To be Respected or Liked? How the goal to be respected or be liked influences a woman’s response to sexism

[Social Psychology]

In the workplace, women frequently have to choose between being respected or being liked, with professional achievement often coming at the expense of social acceptance. The dilemma that women face between being liked or respected is especially apparent in cases of sexual harassment. In their recent article, “Goal Preference Shapes Confrontations of Sexism,” published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Robyn Mallett and Kala Melchiori examined how a woman’s goal of being respected or being liked related to how she responded to sexism.

Mallett and Melchiori administered mock interviews through a computerized instant message format. Female participants took on the role of interviewee and within the interview were asked either sexist (“Do you think it is important for women to wear bras to work?”) or inappropriate (“Do people find you morbid?”) questions by a supposed male interviewer. At the conclusion of the interview, participants were asked to report their preference for being respected versus being liked.

Mallett and Melchiori found that the more a woman prefered to be respected rather than liked, the more likely she was to respond assertively to sexist interview questions. Important to note however, and in line with past work, the researchers also found that the majority of responses to the sexist interview questions were non-confrontational, suggesting that even if a women is seeking respect, assertiveness in the face of sexism is the “exception rather than the rule.” The authors further point out that their results raise questions with how the United States’  reasonable person standard is applied to sexual harassment cases. Though many people may assume the reasonable reaction to sexual harassment would be an immediate and assertive response, the current work illustrates that this may in fact be an unreasonable expectation.

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