How Women Face Stigma For Their Professional Success

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In many fields, gender equality remains just out of reach. Women still make less than men, particularly women of color, and they hold fewer high ranking positions. But as these women make strides to crack the glass ceiling, there is also evidence that successful women face stigma for their achievements from male partners (and potential male partners) along the way.

According to a variety of studies, when faced with dating in a sexist world, some women choose to downplay their accomplishments and take a slower track in order to remain desirable. Striking a balance between being viewed as intelligent yet free spirited, sexually available but not slutty, and strong yet approachable has long been the duty of the heterosexual, single woman on the market. It may seem very Mad Men to need to be a lady in the streets, a chef in the kitchen, a sex kitten in the sheets, and a successful — but not too successful — businessperson in the office in 2017, but certain misogynistic mindsets persist.

Although it is never ideal to sacrifice your own growth to appear more attractive, women who choose (or feel forced) to do so shouldn't be shamed for merely trying to survive within a system that's often stacked against them.

Here are four ways studies have found that success can impact dating.

1Some Single Women Lower Their Salary Expectations To Appear More Attractive

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In a forthcoming study published in the American Economic Review, researchers demonstrated that women changed their stated career goals based upon who they believed would see them.

On the first day of an elite MBA program, students were asked to fill out a questionnaire about desired compensation, hours of work, and days per month of travel. When the single women in the group did so knowing only a career counselor would see their answers, they responded like the women in relationships did. However, when the single women were told that their answers would be seen by other students, their salary expectations dropped from an average of $131,000 to $113,000.

2Some Women Who Desire Smarter Partners Than Them Are Less Likely To Be Interested In STEM

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A 2016 study by the University at Buffalo examined the ways a woman's romantic preference might impact her view of the STEM fields. The research showed that women who expressed a desire to have partners who were more intelligent than them also expressed less of an interest in STEM and performed most poorly on math tests. According to lead author Lora Park, these women did not show less interest in historically "feminine" fields like teaching or social work, which she said "suggests there might be something strategic about the lack of [STEM] interest or perhaps women are downplaying their interests in these fields."

3Many Men Feel Threatened By Their Female Partner's Success

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Unfortunately, the price of being a successful woman can be all too real. In 2013, psychologists from the University of Florida and the University of Virginia teamed up to carry out five experiments on how men in heterosexual relationships are impacted by their female partner’s successes. In one experiment, 284 male participants took an online test which asked them to think about an instance where their partner was successful in a specific area, either intellectually or socially. Immediately after, they were asked to take an implicit self-esteem test.

The results showed that whatever kind of success the woman had, her male partner was more likely to feel worse about himself after thinking about her accomplishments. This increased in particular when the female partner had succeeded in an area where the male respondent had failed. Although not all men reacted this way, many men's self-esteem is inversely related to their female partner's success, which does not bode well for women overall.

4Single Women Are Less Likely To Be Assertive At Work

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Another survey from the forthcoming study in the American Economic Review asked 261 first year MBA students if they had ever avoided certain behaviors that they thought would help their careers because they were worried it would make them look “too ambitious, assertive, or pushy.” In response, 64 percent of single women said they had avoided asking for a raise or a promotion for that very reason, while only 39 percent of coupled women and 27 percent of men said the same.

As narratives that equate femininity with passivity and masculinity with domination continue to pervade our culture, many women are faced with a dilemma when trying to navigate their personal and professional lives. And as the above mentioned studies suggest, getting ahead isn't always as simple as saying "yes" to the opportunities before you.