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The puzzle of benevolent sexism: Why do women like it? Why do men display it?

Benevolent sexism (BS) is defined as “subjectively positive” attitudes towards women such as “women should be cherished and protected by men”, chivalrous behaviors, and attempts to achieve intimacy with women. Research has documented various detrimental effects of men's BS on women, yet paradoxically studies also show that women prefer men with BS attitudes over those without. The aim of this research is to examine the motivational origins of women's preference for BS and men's tendency to display BS, as well as the harmful versus beneficial forms of BS based on the context. Understanding these nuances may allow us to reduce the negative effects of BS without requiring women and men to reject the actual good things that can arise from this behavior.

Selected publications and presentations:

Gul, P., & Kupfer, T. R. (2019). Benevolent sexism and mate preferences: Why do women prefer benevolent men despite recognizing that they can be undermining? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 45(1), 146-161. pdf

Gul, P. (2019, June). Evolutionary and cultural perspectives to understanding gender relations and inequality: The paradox of benevolent sexism and female honor norms. Invited talk presented at the Institute of Psychology, University of Graz, Austria.

Gul, P. & Kupfer, T. R. (2019, May). Benevolent sexism and mate preferences: Why do women prefer benevolent men despite recognizing they can be undermining? In P. Gul, & T. R. Kupfer (chairs), Evolutionary Approaches to Understanding Gender Relations and Gender Inequality. Paper to be presented as part of a symposium at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference, Harrogate, UK.

Why do men and women support female honor norms?

In cultures with “female honor” norms, women are expected to cultivate a reputation for pure and chaste behaviour, such as wearing modest clothes and maintaining virginity before marriage. The dominant explanation fo support for female honor norms is that female infidelity causes men to lose honor and that the existence of female honor norms help protect men's masculine honor. Beyond this, the literature affords little understanding of the psychological mechanisms that shape men's (and women's) attitudes towards female honor norms. We propose that men (and women) are motivated by sexual jealousy to support female honor norms as an indirect mate guarding tactic. Thus, the primary goal of this research is to test the prediction that situations that elicit sexual jealousy increase men’s (and women's) support for female honor norms. Existing literature suggests that individuals who pursue monogamous (vs. promiscuous) mating goals have greater concerns about mate guarding. Therefore we will also test the prediction that male (and female) reproductive strategy predicts support for female honor norms beyond concerns about masculine honor. These findings can enhance understanding of the evolution and maintenance of ideologies that enable the control of women’s reproductive behaviour. Findings will be particularly important for those who seek to understand and tackle female oppression and associated phenomena such as honor killings.

Selected publications and presentations:

Gul, P., & Kupfer, T. R. (2019, July). Sexual jealousy motivates men’s support for female honor norms. In A. Pismenny, & R. de Sousa (chairs). Interdisciplinary perspectives on jealousy. Paper presented as part of a symposium at the International Society for Research on Emotion (ISRE) conference, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Kupfer, T. R. & Gul, P. (2019, May). Ideological mate-guarding: Sexual jealousy, reproductive strategy, and female honor. Paper presented at the 31st Annual Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) meeting, Boston University, USA.

Kupfer, T. R. & Gul, P. (2018, November). Male support for female honor norms as an ideological mate-guarding. Paper presented at the Cognition, Behavior & Evolution Network (CBEN) annual meeting on Cultural Evolution, University of Antwerp, Belgium.

Masculine honor culture and men's avoidance of effeminacy

To date, masculine honor culture has been mainly studied in the context of insults, threats and moral transgressions, and almost exclusively linked to aggressive emotions (e.g., anger) and behaviour (e.g., fights, confrontations). Here, it is proposed that to protect and maintain a masculine reputation, masculine honor-oriented men may also engage in subtle, withdrawal-related behaviors such as reluctance to engage in feminine tasks and befriend feminine men, especially in situations that imply reputation damage. Findings of this research extend understanding of individuals socialized with masculine honor ideals, and also offer more nuanced explanations of men's anti-effeminacy bias and disinterest in communal roles.

Selected publications and presentations:

Gul P., & Uskul A. K. (2019). Men's perceptions and emotions about being a caregiver dad: The role of individual differences in masculine honor ideals and reputation concerns. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(1442). pdf

Gul, P. & Uskul, K. A. (2016, July). Men’s strategic bias? Masculine honor and aversion to befriending gender atypical men. Paper presented at the International Society for Justice Research (ISJR), University of Kent, UK.