by Trump’s election appear to increase aggressive behavior towards women. Conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, the research found that the emboldening of the extreme right that helped Donald Trump win the presidency has altered social norms. Specifically, part of that shift reflects an increase in men acting more aggressively toward women.  This study of communication patterns between men and women began prior to the election, which was not its original focus. 

Similarly, other studies, described below, have found that sexist behavior towards women, particularly in the workplace, creates a noticeable rise in women’s stress levels.

First, in the Wharton study researchers noted that such groups as the Southern Poverty Law Center have found an uptick of hate crimes and harassment taking place across the country. The rise of such incidents led them to examine whether a dimension of that might be found in differences in communications styles of men and women. For example, if their negotiation tactics changed – both before and after the election – depending on which gender they interact with.

Their experiments found a striking result: Post-election, male study participants were less cooperative, more likely to use adversarial strategies and less likely to reach an agreement with a partner. “We didn’t know Trump was going to be elected; we didn’t set out to study Trump’s election,” according to lead researcher Corinne Low. “We had the [lab experiment] sessions on the calendar already, and post-election, we looked at the data and saw that people’s behavior was profoundly different.”

“It appears that whatever Trump represents – that rhetorical style, that presence – seems to have consequences for other people’s behaviors.” Before the election, men were less likely to use aggressive negotiation tactics when they knew their partner was a woman – a pattern that could be classified as chivalry or a kind of “benevolent sexism,” Low says. “This tells us that if women’s outcomes are dependent on men’s whims, those whims could change. We could see the turning of the tide, and suddenly men are more aggressive.”

The experiments, described more fully here, involved playing a “Battle of the Sexes” game in which men and women had to divide $20 with a partner. In some cases, participants were told the gender of their partner; in other cases, that information wasn’t provided. Each round had only two options for splitting the money: One partner would get $15 and the other would get $5, or vice versa; or, if they couldn’t agree, both would walk away with zero.

The researchers pointed out that previous studies suggest that political and world events can affect people’s behavior, including their displays of generosity, cooperation and fairness. Referring to the spike in anti-Semitism and hate crimes following the election that many human rights and social justice groups have observed, Low says, “That’s anecdotal evidence that words matter, and what we have is lab evidence that this matters.”

Other studies of aggressive, demeaning and generally sexist behavior towards women show the potential for increase of such behavior if it appears condoned, especially in workplace settings. One current example is this study that examined hidden sexism in the workplace. It found that that frequent sexist comments as well as a management culture that covertly demeans women are just as damaging to women as overt acts of sexual coercion, sexually tinged conduct or sexist behavior towards them. "Norms, leadership, or policies that reduce intense harmful experiences may lead managers to believe that they have solved the problem of maltreatment of women in the workplace," according to the authors.

Underscoring those findings are studies reported in a conference described in Financial Times:  “Women in the workplace, especially in management or leadership roles, report being stressed out more often than men,” and “... despite recent strides in equality in the office, women experience a lot more stress than men.”

Whether subtle or covert – aggressive, discriminatory behavior towards women is damaging, not just to them but to our entire society.

dlabier@CenterProgressive.org

Progressive Impact

Center for Progressive Development

© 2017 Douglas LaBier

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