From Harlequin Romance to 50 Shades of Grey

Gender and sexual stereotypes in evaluations of consent

  • Amy Kemp MacEwan University


Advocacy for unequivocal and enthusiastic sexual consent has increased on university campuses in North America. Central to this movement includes, increasing awareness of consent and individual responsibilities. Consent-related exchanges are likely prone to the same sources of automatic and unconscious bias that influence other acts of social communication or evaluation. Understanding cognitive bias in perceptions, decisions, and actions related to consent becomes a necessary first step in mitigating its influence. Stereotypic beliefs shape our understanding of others’ dispositions and behaviours. Even when trying to not be biased, we unconsciously use stereotypes to interpret others’ behaviour and determine how we feel about them. In North America, sexual norms and gender stereotypes portray men as active pursuers and women as sexual gatekeepers. The current project will examine how gender stereotypes within sexual typical, and atypical encounter contexts influence our perceptions of consent and evaluations of those involved. Participants will read passages depicting sexual interactions in a context similar to a Harlequin Romance, or the 50 Shades of Grey novel. Both stories will be modified to create a male and female pursuer version. After reading the passage, participants will interpret the consensual nature of the encounter and their evaluations of the parties involved. We expect the Harlequin contexts and the male pursuer scenarios to be evaluated more positively regarding consent and character evaluation due to their more stereotypical nature. Further, females may be more harshly evaluated when both the story context and behavioural role is counter-stereotypical.

Discipline: Psychology Honours

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Aimee Skye