Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sticks and Stones...

May Break My Bones But Words Will Never Hurt Me. It looks like this is untrue, based on a recent survey about calling female politicians names such as 'mean girl' or 'ice queen':

The poll, taken Sept. 1-8, asked 800 likely voters to listen to descriptions of two hypothetical congressional candidates, Jane Smith and Dan Jones. Half the voters then heard a back-and-forth about the candidates that used the words "ice queen" and "mean girl," then the word "prostitute" to characterize the woman.

The other half of the sample heard a back-and-forth without those labels.

Among the findings:

The female candidate lost twice as much support when even the mild sexist language was added to the attack. Support for her initially measured at 43% fell to 33% after the policy-based attacks but to 21% after the sexist taunts. The drop was significant among both men and women, those under 50 and over 50, and those with college educations and without.

• The sexist language undermined favorable perceptions of the female candidate, leading voters to view her as less empathetic, trustworthy and effective.

Responding directly helped the women candidates' regain support. The rebound occurred both after a mild response — the female candidate calling the discussion "inappropriate" and "meritless" and turning back to issues — and after a more direct counterattack that decried "sexist, divisive rhetoric" as damaging to "our political debate and our democracy."
Bolds are mine.

These are potentially very important findings. I spent some time trying to find the actual survey but without luck. It opens up lots of interesting further questions, such as whether it matters which gender does the slurring and whether similar effects could be applied to male politicians. But what would those sex-linked slurs be for men?
I forgot to add a link to the campaign about stopping sexist slurs of this type.