Heuristics

Children Harass Too!

            For my attitude analysis paper I will discuss the theme “Gender Issues in Egypt,” with a particular focus on sexual harassment performed by children from low socioeconomic levels. I chose sexual harassment because it is one of the most dehumanizing and degrading acts and it has become increasingly evident in Egypt; according to a recent report by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, 99.3% of Egyptian women have been previously harassed. Below are a few pictures of sexual harassment.

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 Sexual harassment is also an issue that can be perfectly explored through Social Psychology, as it emphasizes the formation and maintenance of negative attitudes and behaviors (two extremely relevant topics to Social Psychology); accordingly, I will begin by addressing the attitudes which I find sexual harassment most rooted in.

            The cognitively based attitudes are primarily based on the children’s beliefs and construals about how a woman should look like, whether they think her “properties” are good or bad. Of course, good and bad are extremely relative terms that depend on individual differences, and so several children may react very differently to the same woman; however, they all use their cognitive attitudes to decide which kinds of women they are most attracted to and which ones they should sexually harass. Moreover, the children’s affective attitudes stem from their feelings and moral beliefs about the nature of women. Those who sexually harass adopt a value system that there is nothing wrong with such an act; in fact, it is completely fine to do so as long as it elicits positive emotions and raises their self-esteem. A huge factor that contributes to the formation of these attitudes is operant conditioning: the idea that our behaviors depend on the reward or punishment that follows. For instance, the children who are actually praised by friends or relatives for their actions will develop the affective attitude that sexual harassment is a good thing. Also relevant, are  behaviorally based attitudes, in which one’s attitudes are based on one’s observation of his actions. In this case, when a child realizes they sexually harass women a lot, they automatically develops a positive attitude towards sexual harassment. Therefore, behaviorally based attitudes would go hand-in-hand with the self-perception theory, as it explains that the children only know how they feel, after they see how they behave. But is one aware of all their attitudes and mental schemas? While some attitudes are explicit (yes, there is nothing wrong with sexual harassment), others are extremely implicit. Implicit attitudes are both unconscious and involuntary, yet they highly impact our behavior. For example, a child may claim that sexual harassment is wrong while adopting the implicit attitude that there is nothing wrong with sexual harassment, and vice versa. Due to the formations of these negative attitudes towards women and their bodies, children the associated negative behaviors. They then use self-serving attributions and external justification, such as blaming the woman for her clothes or her perfume, to explain their actions to others.

            I have chosen to target children between the ages of 8-12 who live in poor districts and low-socio economic levels in Egypt. These children, who constitute a huge percentage of the Egyptian population, develop positive attitudes towards sexual harassment at a very young age. Helping to maintain those attitudes are factors such as operant conditioning, self persuasion and the over-justification effect. Consequently, I aim to use various methods of persuasive communication to try to change these schemas and affective attitudes. I want to alter the attitude and not the behavior because attempting to change the behavior is ineffective if the actual driving force (the attitude) is still present.

             I will essentially use the peripheral route to persuasion, for although it is not as long-lasting as the central route to persuasion, it will be more effective with children. I will make my argument personally relevant to them and I will try to increase their internal motivation towards avoiding sexual harassment. Moreover, I will follow the heuristic-systematic model of persuasion, where there will be a strong emphasis on creating certain heuristics that are against sexual harassment. I will also adhere to fear-arousing communication, where the feeling of fear will be strongly associated with the targeted behavior; as a result, the children will be able to empathize with the victims of sexual harassment. Here is an example of a video that could possibly change the children’s attitudes.

            I am expecting to be opposed by counter-arguments and replies due to the idea of attitude inoculation: When one’s attitudes become immune to change due to one’s exposure, in small doses, of attempts to change those attitudes. Having said that, I am sure that these children receive an excessive amount of comments from the women they harass, and so, over time, they have developed a fixed mindset that leaves their attitudes immune to change. In this respect, resistance to persuasive messages is a drawback to my goal, however, I can make use of other methods of resistance. For example, I can raise the children’s awareness of peer pressure and social tuning, and then teach them ways to oppose it. So if a child’s friend tries to persuade him to harass a lady passing by, the child would know how to oppose him. This concept is very much related to counter-attitudinal advocacy, for if the children are taught to oppose the attitudes that they personally have, their behavior will begin to change; their actions conform with what they say, even if they initially did not believe in it.  Furthermore, I will give the children the freedom to do what they want to do and I will not try to control them, for according to the reactance theory, when one feels that his freedom to perform a certain actions is threatened, one is internally motivated to perform that behavior.  I may also use subliminal messages as a way of unconsciously persuading the children.

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BLOOD INDIANS

 

We are in a parallel universe. There is neither an evolutionary approach to explain sex differences, nor does psychological essentialism exist. In this universe, our universe, gender roles are reversed; gendered division of labour is in favor of women, where they are more dominant and hold most positions of power. They have an immense social influence on men’s construal and on all societal structures in general. In fact, the president and her secretariats were just discussing yesterday the possibility of enlisting men in the army! They believe that it is a decision that will raise men’s self-esteem and one that will not limit gender stereotypes to personality traits; in other words, a decision that will encourage elaboration. But can you imagine! Men in the army!!! I also heard the other day, that some factories have started manufacturing trucks for boys to replace their barbies! How ludicrous! Is someone trying to change our gender schemas here?

Whats going on? Hasn’t there always been high consensus towards a social hierarchy with women superior to men? Maybe it’s this new movement known as the male rights movements. I know, I thought it was strange too! I mean, doesn’t the stereotype emphasize that men should only be househusbands? They need to be home to take care of the kids and to do the cooking! Nevertheless, menists are using the most absurd defensive attributions like, “But the only reason we are househusbands is because of the self-fulfilling prophecy! Its not our fault!”  Huh? If thats actually true, shouldn’t they try to prove “us” wrong? Assuming of course that there’s an us and a them here. Even if they tried to prove us wrong though, what good could they be in the “outside world”? They’re all the same, anyway!

Oh wait, that’s the out-group homogeneity effect! Well, maybe they’re a little diverse; after all, some men do curl their hair better than others and they kind of get creative with nail polish! Yet, I still can’t help but conform to gender classifications, for when I automatically think of men, I think….househusband! There is even cross-cultural agreement on that. I have a thought, though. If categorization is based on roles and functions, which are affected by the self-fulfilling prophecy, then that means that by creating gender clusters, subtypes, and schemas we cause people to act in a way that coincides with our original categorization. It is all a cycle then, where our actions and beliefs of a certain person cause him to act the way we think he will, therefore, reinforcing the original stereotype. I guess that is the basis of the social role theory, which suggests that characteristics pertaining to gender, are rooted in social roles and occupations. Nonetheless, there are definitely some cases of gender deviance, such as the man who tried to run for president before! That was surely odd; however, we’re very unlikely to disconfirm our idea of gender roles based on a few exceptions.

On the contrary, some Psychologists have been trying to prove that instead of the two fundamental modalities (where men must have extremely high communal competence and women are high on agentic competence), men are now increasingly more competitive and independent, while women are developing emotional and interdependent qualities. What’s up with these Psychologists? I swear, its like the second we get all our heuristics in order, they have to come up with a new study! They’re trying to hint that we should be gender blind, you know, promoting equality and supporting the male rights movement and all. They should know that being gender blind is impossible! We’ve already been conditioned and primed to believe in stereotypes. The furthest we can go is perhaps encapsulation and evaluation, where we learn to create and perceive subtypes that contain “exceptions to the rule.” But who sets the rules, and what are considered exceptions?

According to the cultural approach and social learning theory, gender is the byproduct of a social structure that encourages a specific way of gender socialization; children observe specific gender expectations and begin to fulfill them. For instance,  daughters accompany their mother’s to football matches, and so, they grow up with the notion that girls must watch football. Similarly, boys who watch their father’s cook, do the laundry and dishes, learn by default that they should grow up and do the same. As a result of years of this kind of observational learning, no controlled thinking is really required when we later “perform gender.” Not only that, but the way we perceive ourselves is also affected. Girls will usually develop a growth mindset and a strong self-serving bias, because of the positive external stimuli that they are receiving. On the other hand, due to society’s constant pressures, boys are very likely to have extremely low self-esteem. The fact that boys are expected to starve themselves to be “perfect” and how they are considered “objects” to be used, are factors that contribute to their fixed mindset; they believe that their qualities cannot be cultivated.

Before we go back to reality, here are some pictures of our parallel universe.

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Now, lets go to a different kind of reality, or perhaps a parallel universe in our own world: Blood Indians who reside in Alberta, Calgary.

They are a people whose culture has adopted very similar gender socialization to our parallel universe; their women are the primary providers for the family, while their men stay at home to take care of the kids. About eighty percent of Blood men are unemployed and when asked who the provider is, they agree that it is the woman. However, it would be a major fundamental attribution error to assume that Blood Indians are intrinsically motivated to lead this kind of lifestyle, for it is the situation that is in control. The reversal of gender roles is due to the high education rates of Blood women that allow them to obtain jobs, and it is not because of a particular social structure. It is not a surprise then, to learn that women still stick to “feminine” activities such as knitting and cooking, while men lose their self-esteem and resort to alcohol and physical abuse. It is here that the evolutionary approach provides the most sufficient explanation, as it claims that sex differences are biologically based. Accordingly, when Blood Indians were given the chance to reverse roles and ignore any kind of gender schemas, both men and women still went back to their “natural” preferences.

Perhaps the evolutionary approach gives a valid explanation, but it would make no major difference to understand why we live in a patriarchal society if there was no chance for that to change. Shouldn’t the question then be, whether it is possible for our parallel universe to one day be a reality? Could the Blood Indians be the initiators of that world, or are they merely the last people to adjust to the gender-based hierarchy that is in favor of men?

Here are a few images of the Blood Indians.

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