Is anyone up for a “well, duh” study? Psychologists Angela G. Pirolott and Steven L. Neuberg studied a group of college students and what they found is that homophobia seems to be tied to a deep seated fear of being hit on by someone of the same sex.
While women are both capable of virulent homophobia and of being the victims of homophobic attacks, it is typically men who are the most homophobic (as a group) and the victims of homophobic attacks (as a group). This likely has something to do with the fact that women are less afraid of being hit on because societally speaking, men are trained to be the ones hitting on women and women are the ones being trained to be hit on by men. So, for a woman to be hit on by another woman even if they are straight is likely to elicit the same reaction that a woman would give if she was being hit on by a man she was disinterested in.
Meanwhile, men are trained to feel that any attention directed towards them by another men is an affront to their masculinity, and this is likely where the homophobia stems from.
According to the study’s abstract:
Sexual prejudice may arise from beliefs that certain sexual orientation groups direct unwanted sexual interest, with the implication that heterosexual men and women hold prejudices against different groups. Study 1 confirmed that heterosexual women believe bisexual men, bisexual women, and lesbians (but not gay men) direct unwanted sexual interest, whereas heterosexual men believe bisexual and gay men (but not bisexual women or lesbians) direct unwanted sexual interest. Study 2 revealed patterns of negativity toward different sexual orientation groups mirroring Study 1’s pattern of perceptions of unwanted sexual interest and Study 3 demonstrated that the perception of unwanted sexual interest statistically mediates the relationship between target sexual orientation group and negativity. Existing theoretical approaches for understanding sexual prejudices, including the in-group–out-group heterosexism, gender–role violation, and sexual identity threat approaches, fail to account for the nuanced pattern of findings observed.
The study published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal.
This study came about after Pirlott and Neuberg had explored a variety of other theories regarding what drives homophobia. While their research did back those other theories as having validity, they found that there were more reasons involved. Pirlott stated that “Then we began exploring the idea of a ‘sexual interest mismatch’ — that the sexual interests of the perceivers and their perceptions of the sexual interests of the different sexual orientation groups differed. In particular, that some sexual orientation groups might be perceived as directing unwanted sexual interest toward them.”
She went on to explain “[O]ur article says that straight men perceive gay and bisexual men to direct unwanted sexual interest, but not lesbians or bisexual women; and straight women perceive lesbians, bisexual women and bisexual men to direct unwanted sexual interest, but not gay men; and that this perception strongly explained their sexual prejudices. I think people, in general, are uncomfortable by the notion of unwanted sexual interest.”