photo credit: jamesoladujoye via pixabay

Revisiting a NICE WORK column at Girlwpen, written in 2012 during the last presidential campaign.

What to do when I read a study that so appeals to my worldview that I want to shout it out? Should I just kinda act cool, not let on that I wanna say, I knew it! See? SEE?!!!! That is how it is. We all have biases and preferences and a worldview that shape how we process information. And we all have choices about what to do with them. And that brings me to a study about how dudes in traditional marriages have traditional views that influence their judgments at work, too.

In a new working paper called “Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace” (.pdf), three business school professors investigate why, despite notable progress, the gender revolution appears to have “petered out.”  (An accessible overview of just this puzzle from the Council on Contemporary Families is in Gender Revolution? Or Not So Much.)

The new paper is novel: it asked, is it is possible that there are well-placed pockets of resistance in the workplace that help account for impeded progress? The authors hypothesized that, perhaps, men in cross-sex marriages with stay-at-home wives might have a different view of women in the workplace than married men with full-time working wives.

They hypothesized correctly. In particular, they found that (1) men in traditional marriages (MITM) had more negative attitudes towards working women (controlling for selection!); (2) MITM perceived the workplace as running less smoothly when more women worked there; (3) MITM also found more gender-egalitarian organizations less attractive; and (4) MITM, when asked to rate the quality of workers who were exactly equivalent, rated women lower than men. They controlled for selection (or the way it might be that sexist guys at work choose traditional marriages rather than guys being influenced by their traditional marriages to have traditional views at work) and for education (more educated guys espouse more ostensibly feminist views).

The study excited me because it provided support for that sinking feeling that some of us can have when working with guys who lead traditional private lives. At work, it can seem, they just don’t “get it.” Hard to put one’s finger on it. But they keep doing stuff like thanking their wives for all they do at home, thinking that this shows their respect for women.

The study also excited me because it was an example of the kind of research that I was talking about when I wrote about the neglect of men as focal points for research on gender, and my suspicion that the neglect stems from a sneaky sensibility that men’s vantage point is natural and therefore can go without examination. But without investigating the impact traditional marriages on work practices (instead of the more common investigation of egalitarian marriages on home practices), we are at risk of naturalizing “traditional” just as we naturalize “men.” To understand how gender operates, it helps to look at men at the center of power not just those at the margins. And this study did so.

Perhaps now you see the irony that I felt when I noticed my enthusiasm. The study shows how worldview lines up with personal life. This might influence your judgment at work. Back in the day, feminists said the personal is political. Thing is, the personal is political for everyone, including those who follow conventions. Even for those who don’t believe in this stuff. That means the personal is political, too, for MITM (the M is silent, by the way).