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College Students' Multiple Stereotypes of Lesbians

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College Students' Multiple Stereotypes of Lesbians

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This paper examines stereotypes of lesbians held by college students. Multiple stereotypes are elicited from a free response trait listing task, followed by a sorting task. The results of the sorting task are submitted to cluster analysis and multidimensional scaling to reveal the complexity of cognitive representations of this group. Eight types are described, reflecting underlying distinctions between positive perceptions (e.g., lipstick lesbian, career-oriented feminist) and negative perceptions (e.g., sexually deviant, angry butch) and also between relative strength and weakness. The research is discussed in terms of cognitive perspectives on stereotyping and gender inversion theory. Suggestions for future research are provided.
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College Students’ Multiple
Stereotypes of Lesbians:
A Cognitive Perspective
Wendy Geiger, PhD
Central Missouri State University
Jake Harwood, PhD
University of Arizona
Mary Lee Hummert, PhD
University of Kansas
ABSTRACT. This paper examines stereotypes of lesbians held by col-
lege students. Multiple stereotypes are elicited from a free response trait
listing task, followed by a sorting task. The results of the sorting task are
submitted to cluster analysis and multidimensional scaling to reveal the
complexity of cognitive representations of this group. Eight types are
described, reflecting underlying distinctions between positive percep-
tions (e.g., lipstick lesbian, career-oriented feminist) and negative per-
ceptions (e.g., sexually deviant, angry butch) and also between relative
strength and weakness. The research is discussed in terms of cognitive
Wendy Geiger (PhD, University of Kansas) is Assistant Professor of Communica
-
tion at Central Missouri State University. Jake Harwood (PhD, University of Califor
-
nia, Santa Barbara) is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of
Kansas. Mary Lee Hummert is Professor of Communication at the University of
Kansas.
The authors express gratitude to Greg Shepherd, Howard Sypher, Virgil Adams,
and Haley Nevins for their assistance during the project.
Correspondence may be addressed: Wendy Geiger, Department of Communica
-
tion, 127 C Martin Hall, Warrensburg, MO 64093 (E-mail: geiger@cmsu1.cmsu.edu).
Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 51(3) 2006
Available online at http://jh.haworthpress.com
© 2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1300/J082v51n03_08 165
perspectives on stereotyping and gender inversion theory. Suggestions
for future research are provided.
doi:10.1300/J082v51n03_08 [Article cop
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HAWORTH. E-mail address: <docdelivery@haworthpress.com> Website:
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reserved.]
KEYWORDS. Homophobia, lesbians, stereotypes, cognition, traits, at
-
titudes, intergroup, gay, cluster analysis
MULTIPLE STEREOTYPES OF LESBIANS
In recent years, our culture has begun to acknowledge gay men and
lesbians, and their functioning as a group within society. Silence and de-
nial has been replaced by conversation. The confirmation that gay men
and lesbians are a part of society is reflected in political, media, and
religious organizations. Legislation regarding gays in the military, same-
sex marriage (and proposed constitutional amendments denying such
rights), and federal protection against discrimination and hate crimes
has marked a significant increase in political talk. Movies are increas-
ingly exploring gay and lesbian themes and including more homosexual
characters. Prime-time television programs such as Will and Grace,
Spin City, ER, and Ellen include either leading or supporting gay and
lesbian characters, and many of those shows have explored themes spe-
cifically associated with being gay (e.g., “coming out”). In addition, re-
ligious organizations have faced controversy concerning how to deal
with men and women in same-sex relationships (e.g., United Methodist
News Service, 1999). This discussion of gay issues was absent from the
mainstream only 10 or 15 years ago, and illustrates the changing place
of lesbians and gay men in today’s society.
In the context of this increasing public discourse, it is important to
understand how individuals view gay men and women, but the research
in this area is somewhat limited. What does exist suggests that attitudes
are overwhelmingly negative (Herek, 1988, 1991). In addition, much of
the existing research has grouped gay men and lesbians (Kite & Whit
-
ley, 1996). Given that stereotypes of men and women are very different
(Eckes, 1996), we believe that stereotypes of gay men and women are
worthy of separate examination. To illustrate the value of this approach,
the study reported here examines the complexity in cognitive represen
-
tations of lesbians.
166 JOURNAL OF HOMOSEXUALITY
The most prevalent theory driving research on gay stereotypes is gen
-
der inversion theory (Kite & Deaux, 1987; Taylor, 1983). This theory
hypothesizes that gay men will be perceived as being similar to hetero
-
sexual women, and lesbians will be viewed as more like heterosexual
men. Both Taylor and Kite and Deaux have applied this perspective in
their research on stereotypes of homosexuals. For example, Taylor’s re
-
spondents rated gay men as more feminine than lesbians, and lesbians
as more masculine than gay men. Kite and Deaux (1987) also found
evidence supporting gender inversion theory. Their participants used
feminine traits (e.g., high voice, sensitive) to describe gay men and mas
-
culine traits (e.g., short hair, tough, like sports) to describe lesbians.
Such research has been useful, as have more simplistic “positive versus
negative” studies of attitudes towards lesbians and gay men ( Schwan
-
berg, 1996 ). However, past research in general has failed to examine
the complexity and variability in stereotypes of lesbians or gay men.
The cognitive perspective on stereotyping provides a framework that
helps to address this issue (Ashmore & Del Boca, 1981; Hamilton &
Trolier, 1986). The cognitive perspective asserts that stereotypes are
multiple and individuals may hold several stereotypes regarding any
given group (Brewer, Dull, & Lui, 1981; Hummert, 1990). These are ar-
ranged hierarchically, with superordinate categories having several
subcategories or substereotypes at lower levels. For example, stereo-
types of college students may include student athlete, sorority/fraternity
member, overly studious, party-loving student, and the like (Ashmore,
Del Boca, & Beebe, 2002). These subcategories exist within a broader
cognitive representation of the group as a whole, providing the perceiver
with a variety of information to apply in any given situation. The majority
of research on such hierarchical representations suggests that particular
stereotypes will be activated depending upon situational cues and the
characteristics of specific out-group targets (Hummert et al., 2004).
Research on age (Brewer et al., 1981; Hummert et al., 1994) and gen
-
der (Eckes, 1994; Six & Eckes, 1991) stereotypes supports the cognitive
perspective on stereotypes. For instance, Hummert et al. (1994) found
positive and negative stereotypes of older adults (e.g., the “perfect
grandparent” and the “golden ager” versus the “shrew/curmudgeon” and
“severely impaired”). Similarly, Eckes’ (1994) study of gender stereo
-
types described multiple stereotypes of women. He suggested that ste
-
reotypes of women are split along a traditional (e.g., the “Chick” and
“Housewife”) versus unconventional (e.g., “Career Woman” and the
“Women’s Libber”) divide. This research has helped us understand
cognitive representations of groups, the links between such representa
-
Geiger, Harwood, and Hummert 167
tions and intergroup communication, and the ways in which stereotypes
can be changed, or resist change, as a result of intergroup contact (Hew
-
stone & Brown, 1986; Hummert et al., 2004).
Our study explores stereotypes of lesbians from the cognitive per
-
spective, building upon Kite and Deaux’s (1987) research. Lesbians
have rarely been the sole focus of empirical research, and have often
been grouped with gay men for research purposes. We argue that these
groups are distinct and worthy of separate consideration. Given work
from the cognitive perspective, we aimed to uncover the content and
structure of stereotypes of lesbians. Based on previous stereotype re
-
search, as well as gender inversion theory, we expected to uncover both
positive and negative stereotypes of lesbians, and we expected to un-
cover stereotypes that varied in terms of their masculinity, with at least
some subtypes that reflected considerable masculine elements.
METHOD
The study occurred in two stages. In the first stage, participants gener-
ated traits that they associated with lesbians as a group (trait generation
task). In the second stage, a separate group of participants sorted these
traits into piles intended to represent types of lesbians (trait-sorting task).
This procedure is commonly employed within the literature identifying
substereotypes of various groups (Hummert et al., 1994; Eckes, 1994).
Hierarchical cluster analysis and multidimensional scaling were then
used to identify the structure of cognitive representations of lesbians.
Participants
All respondents were enrolled in an introductory speech communica
-
tion course at a large mid-western university. They received course credit
for participation. The course fulfills a college requirement, and hence at
-
tracts a wide variety of majors. In the trait generation task, 61 people
participated (45 females, 16 males, age M = 20.34, SD = 3.15, range =
18-34). The trait-sorting task included 63 participants (39 females, 24
males, age M = 20.34, SD = 2.54, range 18-25). The majority of partici
-
pants in both studies were white (92%).
Trait Generation Task Materials and Procedures
Participants in the trait generation task were instructed to “Think about
what you know about lesbians, what you think about lesbians, what you
168 JOURNAL OF HOMOSEXUALITY
have heard about lesbians and what you have read about lesbians.” Par
-
ticipants were encouraged to write down as many traits as they could
think of, both positive and negative. They were instructed that the traits
did not have to reflect their own opinions, but simply associations with
lesbians with which they were familiar. The reason for including this
caveat was to get the most complete and broad description of lesbians
and to encourage participants to include traits (either positive or nega
-
tive) that they may not have felt comfortable including otherwise. The
average number of traits generated was 7.75 (range = 0-27). The re
-
spondents listed 355 characteristics and traits in total. To obtain a man
-
ageable number of traits for a sorting task, the researchers established
criteria for inclusion of traits in the final list.
First, synonyms of, and derogatory terms for, being a lesbian were
eliminated from the list (e.g., “gay,” “whorebag”). Second, very similar
trait descriptors were grouped (e.g., “manly,” “male-like”), and the re-
searchers jointly decided on one trait that was the best exemplar. Fi-
nally, responses that were not traits or were obscure were deleted from
the list (e.g., “lesbians should not be allowed to adopt”). Our litmus test
here was that each term on the final list should make sense in the sen-
tence “Lesbians are ______.” Two authors performed these procedures
independently, and then met to discuss and reach consensus on differ-
ences of opinion. The process resulted in a list of 94 traits for the sorting
task in the current study (see Figures 1 and 2 for the full list). Narrowing
down the trait lists was essential in order to provide a manageable set of
traits for the sorting task. The presence of obscure terms or synonyms
would have negative repercussions both methodologically and statisti-
cally (Everitt, 1993; Aldenderfer & Blashfield, 1985).
Trait-Sorting Task Materials and Procedures
Procedures for the sorting task were based on methods used by
Hummert et al. (1994) and Schmidt and Boland (1986) in studying ste
-
reotypes of older adults. Participants were given a stack of 94 randomly
ordered index cards, each displaying one trait. The participants were
asked to sort the cards into groups that represented types of lesbians of
which they were aware, either from personal contact, the media, friends,
family, or others. They were instructed that they did not need to believe
that these characterizations were true or accurate. The participants were
instructed to create 3-25 groups. Once the groups were formed, partici
-
pants were asked to provide a name or label for the type of lesbian that
each group represented. No time limit was imposed on the task and par
-
Geiger, Harwood, and Hummert 169
ticipants could change their groupings while they worked. The task took
most respondents 20-40 minutes. Groups that were labeled as “miscel
-
laneous” or unlabelled were not included in the analysis. Hence, some
of the participants had only 2 groups recorded, even though the instruc
-
tions called for a minimum of 3 groups. The number of groups gener
-
ated ranged from 2 to 15 (M = 5.87, SD = 2.71; 60.3% of the participants
generated 5 or more groups, 39.7% generated 4 or fewer groups).
Analysis
The results of the sorting task were transformed into a 94 × 94 similar
-
ity matrix, with entries in the matrix reflecting the frequency with which
each pair of traits was placed into the same group. The data were analyzed
using hierarchical cluster analysis (HCA: Everitt, 1993) and multidimen
-
sional scaling (MDS: Kruskal & Wish, 1978). HCA has been used exten-
sively to identify substereotypes from a variety of groups, including age
(Hummert et al., 1994; Schmidt & Boland, 1986), gender (Eckes, 1994;
Edwards, 1992; Six & Eckes, 1991), and the mentally ill homeless (Mow-
bray, Bybee, & Cohen, 1993). The combined use of HCA and MDS pro-
vides statistical triangulation in terms of interpreting the structure of the
lesbian stereotypes, as well as providing a richer picture of their cognitive
organization (Kruskal & Wish, 1978).
RESULTS
Results of HCA using the average-linkage between-group method
produced two high-level clusters, one of positive traits and one negative
of negative traits. Determining that there were two high-level clusters
was based on the large percentage change (62%) between clusters indi
-
cated by the agglomeration coefficients (Hair et al., 1992). Each of the
high–level clusters had equal numbers of traits (N = 47 traits for the pos
-
itive and negative clusters). Examination of the dendrogram and the
agglomeration schedule also indicated a distinct set of clusters at a
lower level-eight clusters. Using Schmidt and Boland’s (1986) and
Hummert’s (1990) guidelines, only mid-level categories with more than
two traits were considered as representing subcategories. These subcat
-
egories or stereotypes are described below. They were labeled by the re
-
searchers who consulted with the respondents’ trait-sorting labels, and
who also used general cultural knowledge of the lesbian community.
170 JOURNAL OF HOMOSEXUALITY
Positive Subcategories
The dendrogram for the positive subtypes is shown in Figure 1. Four
positive subcategories emerged: Lipstick lesbian, career-oriented femi
-
nist, soft-butch, and free-spirit. Fourteen traits were associated with the
lipstick-lesbian category. This is a stereotype associated with very femi
-
nine qualities such as beauty, sensitivity, and maternal instincts. The ca
-
reer-oriented feminist lesbian incorporated 24 traits, and was the broad
-
est of all the subtypes. This was a woman who is a proud, successful
professional with a strong sense of self. She is also open-minded and
creative. Three traits were associated with the soft-butch lesbian. This
subtype was of an athletic, powerful feminist, but not one who is explic
-
itly masculine (cf. the angry butch stereotype, below). Finally, the free-
spirit (six traits), was characterized as an eccentric and mysterious per
-
son who is a nonconformist.
Negative Subcategories
The dendrogram for the negative subtypes is shown in Figure 2. As
with the positive clusters, four mid-level clusters emerged here: Hyper-
sexual, sexually confused, sexually deviant,andangry butch.Thehyper-
sexual lesbian was defined by three traits and characterized as a woman
who enjoys having sex with a variety of people, including both men and
women. The sexually confused lesbian had a base of six traits, and sug-
gested a woman who is “closeted,” confused, and uncomfortable re-
garding her sexual orientation. The sexually deviant lesbian, with a base
of 13 traits, characterized an immoral or mentally ill woman who chooses
to have the “wrong” type of sex. This appeared to be the most negative
subtype. Finally, 25 traits were associated with the angry butch lesbian.
These traits characterized an angry, dominating, defensive, and humor
-
less person, who was also seen as being masculine and unattractive in
appearance (i.e., stocky, muscular, and/or overweight).
In addition to the hierarchical cluster analysis, a multidimensional
scaling (MDS) procedure was performed on the 94 × 94 matrix. A
two-dimensional solution provided the best fit to the data (Stress = .10,
R
2
= .97). The MDS solution of the trait-sorting matrix is illustrated in
Figure 3, overlaid by the cluster analysis solution. As can be seen, the
subtypes of lesbians that were identified in the cluster analysis were ap
-
parent in the MDS analysis. The groups on the left side of the model are
all negative stereotypes, while the groups on the right are positive clus
-
ters. Hence, we interpret the horizontal dimension of the model as re
-
Geiger, Harwood, and Hummert 171
172 JOURNAL OF HOMOSEXUALITY
FIGURE 1. Dendrogram of Traits from Sorting Task: Positive Subtypes
Geiger, Harwood, and Hummert 173
FIGURE 2. Dendrogram of Traits from Sorting Task: Negative Subtypes
angry
defensiv
overbear
rude
obnoxiou
aggressi
overweig
selfish
queer
gross
dirty
repulsiv
disgrace
hasty
disgusti
weird
sick
abnormal
immoral
mentlyil
sinful
sexfrust
scaredof
promiscu
mysterio
eccentri
nonconfo
vegetarj
persuasi
environm
assertiv
liberi
individu
expressi
independ
career
courageo
highself
proud
strongwi
outspoke
powerful
athletic
feminist
SOFT-BUTCH
STRONG
POSITIVE
WEAK
outgoing
openmind
successf
realisti
noble
cool
wealthy
carefree
natural
artistic
friendly
creative
happy
beautifu
normal
neat
maternal
notbutch
sexy
cute
girlish
sensitiv
attracti
caring
sweet
LIPSTICK
CAREER-ORIENTED
differen
touchy
bisexual
sexcrazy
HYPERSEXUAL
FREE SPIRIT
insecure
confused
submissi
shy
SEXUALLY DEVIANT
SEXUALLY CONFUSED
cruel
jealous
androgyn
ANGRY BUTCH
NEGATIVE
confront
stern
stubborn
dominate
muscular
masculin
loud
boyish
bitchy
ugly
humorles
stocky
butch
unfemini
FIGURE 3. Multidimensional Scaling Solution of Traits Overlaid by Cluster Analysis Solution
174
flecting a negative-positive dimension. The vertical dimension in
Figure 3 appears to reflect a strong-weak dimension. Strong personality
characteristics predominate at the top of the model (e.g., dominant,
strong-willed, outspoken, powerful), with weak characteristics at the
bottom of the model (e.g., shy, submissive, insecure). As can be seen
from Figure 3, the three clusters with implications for specific sexual
behaviors are fairly closely entwined, as might be expected (center and
left at bottom of the model). The other negative stereotype (angry
butch) seems somewhat distinct, and to be associated with the more
“powerful” pole. On the positive side, the career-oriented feminist ste
-
reotype appears to be central, with the other positive stereotypes exist
-
ing as satellites. The career-oriented feminist type is the broadest
stereotype that we uncovered, incorporating elements of the other three.
Traits like “vegetarian” or “natural” might typically be associated with
the free-spirit type, traits like “assertive” and “outspoken” are perhaps
also characteristic of the soft-butch, and a trait like “creative” might be
seen as typical of the lipstick lesbian. Put differently, the MDS solution
suggests that negative stereotypes of lesbians are somewhat more di-
verse and distinct in their content (and hence perhaps more complex)
than positive types.
Finally, it is interesting to note the areas in which particular stereo-
types are most closely related in the multidimensional space. The “free-
spirit” stereotype is spatially located not far from two of the sexually re-
lated negative stereotypes (sexually confused and hypersexual). Like-
wise, the soft-butch stereotype is relatively close to (although apparently
distinct from) the angry butch. In both cases we would suggest that
these are possible routes for recategorization from positive to negative
stereotypes or vice versa. For instance, an individual who is initially
classified positively into the free-spirit stereotype might easily be
recategorized into a closely related negative stereotype (e.g., hyper
-
sexual). Recategorization from, for instance, the lipstick-lesbian cate
-
gory to the angry butch category is less likely according to Figure 3.
DISCUSSION
Our analysis reveals support for complex and diverse cognitive rep
-
resentations of lesbians. The cluster analysis revealed a high-level dis
-
tinction between positive and negative stereotypes, and lower-level
stereotypes of each high-level category. The dendrogram indicated
clear distinctions between these clusters, and the solution was stable
Geiger, Harwood, and Hummert 175
when tested with different clustering algorithms. The distinctions be
-
tween clusters were replicated in the multidimensional scaling analysis
where meaningful underlying dimensions were also found. Most im
-
portant, the emerging clusters have face validity. They reflect culturally
prevalent representations of lesbians within and outside the lesbian
community (e.g., the angry butch clearly has cultural currency as evi
-
denced by “Dykes on Bikes” and representations of such in the straight
community: Newton, 1984; Pisankaneva, 2002).
The number of trait groupings generated in the sorting task provides
evidence supporting the existence of substereotypes of lesbians. Many
of the participants distinguished many more types than the minimum
(three) that the sorting task required. Participants were aware they
would need to provide labels for the groups they created, hence they
were motivated to only create groups that were meaningful to them. In
this context, it is interesting to note that the number of groups generated
varied greatly within our sample (from 2 to 15). These results suggest
that the complexity in cognitive representations of lesbians varies
greatly, although they appear to be centered on some shared basic repre-
sentations. As a final note here, we would reiterate the evidence from
the MDS solution suggesting that negative stereotypes exhibit more
differentiation than positive stereotypes.
Stereotyping Issues
The current research adds to the existing support for considering ste-
reotypes as hierarchical and multiple in nature (Brewer et al., 1981;
Eckes, 1996; Hummert et al., 1994). Examinations of numerous groups
have now suggested this, and the knowledge has provided useful twists
on theory in this area. The extent to which social psychologists can con
-
tribute to changing prejudicial attitudes depends upon our ability to un
-
derstand the ways in which those attitudes are represented. The clear
evidence, that stereotypes are hierarchically arranged cognitive struc
-
tures, has already influenced theorizing about attitude change (e.g., Brewer
& Miller, 1988; Hewstone, 1996; Rothbart & John, 1985). The current
paper demonstrates that such issues are relevant to stereotypes of lesbi
-
ans, and hence we suggest that interventions to address homophobia
will need to incorporate knowledge about the multiple stereotypes of this
group. These findings also suggest that challenging homophobia will
need to occur in gender-specific ways. There is no reason to suggest that
cognitive representations of gay men will resemble those from this
176 JOURNAL OF HOMOSEXUALITY
study in any way, and hence attempts to adjust such cognitive represen
-
tations would need to proceed somewhat independently.
The results of the MDS analysis enhance our comprehension of such
issues. Understanding dimensions underlying cognitive representations
of groups is crucial in understanding perceptions of those groups. Judg
-
ments of positivity and strength appear fundamental in guiding catego
-
rization of lesbians. Hence, attempts (either individual or societal) to
change perceptions should be directed towards those dimensions. Ex
-
aminations of media portrayals of lesbians might productively focus on
these dimensions in evaluating portrayals, and future work on interper
-
sonal perception of lesbians might also capitalize on these as evaluative
parameters. In addition, those wishing to measure attitudes in a more tra
-
ditional fashion (e.g., semantic differential scales) might pay attention
to these as particularly important underlying dimensions (and also see
Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1957).
The presence of positive subtypes is undoubtedly a double-edged sword
for those attempting to address issues of prejudice. At one level, these
subtypes reflect liberated and generous evaluations of out-groups. How-
ever, positive subtypes have often been implicated in cognitive strate-
gies to resist attitude change. An individual with prejudicial attitudes
towards lesbians may use a positive subtype to “fence off” exceptions
to their generally negative feelings about the group (Allport, 1954;
Rothbart & John, 1985). Considerable previous work has examined ho-
mophobia, and it is clear from recent hate crimes that prejudicial atti-
tudes towards homosexuals have serious consequences (Herek, 2000).
The understanding of cognitive representations of lesbians outlined in
this paper will further our understanding of stereotype development and
change in this context. More generally, we hope that this work and other
work in this vein contributes to an understanding of the relationship be
-
tween substereotypes and overall attitudes towards groups. We need to
develop clearer articulations of the ways in which representations of
“subgroups” are tied to representations of groups as a whole (Maurer,
Park, & Rothbart, 1995). Positive subtypes that are tied to an overall
group representation are of obvious value in reducing prejudice. Those
that are detached from the overall representation of the group are proba
-
bly harmful to intergroup cooperation.
Gender
This study has implications for gender inversion theory (Kite &
Deaux, 1987). Gender inversion theory has suggested that stereotypes
Geiger, Harwood, and Hummert 177
of lesbians include traits that are typically associated with males (and
vice versa for gay men). While there is certainly evidence in this study
that traits typically associated with males were included in several of the
subtypes of lesbians, our subjects also generated many typically femi
-
nine traits (e.g., caring, maternal), and a number of the substereotypes
were not at all masculine in nature (e.g., lipstick lesbian). Therefore, we
suggest that gender inversion theory addresses only one (primarily neg
-
ative) facet of lesbian stereotypes. As a result, invoking gender inver
-
sion theory may well restrict the study of homosexual stereotypes,
limiting the ability of researchers to uncover other representations. That
said, it is interesting that the strong-weak dimension is clearly important
in our study, and it would be possible to interpret this dimension as at
least somewhat gendered.
We were surprised by the sophistication of representations uncov
-
ered in the current study. Both the trait generation and the sorting task
revealed considerable breadth and depth in people’s representations.
This is particularly surprising given the taboo nature of homosexuality
until relatively recently. Part of the explanation may be the college con-
text of the research–homosexuals have traditionally been more “out”
and more accepted on college campuses than in many other locations.
However, the increasing discussion of gay issues in the media is an ad-
ditional factor. We would advocate investigation of cognitive represen-
tations of these groups outside of college campuses, and investigations
of the diversity of such representations in the media. Such examinations
would yield additional information about the sophistication of represen-
tations of this group in the broader culture.
A final implication of this research is in terms of issues of gender ste
-
reotyping. Although no direct comparisons can be made between the
two studies, it is interesting that the groupings of lesbians in the current
paper did not correspond to the groupings of women found in Eckes
(1996) study. This may suggest that although lesbians are women, they
are seen as a unique group with unique qualities and traits. More precise
delineations of the links between multiple stereotypes of gay and straight
members of both sexes would be interesting for future research, includ
-
ing perhaps offering a more sophisticated development of gender inver
-
sion theory.
Future Research
First, future work should examine situational features that might trig
-
ger the various subtypes uncovered in this paper. For instance, a number
178 JOURNAL OF HOMOSEXUALITY
of the subtypes in our study included physical descriptors. To what ex
-
tent are these subtypes activated by physical cues? Useful research
could be done examining responses to photographic, trait-based, or
communication-based stimuli, in order to understand their relative
strength in predicting stereotype activation. Theoretical perspectives
examining such activation cues have been extremely productive in other
areas (e.g., the activation of various age stereotypes: Hummert, Gar
-
stka, & Shaner, 1997). Also, we would advocate research examining the
relative accessibility of positive and negative subtypes of lesbians among
different groups–particularly individuals high in homophobia, and gay
people themselves (Hajek & Giles, 2002; Herek, 1991; Kite & Whitely,
1996). Homophobic individuals might have less complex representa
-
tions of lesbians, or they might demonstrate quite sophisticated and var
-
ied negative stereotypes (Linville, 1982). Lesbians fitting into the
positive subcategories might be “subtyped” into a group of “excep-
tions,” rather than being treated as a meaningful subgroup of lesbians
(Richards & Hewstone, 2001).
Second, future research might include quantitative evaluations of
these subtypes. It would be useful to examine evaluative ratings of each
subtype to confirm our conceptualization of them as negative-positive
and strong-weak, as well as differences in such evaluations (e.g., be-
tween homosexual and heterosexual respondents, males and females,
etc.). In addition, we might examine perceptions of the origins of these
subtypes. Some subtypes may be grounded in particular exemplars
(e.g., Ellen DeGeneres, a friend, a family member), while others are
grounded in more abstract prototypes (Smith & Zarate, 1990).
Ultimately, the development of this research should address contact
and communication between lesbians and heterosexuals (Herek & Capi
-
tanio, 1996). Social identity (SIT) theory has interesting insights to offer
on such processes (Tajfel & Turner, 1986; Hajek, Abrams, & Murachver,
2005). For example, SIT suggests that group members seek to establish
positive distinctiveness from out-groups. From this perspective, positive
lesbian subtypes (e.g., lipstick lesbians) might be particularly threatening
to a heterosexual woman, since they threaten the distinctiveness of her
group membership. On the other hand, a lipstick lesbian might be per
-
ceived positively as gender-confirming if the categorization is based on
sex rather than sexuality (Crisp & Hewstone, 2000; Gaertner et al.,
2000). Hence, the extent to which being a lesbian is disclosed becomes
central, and the issue of “coming out” as a fundamentally important
communication issue is raised. Lesbians who “fit” into certain of the
categories described in this paper may find “coming out” to be a rela
-
Geiger, Harwood, and Hummert 179
tively unproblematic event–their friends and colleagues may have al
-
ready categorized them. However, for individuals who present a less
good fit, “coming out” may be considerably more thorny. As a result,
the contact between homosexuals and heterosexuals may be more or
less intergroup in nature, with consequences for attitude changes that are
becoming better documented in the literature (e.g., Richards & Hew
-
stone, 2001).
The current study has demonstrated that stereotypes of lesbians are
well developed in both breadth and depth. These results support the so
-
cial psychological position that stereotypes are hierarchical and multi
-
ple in nature. In addition, this paper challenges and expands previous
research grounded in a homophobia perspective. We suggest that ho
-
mophobia towards lesbians may indeed be widespread, however it must
be understood in the context of complex cognitive representations that
include positive elements. Such a recognition will provide more sophis-
ticated answers to questions concerning how to address homophobia.
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... Although this explanation of homosexuality no longer enjoys popular endorsement, the reversal of gender expectations for non-heterosexuals component to gender inversion stereotypes still does. Specifically, gay men are expected to be like straight women, and lesbian women like straight men, in a plurality of their thoughts and behaviors that includes their emotional expressions (Geiger, Harwood, & Hummert, 2006;Kite & Deaux, 1987;Tskhay & Rule, 2015). Although gender inversion is an exaggerated stereotype, particularly as the association between sexual orientation and gender typicality is not always straightforward (e.g., Bailey, Bechtold, & Berenbaum, 2002), it does bear a kernel of truth: Gay and lesbian individuals indeed show more gender-nonconformity in their interests and behavior than heterosexual individuals do (e.g., Bailey & Zucker, 1995;Lippa, 2002;Pillard, 1991). ...
... Based on the opposing associations of gay men with femininity and lesbian women with masculinity, we reasoned that parallel but complementary relations between gender typicality and emotion would explain perceptions of women's sexual orientation (e.g., Fabes & Martin, 1991;Geiger et al., 2006;LaFrance et al., 2003). Specifically, we expected that anger would relate to perceptions of women as lesbian and that happiness would relate to perceptions of women as straight. ...
... These results showed that angry-looking women seem more likely to be lesbian than neutral or happy-looking women, demonstrating the utilization of anger as a cue in inferring women's sexual orientation. This aligns with stereotypes associating lesbians with anger (Geiger et al., 2006). But the complementary association did not emerge: Neutral and happy-looking faces appeared similarly likely to be lesbian, suggesting that perceivers may not hold the converse stereotype associating happiness with straight women. ...
Article
Full-text available
Heterosexual individuals tend to look and act more typical for their gender compared to gay and lesbian individuals, and people use this information to infer sexual orientation. Consistent with stereotypes associating happy expressions with femininity, previous work found that gay men displayed more happiness than straight men—a difference that perceivers used, independent of gender typicality, to judge sexual orientation. Here, we extended this to judgments of women’s sexual orientation. Like the gender-inversion stereotypes applied to men, participants perceived women’s faces manipulated to look angry as more likely to be lesbians; however, emotional expressions largely did not distinguish the faces of actual lesbian and straight women. Compared to men’s faces, women’s faces varied less in their emotional expression (appearing invariably positive) but varied more in gender typicality. These differences align with gender role expectations requiring the expression of positive emotion by women and prohibiting the expression of femininity by men. More important, greater variance within gender typicality and emotion facilitates their respective utility for distinguishing sexual orientation from facial appearance. These findings thus provide the first evidence for contrasting cues to women’s and men’s sexual orientation and suggest that gender norms may uniquely shape how men and women reveal their sexual orientation.
... Indeed, the shared stereotype of femininity may position both gay men and heterosexual women as poorly suited for STEM (Sansone & Carpenter, 2020). In contrast, stereotypes about lesbian women as embodying masculine characteristics (Geiger et al., 2006) could better situate them for being positively evaluated in masculine domains, though they must also contend with gender essentializing beliefs about women's agentic and scientific abilities and homophobia. In this research, we suggest that stereotypes about lesbian and gay people's characteristics differently position them as fit for STEM and the Humanities compared to their heterosexual counterparts. ...
... That is, they do not encounter the same gendered stereotypes as (cisgender-heterosexual) women; instead, they uniquely contend with stereotypes as lesbian women. However, subtypes of lesbian women (e.g., "lipstick lesbians," "butch") reflect different dimensions of femininity, masculinity, competence, and warmth (Brambilla et al., 2011;Geiger et al., 2006). Therefore, subtypes of lesbian women may contribute to differing beliefs about lesbian women and their ability to excel in stereotypically masculine domains. ...
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Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) represent a highly valued academic discipline and career path in the 21st century; yet some individuals are excluded or discouraged from pursuing STEM because of their social group membership. Despite decades of research on social identity and fit within STEM (e.g., by gender and race), the psychological literature on issues within STEM based on sexual orientation is scant. We draw on notions of false dichotomies (i.e., social versus technical, personal versus professional, and subjectivity and interpretivism versus objectivity and positivism) to theorize how gender and sexual orientation influence perceived congruity with STEM as well as the Humanities. In the current study, we randomly assigned heterosexual participants (N = 318, Mage = 40, 52% women, 74% White) to rate one of five target groups (lesbian women, gay men, heterosexual women, heterosexual men, scientists) in terms of their perceived overlap with STEM and Humanities. We also assessed differences between target groups in terms of being rated as communal, agentic, and scientific. Results indicated that participants perceived lesbian women and gay men as less close to STEM than heterosexual men because they perceived lesbian and gay people as less agentic. In contrast, participants perceived lesbian women and gay men as closer to the Humanities than heterosexual men because they perceived lesbian and gay people as more communal. Drawing from these findings, we emphasize the profound implications of academic exclusion for lesbian and gay individuals.
... An obvious explanation for why the current cartoons did not show negative effects on WSW may be that the humour revolved around another subject (i.e., excessive drinking, staying sober) than the core characteristic of sexual orientation that distinguishes WSW from other social categories. Nonetheless, these findings debunk the stereotype that WSW lack sense of humour (Geiger et al., 2006) and instead point to the potential of humour depicting a female-female romantic couple to reach this target group. This is an important contribution in a time in which pervasive stressors such as the COVID-19 pandemic push individuals -and particularly WSW, who are already prone to excessive alcohol use (Hyde et al., 2009;McCabe et al., 2010) -towards alcohol as self-medication coping (Cerezo et al., 2021). ...
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This study focuses on the role of humour in health and well-being of women-who-have-sex-with-women (WSW) during COVID-19. This group has been shown to be vulnerable to alcohol abuse, especially as self-medication coping with social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. We investigated the potential usefulness of WSW-inclusive (i.e., depicting a female-female romantic couple) versus hetero-normative (i.e., depicting a male-female romantic couple) humorous cartoons in an anti-alcohol health campaign against excessive drinking among WSW. One-hundred-and-twenty-seven self-categorized WSW of diverse genders (woman, non-binary) and sexual orientations (e.g., lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, queer, heterosexual) participated in a 2 × 2 factorial between-participants design. Data were collected during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in The Netherlands. Humorous cartoons explicitly referring to lockdown measures systematically varied the humour subject (punchline about excessive drinking versus staying sober) and the couple (male-female, female-female) that were depicted. Although the (very brief) health message did not influence binge drinking determinants, the humorous health campaign depicting a female-female couple was perceived as more inclusive and evoked more amusement and less anger than when the cartoons depicted a male-female couple. High WSW identifiers were less amused about the health campaign text (but not the cartoons), less likely to share campaign materials offline (but not online), and had more positive binge drinking attitudes but lower binge drinking intentions than low identifiers. Implications are discussed.
... Some evidence is consistent with these proposals. In North American populations, gay men and lesbian women are stereotyped as departing from traditional norms of monogamy; indeed, they are perceived as promiscuous or hyper-sexual (Geiger et al., 2006;Pinsof & Haselton, 2016;Ross, 2002). This perception of gay men and lesbian women as violating or threatening sexually monogamous norms seems to underlie antigay prejudice among Americans (Pinsof & Haselton, 2016). ...
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Previous work has reported a relation between pathogen-avoidance motivations and prejudice toward various social groups, including gay men and lesbian women. It is currently unknown whether this association is present across cultures, or specific to North America. Analyses of survey data from adult heterosexuals ( N = 11,200) from 31 countries showed a small relation between pathogen disgust sensitivity (an individual-difference measure of pathogen-avoidance motivations) and measures of antigay attitudes. Analyses also showed that pathogen disgust sensitivity relates not only to antipathy toward gay men and lesbians, but also to negativity toward other groups, in particular those associated with violations of traditional sexual norms (e.g., prostitutes). These results suggest that the association between pathogen-avoidance motivations and antigay attitudes is relatively stable across cultures and is a manifestation of a more general relation between pathogen-avoidance motivations and prejudice towards groups associated with sexual norm violations.
... This lack of ambivalent stereotype content connected to homosexual groups was suggested to be a result of contrasting stereotype content for salient subgroups of homosexual women and men leading to stereotype content ratings of medium agency and communion (Clausell and Fiske, 2005;Brambilla et al., 2011). Degree of gender conformity or gender non-conformity seems to be an organizing feature in perceptions of subgroups of lesbian women and gay men (Geiger et al., 2006;McCutcheon and Morrison, 2021), which could be one reason as why to subgroups of sexual minorities can be associated with contrasting stereotype content. However, the current studies find no indication that contrasting stereotype content for subgroups influenced the overall stereotype content of sexual minority groups, and instead falls in line with previous findings regarding the partial gender inversion of the content of stereotypes about homosexual individuals. ...
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According to the Stereotype Content Model (SCM), the content of stereotypes differs on two dimensions: communion and agency. Research shows that for stereotypes about the general gender categories of “women” and “men,” there is an ambivalent pattern of communion and agency, where high levels on one dimension are associated with low levels on the other. For sexual minority stereotypes, a gender inversion has been found, whereas homosexual women are seen as more similar to men in general than to women in general, whereas homosexual men are seen as more similar to women in general than to men in general. However, there is limited research on how stereotype content for general groups relate to stereotype content for subgroups with intersecting category memberships. This research addresses this gap by investigating stereotype content at the intersection of gender and sexual orientation, including stereotype content for general gender groups, heterosexual groups, homosexual groups, and bisexual groups. In Study 1, a community sample from Sweden (N = 824) rated perceived communion and agency for women and men in general, as well as hetero-, homo-, and bisexual women and men. In Study 2, a nationally representative Swedish sample (N = 424) performed the same rating task, and in addition completed Single-Category IATs (SC-IATs) for warmth and competence. Results from both studies show that the stereotype content for the general categories “women” and “men” overlap with the stereotype content for heterosexual same-gender targets. Homosexual and bisexual groups were rated as more similar to their non-congruent gender category than same gender heterosexual categories were, but stereotype content for sexual minority groups did not overlap with either general gender categories, thus showing only incomplete gender inversion of stereotype content. Implicit associations between “women” and “warmth” were significantly stronger than associations between “men” and “warmth.” There were no other significant relations between implicit associations to warmth/competence and gender or sexual orientation. Theoretical and methodological implications for future research into intersectional stereotype content are presented, including how the findings inform the co-dependent relationship between a binary gender structure and a heteronormative ideology.
... For example, research has suggested that gay men are perceived as immoral [17] and sexually deviant and promiscuous [18]. Lesbian women are similarly perceived as sexually deviant as well as angry and confused [19]. Furthermore, Fingerhut and Abdou [16] showed that LGB individuals continue to report discrimination in healthcare contexts, setting the stage for furthering fears that one will be judged negatively based on sexual orientation in future encounters with healthcare providers. ...
Article
Background/Purpose Health disparities between sexual minorities and heterosexuals are well documented and have been explained by differential access to healthcare as well as exposure to discrimination. The current research examines the role that healthcare stereotype threat, or the fear of being judged by healthcare providers based on negative group stereotypes, plays in the health of LGB individuals. Methods LGB individuals (N = 1507) in three age cohorts were recruited via random digit dialing to participate in a larger study on sexual minority health. Participants completed measures assessing healthcare stereotype threat, lifetime health diagnoses, life satisfaction, and number of bad physical health days and personal distress in the past 30 days. Results Healthcare stereotype threat was associated with higher psychological distress and number of reported bad physical health days. Additionally, the Younger and Middle cohorts reported more stereotype threat than the Older cohort, but reported significantly higher levels of life satisfaction in the face of this threat than those in the Older cohort. Conclusions Healthcare stereotype threat was related to poorer mental and physical health among LGB individuals; this was true when these outcomes were assessed over the past 30 days but not when they were assessed in general. Cohort differences in healthcare stereotype threat suggest potential important within group variation that needs further investigating. The research broadens the contexts to which stereotype threat is relevant and establishes a stressor related to LGB health.
... Additionally, lesbian women are more implicitly associated with promiscuity than their heterosexual counterparts (Pinsof & Haselton, 2016). Research examining open-ended responses suggests that there are subgroups of lesbian women, such as "studs" or "butch lesbians," who are seen as "sexually deviant" or "hypersexual" (Geiger et al., 2006), but neither the sexually deviant or hypersexual stereotype has been fully corroborated in subsequent research (Brambilla et al., 2011). Lesbian women themselves have reported feeling stereotyped based on their alignment with "butch" and "femme" gender presentations, the stereotype of femme-presenting lesbian women being that they are sexually seductive/receptive and partner with butch-presenting women (and not with other femme-presenting women; Levitt et al., 2003) and the stereotype of butch-presenting lesbian women being that they are sexually dominant and partner with femmepresenting women (and not with other butch-presenting women; Levitt & Hiestand, 2004). ...
Article
Full-text available
Gay men and lesbian women face health inequities as well as disparate treatment from healthcare providers. Stereotypes surrounding sexual health might contribute to these disparities. In five studies (N = 1858), we explored sexual health stereotypes about gay men and lesbian women and their implications in prejudice/discrimination. In Studies 1, 2A, and 2B, we found people explicitly associated gay men with promiscuity and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) more than lesbian women or straight men/women. In implicit association tests, both gay men and lesbian women were more associated with promiscuity and STIs than straight counterparts. Studies 3A and 3B showed that these associations have consequences: people expressed more prejudice and discrimination towards gay men and lesbian women with STIs versus those with non-STIs or straight counterparts with either disease type. Taken together, the current research identifies some psychological factors that may underpin health disparities and healthcare barriers for gay and lesbian people. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
... These stereotypes are proven by research focus on lesbian stereotypes. Research conducted by Geiger, Harwood, and Hummert (2006) indicates that lesbian stereotypes are athletic, powerful, and explicitly masculine (p. 171). ...
Article
Full-text available
This research discusses the stereotypes of LGBT in the United States, which appear on American online news. This research works under Post-Nationalist American Studies by applying the gender socialization approach and stereotype theory. Qualitative research aims to seek the differences of stereotypes experienced by LGBT in the United States. The online news portals selected include The New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today. These news portals are chosen due to their neutrality and trustworthiness as online news portals for American society. By examining the data, the researcher found that the stereotypes experienced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender in the United States are different from one another. The findings and discussion show that Transgender stereotypes in the United States are more negative rather than others. In short, LGBT is mostly considered as a unity; however, it faces different challenges due to their minority status in the middle of American society.
... Given that this latter finding was not anticipated, representing an isolated non-significant correlation among the set of 15, replication is needed. Perhaps the recognition of lesbian sub-types with differing appearances (e.g., "lipstick" vs. "angry butch" lesbians; Geiger, Harwood, & Hummert, 2006) reduces the extent to which the perceived homosexuality associated with a particular masculine appearance characteristic predicts intolerance of a woman with that characteristic; however, the fact that a woman's masculine appearance generally was considered to be indicative of homosexuality (in Study 2) and elicited intolerance (in Study 1) raises doubts about this speculative interpretation. More importantly, given that the other 14 correlations between intolerance and perceived homosexuality were significant, the overall findings in Study 3 are consistent with the sexual orientation hypothesis. ...
Article
Full-text available
Previous research has found that gender-atypical males are evaluated more negatively than gender-atypical females. According to the sexual orientation hypothesis, this asymmetry in evaluations occurs because the feminine characteristics taken on by males when they violate gender roles are more closely tied to perceived sexual orientation than are the masculine characteristics of gender-atypical females. The current series of studies were designed to confirm the existence and generality of the asymmetry phenomenon (Study 1), the preconditions for testing the sexual orientation hypothesis (Study 2), and then to test the hypothesis itself (Study 3). Study 1 found that, as predicted, adults (N = 195, females = 97) displayed more intolerance of males than of females committing gender-role violations across a wide variety of characteristics within multiple domains, although the existence of asymmetry varied somewhat depending on the domain. Study 2 revealed that, as predicted, adults (N = 196, females = 117) believed that gender-role violations indicate homosexuality more so for males than for females overall and across all four domains studied (occupation, activity, trait, and appearance). Study 3 directly tested the sexual orientation hypotheses by examining the relationship between intolerance of specific gender-role violations (scores from Study 1) and the perceived homosexuality associated with those violations (scores from Study 2). Overall, there was a positive relationship between intolerance and perceived homosexuality, indicating that the more a given gender-role violation is thought to implicate homosexuality, the more negatively/less positively people tend to react to the violation, consistent with the sexual orientation hypothesis.
Article
Labeling oneself as a sexual minority and sharing that identity with others often represents a significant and intentional process for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals, as most individuals are assumed to be heterosexual. However, little previous research has explored the effects of sexual identity labels on perceptions of LGB individuals. Undergraduate students from a large public university (N = 661) were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: explicit labels (e.g., John is gay), implicit labels (e.g., John is attracted to men), or no labels (e.g., John works at a pizza place). Participants in each condition read short vignettes describing characters that were assigned explicit labels, implicit labels, or no labels. After reading each vignette, they rated characters on 19 traits, including negative, positive, and control traits. The results revealed that explicit and implicit labels generally increased ratings on positive traits (e.g., “proud,” “resilient,” and “fun”) in comparison to control characters with no sexual identity labels. In contrast, there were few effects of the label manipulation on ratings of negative traits (e.g., “attention-seeking,” “unreliable,” and “immoral”). These results suggest that in some contexts (liberal university), openly disclosing one’s sexual identity explicitly or implicitly may enhance positive perceptions from others.
Article
This 2-part study used photograph-age and photograph-stereotype sorting tasks to examine the role of target facial cues in stereotyping of older persons. As predicted, young, middle-aged, and older participants associated photographs of those who looked older and those with a neutral facial expression with fewer positive stereotypes than other photographs. Participants also selected fewer positive stereotypes for photographs of women than of men, except when the photographs showed old-old (80 years and over) men. Participant age affected stereotyping only of the photographs of old-old persons, with older participants selecting fewer positive stereotypes for those photographs than middle-aged and young participants. These results establish the importance of facial cues in the age stereotyping process and suggest age boundaries for positive stereotypes of men and women.
Chapter
Although the social-science-based justification for the Brown decision of 1954 was framed primarily in terms of its effect on the achievement and self-esteem of minority children, it is generally agreed that a major societal goal of desegregation is improved intergroup relations (Stephan, 1978). Presumably, what we mean by this is not simply that we can create conditions in which members of different ethnic groups coexist temporarily without conflict. What most of us have in mind when we think of improving intergroup relations is that any positive effects of contact will extend beyond the contact situation to reduce intergroup conflict and prejudice in general.
Article
Sexual prejudice refers to negative attitudes toward an individual because of her or his sexual orientation. In this article, the term is used to characterize heterosexuals' negative attitudes toward (a) homosexual behavior, (b) people with a homosexual or bisexual orientation, and (c) communities of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Sexual prejudice is a preferable term to homophobia because it conveys no assumptions about the motivations underlying negative attitudes, locates the study of attitudes concerning sexual orientation within the broader context of social psychological research on prejudice, and avoids value judgments about such attitudes. Sexual prejudice remains widespread in the United States, although moral condemnation has decreased in the 1990s and opposition to antigay discrimination has increased. The article reviews current knowledge about the prevalence of sexual prejudice, its psychological correlates, its underlying motivations, and its relationship to hate crimes and other antigy behaviors.