Motivated to penalize: Women’s strategic rejection of successful women.

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Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin


prescriptive gender stereotypes, penalties for success, norm violation, backlash effects, social comparison, motivated reasoning


Two studies tested the hypothesis that females penalize women who succeed in male gender-typed jobs to salvage their own self-views regarding competence. The authors proposed that women are motivated to penalize successful women (i.e., characterize them as unlikable and interpersonally hostile) to minimize the self-evaluative consequences of social comparison with a highly successful female target. Results supported the hypothesis. Whereas both male and female participants penalized successful women, blocking this penalization reduced female—but not male—participants' self-ratings of competence (Study 1). Moreover, positive feedback provided to female participants about their potential to succeed (Study 2) weakened negative reactions to successful women without costs to subsequent self-ratings of competence. These results suggest that the interpersonal derogation of successful women by other women functions as a self-protective strategy against threatening upward social comparisons.