The demographics of Anita Hill
Ever since the Clarence Thomas hearings, when I was startled at how many of the female staff in my office seemed to despise Anita Hill, I've suspected there might be something to this stereotype -- especially when the woman being judged was successful in business or politics. But I never saw research to support the idea when it came to juries. To the contrary, the comprehensive 2001 literature review by Dennis Devine and others, "Jury decision making: 45 years of empirical research on deliberating groups" in Psychology, Public Policy, & Law, says, "It is surprising that defendant gender has been largely overlooked [in studies of juror characteristics]." Devine and his co-authors found a 1985 study finding juror gender had no effect on verdicts, and a 1972 study suggesting that jurors actually support parties of their own sex.
A new paper released today, though, supports my plaintiffs' lawyers' hunch, and offers a reason why it might be true. In two studies, women were able to judge their own competence more kindly when they judged a successful women harshly.
The paper is "Motivated to Penalize: Women's Strategic Rejection of Successful Women," by Elizabeth Parks-Stamm and two other researchers from New York University. It's from my new favorite RSS feed, Personality and Psychology Bulletin. The abstract (which is all I have) is:
Two studies tested the hypothesis that females penalize women who succeed in male gender-typed jobs to salvage their own self-views regarding competence. The authors proposed that women are motivated to penalize successful women (i.e., characterize them as unlikable and interpersonally hostile) to minimize the self-evaluative consequences of social comparison with a highly successful female target. Results supported the hypothesis. Whereas both male and female participants penalized successful women, blocking this penalization reduced female—but not male—participants' self-ratings of competence (Study 1). Moreover, positive feedback provided to female participants about their potential to succeed (Study 2) weakened negative reactions to successful women without costs to subsequent self-ratings of competence. These results suggest that the interpersonal derogation of successful women by other women functions as a self-protective strategy against threatening upward social comparisons.
That's social-science writing, so you'll probably have to read it twice. The second time through, be sure to catch this phrase: "both male and female participants penalized successful women." That's a different, and equally depressing, post.
(Image by Gisela Giardino at http://www.flickr.com/photos/gi/324724106/; license details there.)