Support the Café

Search our Site

Activists need an image makeover

Activists need an image makeover

We’ve long realized that Christians had an image problem, but according to a new study, so do people pushing for social change.  Several sociologists conducted parallel arguments in the US and Canada, and found that the majority of the population agreed with activists about issues like feminism and environmentalism.  

For one of the main studies, undergrads read about either a “typical” feminist, who took part in rallies, or an atypical feminist, who used less abrasive techniques, such as holding social events to raise money for feminist causes. Next, all the students read an article, ostensibly written by the aforementioned feminist, about the unfair obstacles that women continue to face. Finally, the students declared their intentions to adopt pro-feminist behaviours, such as getting involved in pro-women’s rights initiatives.

The students who read about a typical feminist tended to assume she had more negative stereotypical traits, such as being militant and eccentric. What’s more, after reading her article, these same students tended to report fewer intentions to engage in pro-feminist behaviours themselves, as compared with students who’d encountered the atypical feminist and her article. These two things were linked – mediation analysis suggested students who encountered the typical feminist and her article had lower pro-feminist intentions because they saw the feminist as having stereotypical activist traits.

All of which poses the question: to what degree do our preconceptions about people stop us from doing what we know is right?  

As people of faith, how do we strive to do better?

Read the whole study here


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Geoffrey McLarney

Donna (and Ann), the study undoubtedly “reflects” sexism because sexism exists. People display sexism and so studies of human behaviour will reflect that back. But to take it another step and say “This sort of article is a … technique used by dominant systems” is to attribute a value judgment to the study which confuses the purpose and methods of research. Research isn’t a “technique” of anything (in a polemical sense). It is not an endorsement of the sexist attitudes it measures, or an “excuse” for their perpetuation. Knowing the prevalence of sexism, we would be suspicious of any study in the area which didn’t “reflect” it! That doesn’t mean it’s a reflection on the attitudes of the researchers, who after all presumably had enough of an interest in the success of activism to want to learn what hampers people’s receptiveness.

As John says, one could use this to say, “Therefore feminists obviously need to ‘tone it down’ if they want people to listen.” But that would be going farther than a conscientious researcher will go. Feminists could equally read it – as I would – as proving our point. As Ann says, the “good cop/bad cop” strategy often serves oppressive systems quite well. So how seriously could you take a study about sexism that didn’t “reflect” that (unfortunate) truth?


I think we can talk about strategy in these terms and how best to accomplish our goals of justice. However, it must first be said that the results of this study themselves reflect a profound sexism. Likely the same would be true if the subject was heterosexism, racism, or classism. The dominant/ privileged group is always uncomfortable with calls for justice. Making that call more palatable may be a wise strategy, and a sign of how much work there is to do. I agree with Ann’s first comment entirely.

Donna McNiel


sounds to me like another instance where the old cliche “get more flies with honey” again holds true.

[Please sign your name when you comment – thanks – editor]

it's margaret

“Non-abrasive” actions could also indicate a system based in enabling or co-dependent habits –let’s just all get along –or, don’t make waves… .

Sometimes one has to turn the tables over in the Temple….

–margaret watson

Ann Fontaine

Yes – John – thinking about how we present ourselves – I have used all methods – and sometimes bad cop, good copy is very effective. Conscious at all times.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café