New study links support for Brett Kavanaugh to the endorsement of hegemonic masculinity

People who held traditional stereotypes about masculinity tended to have more positive evaluations of Brett Kavanaugh during his contentious Supreme Court hearings and more negative evaluations of the women who accused him of sexual misconduct, according to new research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The authors of the new research have previously found the endorsement of “hegemonic masculinity” — an idealized form of masculinity — was associated with support for Donald Trump.

“There has been a lot of coverage in the news and in daily conversations about masculinity – particularly “toxic masculinity.” So, it is important to understand how we – on the individual and societal level – internalize and endorse certain qualities of masculinity through our social, economic, and political institutions that lead to these toxic outcomes (e.g., sexual harassment, homophobic violence, gendered racism, etc.),” said study author Nathaniel Schermerhorn, a PhD student at The Pennsylvania State University.

“In collaboration with my advisor, Dr. Theresa Vescio, we found that the endorsement of hegemonic masculinity, or the belief that men should be high in power/status, should be tough, and should be nothing like women, was related to support for Donald Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 U.S. Presidential elections.”

“This paper sought to build upon those findings by examining hegemonic masculinity and support for Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation hearings. We wanted to survey Americans in real-time as the confirmation hearings were making headlines and allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh were being widely discussed.”

Schermerhorn and his colleagues conducted three studies to examine whether the endorsement of hegemonic masculinity predicted more positive evaluations of Kavanaugh and more negative evaluations of the women who had accused him of sexual misconduct.

The first study included 301 individuals recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform and was conducted on September 26, 2018, the day before Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey-Ford testified to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. The second study included 301 individuals recruited from Mechanical Turk and was conducted on September 27, 2018. The third study included 280 undergraduate students from the Penn State and was conducted between October 2 and 16, 2018, the days surrounding the full Senate vote to confirm Kavanaugh as a new Supreme Court justice.

The participants completed the Male Role Norms Scale. People who score high on this measure of hegemonic masculinity agree with statements such as “In some kinds of situations a man should be ready to use his fists‚ even if his wife or his girlfriend would object,” “It is a bit embarrassing for a man to have a job that is usually filled by a woman,” and “Success in his work has to be man’s central goal in this life.”

The participants were also to evaluate the extent to which they believed Kavanaugh and his accusers were competent, honest, trustworthy, respectable, logical, intelligent, fair, moral, truthful, and leader-like.

“Similar to our findings during the 2016/2020 Presidential campaigns, we found that people (both men and women) who more strongly endorse hegemonic masculinity were more supportive of Kavanaugh and less supportive of women (such as Blasey-Ford) who accused him of past sexual misconduct,” Schermerhorn told PsyPost.

Importantly, the findings held even after controlling for party identification, gender, race, and education.

“We argue that this is important for two reasons,” Schermerhorn explained. “First, as other scholars and theorists have noted, masculinity can be separated from male bodies. Thus, anyone can endorse certain beliefs and attitudes that privilege men and masculinity above women and femininity. In other words, regardless of one’s gender identification, the more one believes that good men should be high in power/status, tough, and nothing like women, the more we accept sexual violence and excuse its perpetration. Our expectations about men and masculinity, therefore, matters beyond what we think about sexual violence and leads us all to participate in the normalization of sexual violence.”

“Second, understanding how voters’ endorsement of hegemonic masculinity influences their political attitudes and behaviors helps us to understand how politicians who maintain the status quo continue to be elected or confirmed,” Schermerhorn continued. “As an example, in addition to the allegations against Kavanaugh, there was also concern about how he would rule in cases involving women’s rights and bodily autonomy. We are now seeing those concerns become reality following the leak of the opinion on Roe v. Wade and can really see the cycle that exists when it comes to individual beliefs about masculinity/femininity and policies and laws that privilege men’s power and masculinity.”

The researchers also replicated their previous finding that the endorsement of hegemonic masculinity predicted more positive evaluations of Trump and a greater likelihood of voting for him in 2020. However, it is unclear how hegemonic masculinity is related to support for other politicians — particularly those on the other side of the aisle.

“Research has shown a link between masculinity and conservatism (e.g., McDermott, 2016; McDermott et al., 2021) and, in the present paper, we focus on a conservative political figure – Brett Kavanaugh,” Schermerhorn said. “Therefore, questions still remain as to how the endorsement of hegemonic masculinity relates to the support (or lack of support) for Democratic political figures and, equally as important, how Democratic politicians own endorsement of hegemonic masculinity influences their policies and actions.”

The study, “Hegemonic Masculinity Predicts Support for U.S. Political Figures Accused of Sexual Assault“, was authored by Nathaniel E. C. Schermerhorn, Theresa K. Vescio, and Kathrine A. Lewis.

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