Male politicians have “bigger heads” in more gender-equal cultures

Cultural Differences in Face-ism: Male Politicians Have Bigger Heads in More Gender-Equal Cultures

From Psychology of Women Quarterly

When it comes to analyzing gender stereotypes in the media, studies have shown that photographs of men focus on male faces while photographs of women are more focused on women’s bodies. This study finds that this type of “face-ism” is even more extreme in cultures with less educational, professional, and political gender discrimination. The authors observe “Being in a relatively egalitarian cultural context does not shield politicians from this face-ism bias; in fact, it exacerbates it.” The researchers examined the differences in face-ism by measuring the facial prominence of over 6, 500 male and female political figures in photographs from more than 25 different cultures. Facial prominence was determined by measuring the length of the head in a photograph. The researchers then analyzed these face/body ratios by culture and found that women’s bodies were more prominent in photographs from cultures in which women have more educational, professional, and political opportunities. The authors claimed that stereotypes associated with each gender are more divergent in richer and more institutionally gender-equal cultures overall, and that these photographs are simply a visual representation of a deeply-ingrained, cultural concept.  “The face-ism bias is likely due to unconscious influences simply making politicians and their support staff aware of this bias and its negative implications for female politicians could reduce this bias.”



Women are visually depicted with lower facial prominence than men, with consequences for perceptions of their competence. The current study examines the relationship between the size of this “face-ism” bias (i.e., individual or micro-level sexism) and a number of gender inequality indicators (i.e., institutional or macro-level sexism) at the cross-cultural level. In one of the largest known face-ism databases to date, the authors used politicians’ official online photographs as stimuli (N = 6,610) to explore how face-ism (as an example of individual-level sexism) covaries with institutional sexism across 25 cultures. The authors found that the face-ism bias was greater in cultures with lower levels of institutional gender inequality, demonstrating that institutional equality does not necessarily imply equality on the individual level. The authors offer a number of potential speculations for this mismatch. For example, it may be due to “postfeminist” backlash that occurs in response to decreases in level of institutional sexism or it may be due to different comparative processes that occur in more versus less gender-equal cultures. Implications for female politicians cross-culturally are discussed. The findings of our study provide empirical evidence to demonstrate how macro-level structural equalities could be related to individual and micro-level sexism, and how different levels of sexism might not necessarily be indicative of each other.

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Article details
Konrath, S., Au, J., & Ramsey, L. (2012). Cultural Differences in Face-ism: Male Politicians Have Bigger Heads in More Gender-Equal Cultures Psychology of Women Quarterly DOI: 10.1177/0361684312455317

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