A new international study has uncovered why some women actively support a sexist social system -- and yes, you read that right.
The study, which was published in the Australian Journal of Psychology, saw scientists survey 6560 New Zealand women and 269 American women about social attitudes, including whether they believed the gender hierarchy was fair.
While some of the women championed equality, others were found to believe in a hierarchical system and even thought it was fair for women to occupy a lower status than men. Furthermore, these women reported a greater personal need for men to act as their protectors.
Researcher Dr Fiona Barlow said she was drawn to the topic after initially questioning why some women don't support their female peers.
"I think we really started with the question of trying to understand why some women might actually have negative or oppressive attitudes toward other women. Why we, as women, want to keep other women down," she told HuffPost Australia.
"Then that progressed into thinking more broadly about how different women understand the world."
We wanted to see if women also believe it's legitimate to have a lower status, and they did.Dr Fiona Barlow.
Barlow said they wanted to look at how women viewed our hierarchical society and the extent to which they thought it was fair or just.
"Our society is hierarchically structured, some people have a lot, some people have a little," Barlow said. "Some people really value equality, whereas some people value the hierarchy.
"We were thinking about how maybe women who support and value hierarchies find themselves in a bit of a tricky situation, as that's to say they support and value a hierarchy in which their group is on a lower step.
"We proposed one way they might respond to this is by supporting an ideology in which women possess qualities that men do not.
"So, for example, women have qualities of purity that men don't possess. Women have qualities of chasteness that men don't possess -- 'good' women, that is. And as such, these good women deserve protection and resources from men.
"This, we hypothesised, could be one way that women might resolve to be in a hierarchical society."
So wait. Just to make sure we have this right. Being 'chaste' and 'pure' makes a 'good' woman, and in return for exhibiting these qualities, the good woman deserves protection and resources from men?
"While [being chaste or pure] doesn't like benefits to you or to a lot of people -- in fact it can seem quite limiting -- one thing that it does do is it obligates, in some way, for men to look after and protect good women," Barlow said.
Wow. Serena Joy, eat your heart out.
But how did they test this in the study?
"We tested this basic idea over two studies," Barlow said. "First of all we just established this association -- does it appear to be the case, that women who support hierarchy, also buy into being chaste and pure and having men as protectors? We found yes, they did.
The idea that we have the capacity to collude in our own oppression is a counter intuitive phenomenon.
"Furthermore, we wanted to see if women also believe it's legitimate to have a lower status, and they did. Given they accept that's legitimate, they also came to see themselves as being personally dependent on men for what you might expect -- money and resources.
"Because if it's totally legitimate that women are second class, you are going to have to rely on men to get the resources."
Despite this reporter's disbelief, Barlow said becoming used to adversity -- even justifying it -- may not be as strange as it seems.
"One big proposal that a lot of psychologists make is, as humans, we are motivated to believe the world we live in is just and fair," Barlow explained. "It can even go to the extent whereby if you face disadvantage, we can justify that to make sense of our social world. That's one possibility. But a lot more research needs to be carried out to find out why women would devote time and resources to efforts that would contain the resources and possibilities for other women.
"For me, personally, I think that one of the reasons we approached the question is the phenomenon is very surprising to us. The idea that we have the capacity to collude in our own oppression is a counter intuitive phenomenon. It's very straight forward to think of someone supporting and advocating for their own group, but very strange to think of the reverse."
An earlier version of this story reported 10,485 New Zealand women were surveyed.Suggest a correction