Using Experiential Learning to Increase the Recognition of Everyday Sexism as Harmful: The WAGES Intervention

Hands-on learning techniques are more effective in teaching about sexism, reducing information rejection and increasing feelings of self-empowerment.

FindingsMethodology

Everyday sexism against women is often subtle and difficult to recognize, making its effects hard to combat. Previous evidence has found that when educating about the effects of sexism, presenting information in a traditional lecture-based format may result in rejection of information or a lack of motivation to change behaviors. Incorporating alternative learning methods may be more effective in reducing sexism or sexist beliefs among group members in a community or organization.

Here, the authors investigate how experiential learning techniques (which involve hands-on methods such as group games and discussions about sexism) affect understanding of the impacts of everyday sexism. Using these techniques, the authors designed the Workshop Activity for Gender Equity Simulation (WAGES) intervention and evaluated its efficacy in a sample of undergraduates. Male and female participants were randomly assigned to participate in the WAGES intervention, receive information about sexism without an experiential component, or participate in a group activity with no educational component. The Perceived Harm of Everyday Sexism (PHES) evaluation was used to measure knowledge of the harms of gender inequity before the intervention, immediately after, and one week after the intervention.

Findings

The WAGES intervention increased awareness of the harms of subtle everyday sexism as well as limiting the reactance and lack of self-efficacy seen in an information-only intervention that did not incorporate experiential learning.

  • Participants in the WAGES program perceived sexism as more harmful when compared to participants learning about sexism in a traditional, information-only setting, or a non-informational group activity.
    • Immediately after the intervention, WAGES participants scored significantly higher on the 7-point PHES scale (5.35) than information-only or group activity participants (4.71 vs. 4.94 respectively).
    • After a one week follow-up, WAGES participants scored significantly higher than information-only participants (5.42 vs. 4.90 respectively).
    • WAGES participants after one week also scored higher than group activity participants (5.28), though these results were not statistically significant.
  • After the intervention, WAGES participants expressed more behavioral intentions to discuss and learn more about gender equity than information-only participants (4.16 vs. 3.65).
  • In terms of participant reactance (likelihood to reject veracity of information), WAGES participants were statistically less likely to reject information than information-only participants (2.19 vs. 2.72). Group activity participants scored 1.92 for reactance, statistically similar to WAGES participants.
  • In terms of participant self-efficacy (belief that participants have personal control and agency to create personal change), WAGES participants scored significantly higher than information-only participants (4.12 vs. 3.59). Group activity participants scored 4.01 for self-efficacy, statistically similar to WAGES participants.

Overall, the experiential learning-based WAGES intervention was successful in increasing awareness of the impacts of sexism when compared to traditional lecture-based methods. The authors argue that education on sexism must be framed appropriately, involving experiential learning techniques to minimize reactance and maximize dialogue and feelings of empowerment. Specifically, WAGES may prove valuable in driving effective social change within communities and organizations.

Methodology

1007 undergraduates from a large mid-Atlantic university completed a baseline survey as a mass screening, and were then recruited for the intervention and follow-ups in exchange for course credit. 363 ultimately participated in the intervention, and 192 completed the follow-up one week later. Analysis was limited to the 192 individuals completing all phases of the study. 148 women, 41 men, and three individuals who did not report their gender participated.

During the initial baseline phase of the study, participants completed the Perceived Harm of Everyday Sexism (PHES) scale as part of a mass screening survey. Items assessed the perception of how harmful it is for a woman to be encouraged to perform stereotypical activities and discouraged from non-stereotypical activities, and attitudes towards gender conformity and nonconformity.

Participants were randomly assigned to participate in the WAGES intervention, receive information without an experiential component, or participate in a group activity with no educational component. Participants in the WAGES intervention played a modified board game intended to illustrate the impacts of small gender-based advantages and disadvantages over time, followed by a group discussion. For participants in the information-only group, information about gender inequity was presented in a  handout that participants read. For group activity participants, a board game was played followed by a discussion about reducing intergroup conflict, with no information about gender. Participants then were re-evaluated using the PHES assessment and were evaluated for levels of reactance and self-efficacy.

In a second experiment replicating the structure of the first, 155 female, 112 male, and 4 gender unspecified participants were studied.


MLA: Cundiff, Jessica L., Matthew J. Zawadzki, Cinnamon L. Danube, and Stephanie A. Shields. "Using Experiential Learning to Increase the Recognition of Everyday Sexism as Harmful: The WAGES Intervention." Journal of Social Issues 70.4 (2014): 703-21. Web.
APA:  Cundiff, J. L., Zawadzki, M. J., Danube, C. L., & Shields, S. A. (2014). Using Experiential Learning to Increase the Recognition of Everyday Sexism as Harmful: The WAGES Intervention. Journal of Social Issues, 70(4), 703-721.
Chicago:  Cundiff, Jessica L., Matthew J. Zawadzki, Cinnamon L. Danube, and Stephanie A. Shields. "Using Experiential Learning to Increase the Recognition of Everyday Sexism as Harmful: The WAGES Intervention." Journal of Social Issues 70, no. 4 (2014): 703-21.