With temperatures dropping, it's nearly peak burly beard season.
For some, this could literally be the most wonderful time of the year. But beards have also been getting a bad rap lately. For example, as much as some people love them, research has told us that a beard may be a sign of a lying cheat. Now, a new study suggests a more troubling link between beards and the fuzzy fellows who have them.
A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, titled "The Association Between Men's Sexist Attitudes and Facial Hair," found that men with any trace of facial hair — mustaches, goatees, full beards — have a higher likelihood of being sexist than their clean-shaven counterparts.
The study, conducted over several weeks this year by Australian psychology professors Julian A. Oldmeadow and Barnaby J. Dixson, surveyed over 500 men from the United States and India, asking them about their facial hair style, followed by questions to measure their attitudes on gender and sexist beliefs.
Things are not looking great for your boyfriend's burly beard.
This is how they did it: The two professors showed the men 9 pictures, each with a different facial hair style, and asked them which one best matched their own (clean-shaven was an option too). Once the men identified themselves, Oldmeadow and Dixson measured the men's attitudes by asking them if they agreed or disagreed with various "benevolent" and "hostile" sexist statements.
"Statements relating to hostile sexism included items such as 'Most women interpret innocent remarks as being sexist' and 'Women seek to gain power by getting control over men,'" Oldmeadow told Mic. "Benevolent sexist statements included 'Women should be cherished and protected by men' and 'A good woman should be set on a pedestal by her man.'"
Although men of all kinds agreed to both kinds of statements, a statistically significant correlation was found between heavily whiskered men and positive responses to hostile sexist remarks, which included derogatory, negative, cynical and distrustful beliefs about women.
This really didn't shock the two professors much at all.
"We had hypothesized that men with facial hair would hold more sexist attitudes than clean-shaven men, because facial hair associates with masculinity and dominance," Oldmeadow said. "So we were not surprised by these findings."
Masculinity linked to sexism? Beards are traditionally masculine, of course, so the fact that masculinity would be linked to hostile sexism is, of course, a troubling thought.
"What our results suggest is that we still have some way to go to separate masculine identity from hostile sexist beliefs and attitudes," Oldmeadow told Mic. "If wearing facial hair is an expression of masculine identity, then it appears that hostile sexist beliefs are still part of this masculine identity."
In terms of benevolent sexism, defined as sexism that's well-meaning (if you can believe that), the study found that there actually wasn't a difference between the bearded men and the clean-shaven dudes, which Oldmeadow said puzzles him. "It is not clear why there was no difference between bearded and clean-shaven men on benevolent sexist beliefs," he said.
Of course, what beards mean to the men who grow them varies by culture. The study's pool comprised of men from the U.S. and India, but Oldmeadow and Dixson were careful in accounting for demographic variables including relationship status, sexual orientation, age and education level across both countries.
But beards are widely seen as masculinity embodied, even when women don't love them, or even when that link is being subverted. Take glitter beards, for example. "The glitter beard," mused Out recently, "... challenges and, in some aspects, seems to undermine what manhood actually is."
Even when they signal masculinity, though, beards don't always go hand-in-hand with sexism. What about that time in The Notebook when Ryan Gosling grew out pretty spectacular stubble? Beware, beard lovers, but also have faith. Make sure that your bearded beau sees you as his equal, and loves you just as much as Ryan Gosling loved Rachel McAdams in 2004's greatest film.