Sexism in psychological research. Review: Condor, S. (1991)


The choice of the article being reviewed is based on specific reasons. One of the primary reasons for selection is that the article demonstrates the ethical guidelines for psychological research, with widespread methodology whilst highlighting the ethical issues and concerns for sexism in feminist research. The author of the article summarizes relevant data in a clear and co-incise manner. The author presents a consistent and coherent argument to the reader with significant information to reflect upon.

The author implies that ethical guidelines are expected to have a positive outcome on the way researchers carry out their research. Additionally, the author argues that the ethical rule concerning feminist psychology research does not protect the researcher from the use of several obvious sexist research procedures. The author’s conclusion about the clarities and validity of the sexism in feminist research or rather the lack of it is drawn based on the insignificant impact of the ethical guidelines for non-sexist research. Moreover, the author suggests that someone needs to inhibit the publication of those articles and by doing so eliminate the general public acceptance of those researches. In a relatively short amount space, the author of this six page report creates a comprehensive coverage of the wide-ranging topic by selecting some of the most important issues concerning non-sexist research.

The author is very honest in her own assessment of the importance of feminist non-sexist psychological research. Furthermore, the author refers extensively to the Code of Conduct (1991) published by British Psychological Society (BPS) and highlights the shortcomings of the Code to promote non-sexist research practices. The author correctly highlights the fact that the code does not straightforwardly discuss sex or political issues but encounters only a few feminist issues that primary focus on the relationship between the researcher and participant.

The author points out the interest of gender in feminist research and has cited point 5.6 of the Code of Conduct that states “psychologist shouldn’t let their professional responsibilities and values of practice to be moderated or reduced by matter of religion, sex, race, social class or standing”  Code of Conduct (1991). An author discusses a few reports on the Guidelines for the Use of Non- sexist Language which include the gender related issue and recommend them in order to present the words choice in “sex – fair” research of McHugh (1986).

The idea to take into account the language which we operate in psychology research on gender was the result of the articles published by McHugh, Koeske, and Frieze (1986). Those articles assess a number of methodological concerns to carry out non-sexist research. The most significant issue in these articles on the language of gender are the point where the authors showing many ways in which language can be employed to illustrate that gender of participant can indicate sexist prejudice. (McHugh, Koeske& Frieze, 1986). As example of prejudice McHugh, Koeske and Frieze, (1986) examine use of negative terminology to explain behaviour that go against usual gender function and highlight the theory of the contradictory genders.

The author cites numerous examples to support the failure of the BPS Guidelines to tackle gender related issues. The author discusses the problems associated with the “Guidelines for the use of Non-sexist  Language” published in the BPS document.

In support of the argument, the author further discusses a number of researches which are suitable examples to the argument that the current ethical guidelines have little or no effect at all in inhibiting the use of certain unethical research techniques and also the possible difficulty which can occur from implementation of gender neutrality.

The author presents a number of evidence to support the drawbacks with the use gender neutrality in research. The first evidence presented is the self-report research conducted by McDermott’s (1988) that studies the experience of sexual violence between college students. The author highlights the problems faced by the use of gender neutral term “non-consensual sex” instead of the traditional term “rape”.

The term “non-consensual sex” was broadly used to include not only women but also men who give in to the demand for ‘foreplay’. The author states that “sexual victimization” were frequently described by the male participant that by female. The author also highlights the concerns resulting from addressing the issue without male-female power interaction.

Throughout the report the author points out the failure of the BPS guidelines to target the real problem of the subject effectively. The author rightly points out that the guideline primarily focuses on gender related issues and does not offer a solution to the prevention of related concerns.

Author cites another example of psychology book “Human sexuality” and critique the advertising feature that encourages teaches to use this book for the wrong reasons. The feature focuses on using the term “sexuality” to grab the attention of students as opposed to focusing on the real reasons i.e. to promote a healthy attitude towards genuine issues.

Another shortcoming of the existing ethical guideline identified by the author is that the guideline focuses primarily on the participant’s feeling and does not take into account  the feelings  of the person who is conducting  the research or the people who will read the research. Like with gender neutrality, the author cites a number of examples to support the failure of the guideline to stop certain sexist practices in psychological research. The author discusses the experiment “Treating Woman as Sexual Object” by McKenzie-Mohr and Zanna (1990). The main hypothesis of the study was to find the “impact of self schemata on judgment towards others”. The purpose of the research was to study the impact of exposing male subjects to a sexual stimulus and their behaviour towards a female counterpart in a professional social situation. The author effectively uses the widely accepted taboo associated with pornography to illustrate the point that the Guideline does not target even the most widely accepted ethical concerns such as promoting young males to watch pornographic videos. The author also uses this study to illustrate the failure of the guideline to focus even remotely on the ethical concerns of the researcher or the feminist readers who may be offended by the study.

The author clearly indicates the irony of how studies like these can actually promote the sexual objectification of women.

The author cites another example to support the overall failure of the existing ethical guidelines to prevent research practices that are either sexually provocative or condone the sexual objectification of women.

The author also cites the studies of Camden and Baars (1979, 1982) as examples of studies that can be offensive towards women and do not address some of the most important ethical concerns.

In the next study of speech production Motley, Camden and Baars (1979, 1982) study the semantic relationship of verbal slips to mental set. The author clearly shows the sexually provocative nature of this research and also highlights the sexual objectification of the researcher especially as an attractive and challenging female researcher was the strict requirement for the research.

The author also effectively uses this research to support her argument that existing ethical guidelines do little or nothing to prevent researches that directly condone sexist practices, in this case by encouraging the subjects to use sexist language and by not taking into account any discomfort to the researcher. The author presents the irony of this study even being of acceptable standards of the guidelines for ‘non-sexist research’ suggested by Denmark et al. (1988).

In the report the author has clearly identified the key shortcomings of existing guidelines for non-sexist research and the overall failure of the guidelines to protest against such practices. The author uses numerous examples to illustrate the failure of the guidelines. The author does acknowledge that the guidelines exist however are fairly limited and restricted from a feminist viewpoint. The author has argued the viewpoint effectively by quoting many relevant researches and studies.  All criticism of the guidelines is well supported with evidence.

By citing researches and studies, the author has also clearly illustrated how the guidelines in general focus mainly on the subjects with hardly any focus on the researcher or feminist readers.

The author has effectively used popular taboo subjects like pornography to support the failure of the guidelines to prevent such practices.

In the end of the article author is making an important indication about the way the sexist research and not ethical data can pass the code of guideline. The author states that the way those type of ethical offence passing through journals, article, and academic literature is manipulative and really subtle and that we are all are responsible for the mistakes in the information that reaches us.

Although by and large the author has supported their viewpoint by citing relevant examples, the author has failed to highlight improvements or progress made in this regard.  It does not highlight the progress made in the field of gender bias over the past decade. The “Guidelines for Avoiding Sexism in Psychological Research” (Denmark, F. 1988), targets the issue of gender bias and stereotypes extensively by illustrating a number of real concerns, problems and possible corrections. This report covers gender bias in areas including question formulation, research methods, data analysis and conclusion. Contrary to the author’s general viewpoint, this report indeed suggests practical solutions to address gender bias in psychology research.

While, the shortcomings of the APA and BPS Guidelines have been well presented by the author, the author fails to comment on more recent advancements such as the proposition of ethical models. Three ethical models are proposed by Kvale (1996) that provide the broader frameworks within which researchers reflect on these ethical issues. The author also does not mention that feminist writers on ethics have put forward another basis for reflecting on ethical issues, with an emphasis on care and responsibility rather than outcomes, justice or rights. This is a model that is focused on particular social value.

Reference:

  1. Caplan, P. J., MacPherson, G. M., & Tobin, P. (1985). Do sex-related differences in spatial abilities exist? A multilevel critique with new data. American Psychologist, 40.
  2. Condor, S. (1991). Sexism in psychological research.  Feminism and Psychology, 1 (1), 430-434
  3. McHngh, M. C., Koeske, R. D., & Frieze, I. H. (1986). Issues to consider in conducting non-sexist psychology: A review with recommendations. American Psychologist, 41.
  4. McKenzie-Mohr, D., & Zanna, M. P. (1990). Treating women as sexual objects: Look to the (gender schematic) male who has viewed pornography. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 16.
  1. Motley, M. T., Camden, C. T., & Baars, B. J. (1982). Covert formulation and editing of anomalies in speech production: Evidence from experimentally elicited slips of the tongue. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 21.
  2. Denmark, Florence, Nancy Russo, Irene Frieze, Jeri Sechzer. “Guidelines for Avoiding Sexism in Psychological Research,” American Psychologist, Vol 43, No.7, (July 1988), pp. 582-585
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