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Utah Women & Leadership release survey on sexist comments aimed at Utah women

By Genelle Pugmire - | Nov 5, 2021

Tim Vandenack, Special to the Daily Herald

Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project, addresses a gathering of the Weber County Republican Women on Sept. 13, 2021, at The Ice Sheet in Ogden.

Sexism takes many forms, from blatant and aggressive to unintentional and subtle.

For instance, simple one word references have been used to describe or define women, like “chick.” And it’s not confined to the U.S. In England you have “ducks or duckie” and in Scotland women are referred to as “hens.” Altogether they have been called “birds”. It’s not only the men referring to women either, but women have learned to call each other fowl.

Now the Utah Women & Leadership Project, directed by Susan Madsen, has released a study on Sexist Comments and Responses. It is focused on Utah women.

Authors of the research include Robbyn T. Scribner, a research fellow with the Utah Women & Leadership Project, Susan R. Madsen, the Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership, and April Townsend, also a research fellow with the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

Researchers have noted that, “in both private and public spaces, women encounter messages that reinforce gender roles and stereotypes, demean women as a gender group, and sexually objectify women.”

Sexist comments and remarks are prevalent and normalized in everyday conversation, public discourse and virtually every other social setting, the research attests. Though not the only form of sexism, sexist comments often take people by surprise, leaving women wishing they were better prepared to respond to, and refute, these comments, according to Scribner.

Further, face-to-face confrontation of sexism can be extremely difficult, so in an attempt to avoid backlash or retaliation, women often choose to ignore or minimize the sexism they experience. The study shows by religion that women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints particularly minimize these expressions — either intentionally or unintentionally.

“As sexist comments are pervasive, and appropriate responses elusive, this research study was designed with the intent of collecting and analyzing a wide variety of sexist comments experienced by women across the state of Utah, in addition to the responses women made (or wish they had made) to such comments,” Scribner added.

The goal of this research and policy brief series is primarily to educate the public on the realities of sexist language.

“Language and related behaviors can demean and disempower women, even when people are not aware that their words are problematic,” Scribner said. “In addition, by examining the types of responses reported in our study, along with other responses supported by scholarly research, we aim to equip women with the tools they need to better combat the sexism they experience from day to day.”

During May and June 2020, an online survey instrument was administered to a non-probability sample of Utah women representing diverse settings, backgrounds, and situations (e.g., age, marital status, education, race/ethnicity, parenthood status, employment status, faith tradition and county/region).

A call for participants was announced through the Utah Women & Leadership Project monthly newsletter, social media platforms and website. UWLP partners, collaborators and followers also distributed to their circles of influence. Overall, 1,115 respondents started the survey, and 839 Utah women participated enough to provide usable data.

This is the first of five briefs focusing on the comprehensive findings from this study. The purpose of this inaugural brief is to set the stage by sharing participant demographics — the quantitative results of the nine-item scale about participants’ perceptions of sexism in Utah, and a general overview of the qualitative comment findings.

The briefs that follow will provide more in-depth analysis and examples for each of the four themes and related subcategories.

Those themes include: Inequity and bias; objectification; stereotypes; and undervaluing women. Each of these will have their own deeper dive in forthcoming research papers.

Of note in the demographics, the age of participants was spread somewhat equally. Most participants had an associate’s degree or higher (91.5%) and lived in Utah or Salt Lake counties (81.4%). There was a higher-than-expected number of unemployed participants (13.0%) as well as those who identified as having “no religion” (23.2%).

“The purpose of this brief series is twofold. First, we hope to educate readers on the various ways that language and related behaviors can demean and disempower women, especially for those who may not realize their words are problematic. And second, by examining the types of responses reported in our study, along with other supported by scholarly research, we aim to equip women with the tools they need to better combat the sexism they experience from day to day,” Scribner said.

By raising awareness of the widespread occurrence and damaging effects of sexist language, comments, beliefs and behaviors, we can reduce the frequency of sexism in our homes, neighborhoods, communities and the state as a whole, Madsen added.

For additional information or to see survey responses visit http://www.utwomen.org.

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