A new study published by the American Psychological Association has revealed that sexist men often underestimate how much power they have in their romantic relationships, which may cause them to become aggressive toward their female partners.
“Aggressive behavior can have disastrous consequences on a relationship because the female partner is more likely to withdraw, openly share her dissatisfaction and become less committed,” said study lead author Emily J. Cross of the University of Auckland. “This can reinforce a commonly held stereotype among men with sexist beliefs that women are not trustworthy. It’s a vicious cycle.”
The researchers set out to analyze what is known as hostile sexism, or the idea that women want to control men in relationships because the power dynamic is different from other aspects of life such as the workplace.
“Power dynamics are not as simple in intimate relationships because even in well-functioning relationships, both partners are inescapably dependent on each other,” said Cross. “This mutual dependence constrains an individual’s power. This can be very difficult for men who have sexist views because they are already concerned about losing power to women and they may lash out at their significant other in harmful ways.”
The investigation was focused on how hostile sexism affects the power dynamics among romantic partners. The researchers designed four experiments involving 1,096 heterosexual men and women who were all in committed relationships.
In each experiment, the men and women answered questions that were related to sexist attitudes, perceptions of autonomy, aggression, the influence of their partner’s behavior or opinions, relationship satisfaction, and security.
In one experiment, couples discussed their most serious conflict, while another was exclusively focused on newlyweds. Even though each experiment was different, the experts found that the results were the same.
“Men who showed more hostile sexist views felt they had less power in their relationships, while their significant others thought otherwise, and those men were more aggressive toward their partners by being critical or unpleasant,” said Cross.
She believes that the reason for this behavior is likely that the men were attempting to restore the perceived power imbalance, and not because they wanted to be dominant over their partners.
“A great place to start reducing sexist attitudes is in intimate relationships because that is when we are at our most vulnerable and we are motivated to help and nurture our partners,”said study co-author Dr. Nickola C. Overall. “If we can lessen the fear some men have about losing power to their partners, then we can reduce aggressive behaviors, and ultimately diminish the power struggles that uphold gender inequality.”
The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.