Are people with beards more likely to be sexist?

Are people with beards more likely to be sexist?

The short answer is no, probably not.

So to follow up on that question, if that’s not it, what kind of people are? To start answering this question we need to define what sexism is.

Sexism in general is the view that gender-inequality is justified, as men and women are inherently different from each other, and should thus conform to gender normative, and usually heteronormative roles and behaviors.
It has two subforms: Hostile and benevolent sexism. The former is probably easier to identify as sexism, because this view includes mostly negative attitudes towards women. People that score high on hostile sexism belief that women are complainers, are easily offended, and seek control over men. It is a resentment against women and all that seek to challenge the patriarchy (e.g. feminists).
Benevolent sexism is the nice guy version of sexism. In this form of sexism, women are to be protected and cared for by a man, women are seen as more pure and moral, and heterosexual romance is believed to be a necessity for a happy life (for both the man and the woman). At a first glance it might seem to be a positive view of women as they are put on a pedestal, but it is patronizing. Additionally, women that do not conform to the stereotypical pure and fragile woman are condemned.

These forms are not mutually exclusive, so someone can have both hostile and benevolent sexist beliefs. The result is ambivalent sexism.

In the article “What’s (not) underpinning ambivalent sexism?; Revisiting the roles of Ideology, religiosity, personality, demographics, and men’s facial hair in explaining hostile and benevolent sexism” Hellmer, Stenson, and Jylhä (2018) took a new look at sexism by including several different predictors into one model, instead of looking at each factor that might be related to sexism in separation. In particular, they wanted to know whether they would get the same results as a different study, which found that having a beard was related to sexist attitudes.

As said before, Hellmer, et. al (2018) did not find that men with beards were more sexist compared to their clean shaven counterparts, but they did find that having a short full beard might be related to lower scores on benevolent sexism. However, the authors of the study point out that any relation between facial hair and sexist attitudes is more likely due to culture and fashion trends in particular groups that might be more or less sexist, not because you might use your facial hair to send a message about your masculinity.

To answer the follow up question -if not beards, what does predict sexism- we can look at their other results.

For both forms of sexism there are broader ideologies that underlie sexist views. The first ideology is someones Social Dominance Orientation, or the extent to which someone has classist beliefs that there is and should be a hierarchy of groups either in terms of income groups, ethnic groups, gender, etcetera. The other broad underlying ideology is Right Wing Authoritarianism, which is giving a high value to  traditions and norms, while believing that those who deviate from the norm should be punished harshly. People that have these ideologies are also more likely to think that women are in some ways subservient to men. In particular, hostile sexism is equally related to both ideologies, but for benevolent sexism there is a stronger relationship with right wing authoritarianism than classist beliefs. This is most likely due to the fact that someone who values traditions would also value traditional gender roles as emphasized in benevolent sexism.

As you would probably expect, more males are sexist compared to women, but  men and women do not differ on right wing authoritarian beliefs. Whatever gender, people can be sexist.

Apart from ideology and gender, there were other factors that were predictive of a persons sexism. People that show less concern for others are more likely to score high on hostile sexism, while people who have received a lower level of education and are religious are more likely to score high on benevolent sexism.
Personality has a less direct effect on sexist beliefs. In this sample three big five factors are not related to sexism (Extraversion, Neuroticism and Conscientiousness), but Openness and Agreeableness are. They are indirectly related to sexist views through their connection with ideologies. Someone who is disagreeable and traditional is more likely to have classist and conservative views, which in turn leads to higher scores on sexism.

Most of the above mentioned results are found in multiple other studies, except for the beard result. Which emphasizes for me that in science it is important to test hypotheses in multiple context. Having a beard could be used to show your masculinity in certain groups, but in other cases it might be hip for the liberal millennial to have a beard. So, if you base your conclusions on only one study done in one kind of group you could conclude that bearded men are sexist, ice cream is related to shark attacks, or that vaccination can lead to autism. Including more factors or different context can lead to a completely different results and finding results that can be found in many different settings are all the more interesting.

Studying sexism in this way, is not of importance to make it easier for people to recognize a sexist on the street. Honestly, as a woman who goes outside and consumes media, I can say that we probably don’t need any scientific help with that. The implication of these findings is that different factors underlie different forms of sexism. This means that there might be different methods needed to prevent sexism or change someone’s attitude depending on the form of sexism they lean towards.

One problem is that, this study is done on data collected on one time point. Based on this article alone we don’t know when, why and how sexist attitudes develop. This means that research is needed that looks at the development of sexist attitudes across multiple years to really say what and when something is important to prevent sexist beliefs.

However, the result that a higher level of education is related to lower scores on sexism (and benevolent sexism in particular) might be a pointer. As the authors of the study also point out, on universities it is more likely that there are discussions about the treatment of women. It might thus help that we don’t just have these conversations on universities, but that more of an effort is made to have these discussions anywhere.

Well in the end we can say that we probably don’t have to judge our bearded friends too much, except if they do turn out to be sexist.


If you want to read the full article this post is based on,  it can be found on google scholar using this reference or by following the link:

Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D. M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource?. Journal of personality and social psychology, 74(5), 1252. (link)



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