Females in charge: Effects of sex of subordinate and romantic attachment status upon self-ratings of dominance


  • This paper is one of several which were submitted as a set to Harvard University, May 1982, to meet the requirements for the first author's doctoral dissertation. An earlier version of the paper was presented at the New England Psychological Association Annual Meeting in Waltham, Massachusetts, October 1981. The research was supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation. We would like to thank Roger Brown, Carol Dweck, Alan Elms, and anonymous reviewers who read earlier drafts of the paper and made many helpful suggestions. We would also like to thank Tanna Lee and Stefanie Krasner for their assistance in the research. Requests for reprints should be sent to Sara E. Snodgrass, Department of Psychology, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.


Female, male, and mixed-sex dyads in which one member was assigned the leader role interacted and rated their own dominance throughout the interaction. The effects of gender and romantic attachment status (whether one has an exclusive dating partner or is “unattached” and free to go out with someone new) upon these self-ratings of dominance within the interaction were examined. The results showed that both leaders and subordinates perceived female leaders to be less dominant than male leaders.

In addition, members of mixed-sex pairs rated themselves as less dominant than did those in same-sex pairs. Female leaders paired with males rated themselves least dominant and unattached female leaders interacting with males rated themselves least dominant of all. Female subordinates rated themselves as less dominant when with male leaders than when with female leaders, while the effect of the gender of the leader was insignificant for male subordinates. The results are discussed as evidence of a role conflict created by the contradictory roles of “dominant” leader and “subordinate” female, roles described by the sex role stereotypes prevalent in our culture.