Feminists Work Harder at Math, More Likely to Sacrifice Men, Study Says

Women who identify as feminists may be subconsciously protected from certain gender stereotypes and, as a result, work harder in math and other fields typically associated with men. However, feminist ideologies may also cause these women to react more harshly toward men.

The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, explored how identifying as a feminist influenced women. For the research, the team had female volunteers, both those who identified strongly as feminists and those who did not, take a series of tests.

The first test was designed to explore how gender stereotypes affected the women's math skills. Math is typically seen as a man's subject, and studies suggest that because of this, girls often underperform in this class, according to The Guardian. For the test, the women were given increasingly hard math questions and finally one math equation that was impossible to solve, according to New Scientist.

The women were also shown images of men and women performing gender-stereotypical tasks, such as women cleaning and men fishing, to help remind them of gender stereotypes. The results showed that the feminists spent more time trying to complete the more difficult math questions and the impossible one.

In a second test, the women were given a hypothetical situation where they had to sacrifice one person to save a group. They were once again shown gender stereotypes subliminally. Results showed that feminists were much more likely to sacrifice the person if it was a man, compared with the nonfeminists.

In Kampala, Ugandan human rights activist and feminist Stella Nyanzi reacts to police officers during a June 5 protest against police investigations of murders and kidnappings of women. Umy Sadurni/AFP/Getty Images)

"It's the exposure to stereotypes that makes [feminists] harsher to men, while counter-stereotypes make them kinder to men," study author Jolien van Breen of Exeter University told New Scientist.

Research shows that gender stereotypes not only are harmful to girls' success; they can also affect their health. For example, the idea that girls are weak and sexual objects puts them at great risk for harm.

"They are at greater risk for HIV and STIs, child marriage. They are at far, far, far more at risk of gender-based violence," Robert Blum, a pediatrician and professor of public health at Johns Hopkins University who led the research on gender stereotypes and health, told NPR.

Also, the idea that boys are strong makes them inclined to drink, smoke and use drugs at a younger age.

The new research on gender stereotypes, and the protection that feminism may offer, can help us better minimize harm from all forms of stereotypes.