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Self-silencing in Response to
Sexist Behavior: Exploring Women's
Willingness to Confront Sexism

By Marie Sabbagh, Tess Hare, Erika Wheelhouse, and Holly McFarland | Mentor: Dr. Erin Murdoch

Abstract

Past studies on confronting sexism suggest that sexism is not an innocuous annoyance but a serious issue with negative psychological impact. To the best of our knowledge, no research has yet utilized a high-impact design to explore how to encourage women to confront sexist behavior. The present study was designed to explore women's willingness to confront sexist comments and whether it is possible to increase the level of confrontation by modeling confronting behavior. Twenty-nine female psychology students were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions, one in which confronting behavior was modeled, and one in which it was not. In both conditions, participants were told that the purpose of the study was to evaluate group decision-making processes; in fact, each participant was grouped with two confederates who were following a script that included two prejudicial comments. The participants' choices to confront or self-silence were evaluated in terms of condition and questionnaire responses. Although initial analysis indicated that modeling behavior is not an effective way to increase confrontation of sexist remarks, certain factors (e.g., age, level of self-monitoring, degree of confrontation) suggest that confronting can be influenced. The present research also suggests that women lose tolerance for sexist remarks when the behavior appears to indicate a pattern, rather than a one-time deviation. A surprising number of women indicated that they had confronted when they had not; they even transcribed confrontational comments they had not made.

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