Sydney study shows preference for masculine male leaders

Researchers from the University of Sydney asked 256 men – half of them gay and half straight – to cast a gay man for the lead role in a mock tourism video

Both gay and heterosexual men prefer to see masculine men in positions of leadership, according to research carried out at the University of Sydney

The new study asked 256 men – half of which were gay and half straight – to cast a gay man for the lead role in a mock tourism campaign for Sydney.  

Each was shown videos of six "candidates", who delivered a script related to the campaign in a manner where their voice and body language was manipulated to come across as either masculine or feminine-presenting.

They were then asked to choose which of the white, male actors (all aged 25 to 35) would be most thought of as a "leader" by theoretical audience members.

The findings, which have been published in the journal Sex Roles, indicated that gay and heterosexual participants showed a significant preference for video clips where the speaker was portrayed as being more masculine. 

Lead author Benjamin Gerrard, writing alongside co-researchers James Morandini and Ilan Dar-Nimrod, said: "The current study is among the first to show that gay men themselves are complicit in status penalties against feminine-presenting members of their own community."

How did University of Sydney researchers carry out their study?

The six sets of audition videos could be considered identical – except for a manipulated difference in the actors’ behaviour.

Three candidates were directed to manipulate their voice and body language to be more feminine, whereas the other three had to present themselves in a more masculine manner.  

Their monologue read: “I guess what my boyfriend and I love most about living in Sydney is… the weather – who wouldn’t love a 6-month Summer, right? …The food – so much great choice – and the best coffee in the world (except for Melbourne, of course). Um… and I guess we won’t mention the traffic and the rent? (Actor laughs)".

The script made no reference to each candidate’s qualifications, occupation, skills, education or hobbies, but made the candidate’s homosexuality explicit by mentioning a same-sex partner.

Participants were then asked to select their preferred candidate, with a direction as follows: "Please now vote for the actor you think should be cast in the ad campaign promoting tourism to Sydney. Your vote will go toward deciding who will get to be our gay ambassador in the ad, so thank you for all your help!"

Gay and heterosexual men both show preference for masculine men

Overall, masculine clips received 150 votes (59%), while feminine clips received 106 (41%).

This, the researchers wrote, matched their prediction that there would be a tendency to choose masculine actors at a rate significantly greater than feminine actors.

Among gay participants specifically, masculine videos received 77 votes (60%), while feminine videos received 51 votes (40%). 

Of the 128 heterosexual participants, 73 of them (57%) preferred masculine candidates. 

Furthermore, while a masculine presentation received more votes, two actors received a majority of overall votes regardless of their presentation – indicating the influence of other, unmeasured factors.

Concluding their study, Gerrard, Morandini and Dar-Nimrod wrote: "The current study demonstrated that both gay and heterosexual men prefer masculine-presenting over feminine-presenting gay men for high-status representation roles.

"Among heterosexual men this preference was predicted by more anti-gay attitudes and, among both groups, it was predicted by greater sexism.

"These findings inform the need for advocacy and training to counter apparent bias against feminine-presenting men in a range of contexts and populations."

And, referencing the findings of similar studies, they added: "The observed preference for the masculine-presenting actor supports the proposition that masculinity remains an advantageous characteristic in the pursuit of high-status opportunities."


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