Interestingly, a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Georgia State University found that behaviors such as cat-calling, sexual objectification, and sexual harassment have a direct connection to mental illness among women. The study supports the notion that women who are exposed to such harassment tend to live in a state of hyper-vigilance, which forces women to constrain their behaviors and leads to increased levels of anxiety and psychological distress.
Another recent study found that women in positions of authority are more likely to show symptoms of depression than their male counterparts and women "down the ladder." The study's co-author explained that, theoretically, women with high-paying jobs and successful careers should enjoy better mental health. Instead, their authority comes with a psychological cost:
Male leadership is considered legitimate and expected...[b]ut when women are leaders, they face resistance and are exposed to overt and subtle gender discrimination and harassment...When women in authority are assertive, dominant, powerful and confident, they're viewed as unfeminine...Men don't have this conflict; these are "masculine" traits.This notion is supported by yet another recent study by a professor at Northeastern University who, using data from RateMyProfessors.com, found that students tended to perceive their female professors as "bossy," "fiesty," and "abrasive," but were more likely to call their male professors "geniuses" and describe them as "knowledgeable."
These studies provide further evidence that our notions of what constitutes "femininity" and "masculinity" must change, and that our culture must stop objectifying and harassing women. Until we dismantle gendered stereotypes, women achieving career success will be forced to carve their own space in a man's world, will be criticized for appropriating "masculine" characteristics, and will experience psychological distress as a result. How very unfortunate that even for the women privileged enough to achieve positions of authority, gender inequality continues to punish them once they get to the top by adversely impacting their mental health (to say nothing of lower-income women, whose experiences of psychological distress likely far outstrip those of their upper-class counterparts). For more on how gender stereotypes harm women in positions of power, read this blog post.