“(It) seemed like people who were really sexist held those stereotypes most strongly,” the study’s lead author told Moneyish
Today in “Why is this still a thing?”: Keeping your maiden name could affect how people view your husband.
Men whose wives kept their maiden names after marriage are perceived by others to have more stereotypically feminine traits, a new study in the journal Sex Roles suggests — including positive ones like kindness and negatively connoted ones like passivity. Those men are also perceived to be lower in stereotypically masculine traits like assertiveness, and are seen as holding less power in the relationship than their female partners.
“These stereotypes that were directed at (men) were just as a function of their wives’ decision,” lead study author Rachael Robnett, a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, told Moneyish. “On their own, they aren’t doing anything nontraditional themselves.”
Robnett, citing previous studies showing men either explicitly or subtly pressure women to take their surnames after marriage, set out to find out why the surname swap mattered so much. “One possibility could be that there are these stereotypes in place about men whose wives violate the tradition,” she said. “Maybe men are worried about being perceived differently.”
Her team, studying 355 people from two samples of U.S. college students and a UK-based sample with greater variance in age, marital status and socioeconomic status, found such stereotypes did indeed exist. But the fact that those men were perceived to have more feminine attributes didn’t automatically translate to a negative perception, Robnett clarified: “These men aren’t necessarily demonized; they’re just viewed differently than other men.”
The stereotypes also weren’t uniformly held across survey respondents. “(It) seemed like people who were really sexist held those stereotypes most strongly,” Robnett said. “If I’m a person who has a really egalitarian attitude and I’m flexible about gender norms, I probably don’t hold these stereotypes. But if I’m very traditional and I hold very rigid expectations about men and women, then that’s where these stereotypes are coming through.” The authors measured traditionalism by “hostile sexism,” which they described as “an overt form of sexism that is associated with a strong preference for traditional gender roles.”
About one in five women married in recent years have retained their surnames, according to a 2015 New York Times survey. They, too, fall prey to stereotyping: Robnett’s prior research has shown that women who decline to take their husbands’ surnames are perceived as more stereotypically masculine and less committed to their marriages.
Eric Baker and his wife of five years have drawn occasional surprise from their decision to keep their own last names. “Usually it’s just kind of an incredulous ‘Why?’” the 29-year-old Wichita, Kan., resident told Moneyish. “Why wouldn’t you do what everybody else does?”
His wife, whom Baker described as a women’s studies-degree-holding feminist, has related some experiences of her own. “They’ll start saying things like, ‘I guess we know who wears the pants in that family’ (and) ‘What does your husband think about that?’” he said, interpreting the comments to imply “that I’m submissive.” Some, his wife told him, have “almost called me a p—y … almost said the word, and then kind of stopped themselves.”
Oklahoma City ad agency partner Brian Winkeler, the 47-year-old husband to an “overachiever” corporate attorney, doesn’t recall strangers making assumptions about his marital dynamic. But he does cite an exchange with a trainer during a couple’s workout a couple of years back: “So why didn’t you change your name when you got married?” he told Moneyish the trainer said. “There was kind of a pregnant pause, and then my wife said, ‘Oh, you’re talking to me.’”
“That’s kind of how we approach it,” Winkeler added. “Basically whenever we say it, my wife says, ‘Well, I didn’t want to change my name and he didn’t want to change his.’”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved