‘Race, Gender and the Dating Game’ lecture displays difficult dynamics of dating for black, white women

By Dominika Koziol

A lecture titled “Race, Gender and the Dating Game: How Stereotypes of Black and White Women Influence Relationship Judgements,” presented by Roosevelt University Professor Jill Coleman and her research assistant, Sara Evans, explored their study addressing how gender stereotypes intersect with racial stereotypes to affect how women are judged in dating situations.

The lecture was presented last Wednesday and was sponsored by the Psychology Department and the St. Clair Drake Center.

Coleman is a social psychologist who is interested in the psychology of women and racism. Evans is in her first year of the university’s doctoral program in psychology.

After introducing herself and her associate, Coleman asked attendees to name gender stereotypes associated with women. The audience came up with traits like “submissive,” “empathetic” and “bad driver.”

Coleman noted that women are often associated with communal traits — traits that emphasize caring for others and nurturing interpersonal relationships. She then complicated this statement by asking, “Do these stereotypes apply to all women or some more than others?”

She then asked the audience to name gender stereotypes associated with black women. This time, the audience came up with ideas that created a much more assertive picture. They offered up words like “quick-tempered,” “independent” and “strong,” concluding that being a black woman comes with different social pressures than being a white woman.

This difference in gender expectations, depending on the additional identity marker of race, was the focus of Coleman’s study.

Coleman referenced a previous study done by Robert Livingston that found black and white women were judged differently in leadership positions. White women were judged as better leaders when they displayed communal traits, but black women were seen as effective leaders whether they displayed communal or dominant traits.

Since most of Coleman’s research focused on gender stereotypes in the context of relationships, Coleman wanted to know whether black and white women would also be judged differently in romantic situations.

The study was carried out by giving questionnaires to an ethnically diverse sample of people, men and women. Participants were recruited from the university community and given small monetary compensation.

Participants were given different hypothetical dating scenarios about a fictional character, Nicki. In some scenarios, Nicki was black, and in others, she was white. The type of behaviors she displayed on the date, passive or assertive, were also varied.

If Nicki was passive, she was asked out and let her date make the plans for the evening. If Nicki was assertive, she did the asking out and took self-protective measures such as meeting in a public place and providing her own transportation.

Participants were asked to rate several things, such as: how closely Nicki conformed to certain female stereotypes, the date quality, the likelihood of a second date and whether or not she seemed feminine.

Coleman hypothesized that participants would rate passive behaviors as more feminine, and that this would be especially pronounced for white women. She also hypothesized that participants would rate the date better if the woman was more passive, and that this would be more pronounced for white women.

Both hypotheses were supported by the data, but there was a surprise in the results. Men seemed to use race and gender in their judgments more than female participants. The data was only three weeks old, but the preliminary conclusion was that traditional gender stereotypes influence judgments of white women more than black women in relationship contexts.

Also, when Nicki behaved in accordance to traditional gender stereotypes, the date was rated as going better.

The students in attendance seemed to have found their way to the event by following the siren song of extra credit, but they reported being highly interested in the results of the study.

“I really liked the assertive versus passive dimension added with the race one,” psychology major Katie Budney said. “It was so interesting, the fact that the perception of the date was influenced by femininity and race.”

William Robison, also in the psychology program, said, “It was an interesting yet depressing look into the mind of the dating individual and how race and gender play a bigger part than I would care to admit.”

“I thought the most surprising thing was that both men and women rated the date as better when the woman was passive,” said Katie Klotz, an elementary education major. “I was depressed and disturbed.”

According to Coleman, the results prove that women deal with difficult dynamics, in terms of how they’re judged by others, while on dates.

“If women behave in an assertive, self-protective way, which is seen as smart, the dates they go on might not be seen as going very well,” she said. “Another important takeaway message is that these gendered expectations don’t seem to affect black and white women in the same way. Even though we’d love to live in a world free of stereotypes, this research shows that we’ve got a long way to go.”

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