Earlier this month, Republican strategist and Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson tweeted about former President Donald Trump’s claim that China will invade Taiwan because “they’re seeing how stupid the United States is run.” Wilson responded with a common refrain among conservative apologists: “At least Trump is an equal-opportunity asshole.”
The “I’m an asshole to everyone” excuse obviously extends well beyond Trump, and according to a new study in the journal of Psychological Science, may also be a tactic used to disguise sexism in the workplace. Researchers refer to this as the “equal-opportunity jerk” defense, or when a manager is rude to both male and female subordinates, giving them plausible deniability of their misogynistic behavior.
In the study, researchers asked roughly 1,100 men to evaluate a series of sexist Trump tweets and fictional stories about managers being sexist in the workplace, as well as generally rude Trump tweets and stories of managers being jerks to both men and women. Ultimately, they found that sexist men were given a pass for their behavior when they were also all-around jerks.
“We found that a man doesn’t seem sexist if he treats everyone — both men and women — poorly,” Peter Belmi, associate professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the University of Virginia and lead author of the study, said in a press release. In other words, managers who are rude make it seem like they’re gender blind, when in reality, they’re sexist in addition to being jerks. “This is problematic because sexism and rudeness aren’t mutually exclusive. Men who are sexist can be — and often are — rude toward other men,” Belmi explained.
It’s also problematic, he added, because “women victimized by [this] behavior will have a more difficult time proving that he is sexist. Rudeness can therefore protect perpetrators.” Essentially, the “equal-opportunity jerk” defense allows “blatant, unambiguous and obvious forms of sexist conduct to continue to exist.”
In many ways, being an asshole across the board provides an easy shortcut, compared to the hard work it would take to correct these biases. “Men may believe that rather than ‘supporting women,’ an alternative solution to creating gender parity is to ‘treat everyone horribly,’” Belmi concluded.
So if your manager is being an asshole to you, it might be a sign that someone else has it worse simply because of their gender, and it definitely shouldn’t give them a pass for their shitty behavior.
Unless that pass is written on a pink slip.