What happens when you violate sexist expectations?
As stereotypically feminine behaviour is associated with low status and the domestic sphere, women can benefit from adopting stereotypically masculine behaviour at work, showing they ‘have what it takes’ to succeed.
However, women who are seen as trying to assert power can face significant penalties. For example, women who behave in a dominant way are less likely to be hired, even when considered competent. This can result in a paradox whereby women have to eschew stereotypically feminine behaviour to be viewed as competent, but subsequently face a backlash for violating gender norms.
Resistance to women in positions of power can be seen in the violence faced by women politicians, with those working on gender equality issues often singled out for attack.
One study of women members of parliaments in 45 European countries found the following:
Traditional masculinity norms require men to avoid and devalue characteristics culturally coded as feminine – with acting like a ‘woman’ being one of the worst things a man can do.
“When my organisation introduced a maternity leave policy, they said they had no budget for paternity leave. I had to take unpaid leave.”
Dimitry, Diplomatic organisation
Men who display stereotypically feminine characteristics can subsequently face negative consequences in the workplace. Men who ask for help, show empathy, express sadness or display modesty frequently receive lower status and pay, and can be less likely to be hired or promoted. Fathers who apply for part-time jobs or wish to reduce their hours to provide care have also been found to face discrimination.
 Berdahl, J. L., Cooper, M., Glick, P., Livingston, R. W. and Williams, J. C., ‘Work as a masculinity contest’, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 74, No 3, 2018, p. 428 (https://spssi.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/josi.12289).
 EIGE’s Gender Equality Index shows that gender inequality is most severe in the domain of power, with the equality score only passing the halfway mark in 2019.
 Koenig A. M., ‘Comparing prescriptive and descriptive gender stereotypes about children, adults, and the elderly’, Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 9, 2018 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6028777/).
 Cikara et al., 2009.
 Council of Europe, Sexism, harassment and violence against women in parliaments in Europe, 2018 (http://www.assembly.coe.int/LifeRay/EGA/WomenFFViolence/2018/20181016-WomenParliamentIssues-EN.pdf).
 Berdahl et al., 2018.
 Mayer, D. M., ‘How men get penalized for straying from masculine norms’, Harvard Business Review, 2018 (https://hbr.org/2018/10/how-men-get-penalized-for-straying-from-masculine-norms).
 Kelland, J., ‘“Fatherhood forfeits” and “motherhood penalties”: an exploration of UK management selection decision-making on parent applicants’, CIPD Applied Research Conference 2016: The shifting landscape of work and working lives, 2016 (https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/fatherhood-forfeits-and-motherhood-penalties_2016-an-exploration-of-uk-management-selection-decision-making-on-parent-applicants_tcm18-20005.pdf).