An Ambivalent Alliance
Hostile and Benevolent Sexism as Complementary Justifications
for Gender Inequality
Benevolent sexism (a subjectively favorable, chivalrous ideology that offers protection
and affection to women who embrace conventional roles)
hostile sexism (antipathy toward women who are viewed as usurping men's power).
Hostile and benevolent sexism are complementary, crossculturally prevalent ideologies
o both of which predict gender inequality.
Women, as compared with men, consistently reject hostile sexism but often endorse
o By rewarding women for conforming to a patriarchal status quo, benevolent
sexism inhibits gender equality.
Feminists who analyze contemporary society argue that similarly extreme
characterizations of women are alive and well in popular culture, such as film depictions
that divide women into faithful wives and murderous seductresses.
o Although what Tavris and Wade (1984) termed the pedestal-gutter syndrome (or
the Madonna-whore dichotomy)
Hostile sexism is an adversarial view of gender relations in which women are perceived
as seeking to control men, whether through sexuality or feminist ideology.
Benevolent sexism may sound oxymoronic, this term recognizes that some forms of
sexism are, for the perpetrator, subjectively benevolent, characterizing women as pure
creatures who ought to be protected, supported, and adored and whose love is necessary
to make a man complete.
o This idealization of women simultaneously implies that they are weak and best
suited for conventional gender roles; being put on a pedestal is confining, yet the
man who places a woman there is likely to interpret this as cherishing, rather than
restricting, her (and many women may agree).
o Research suggests that it serves as a crucial complement to hostile sexism that
helps to pacify women's resistance to societal gender inequality.
The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory
o first validated in U.S. samples
o administered to over 15,000 men and women in 19 nations
o 22-item self-report measure of sexist attitudes
with separate 11-item Hostile and Benevolent Sexism scales
Conclusion: Hostile and benevolent sexism are prevalent across cultures
Crosscultural differences in ambivalent sexism are predictable and systematic, with both
ideologies relating to national measures of gender inequality.
ASI research reveals about the nature of sexism challenges current definitions of prejudice
as an unalloyed antipathy and draws attemion to the manner in which subjectively
benevolent, paternalistic prejudices (e.g., benevolent sexism) may reinforce inequality
The Nature of Sexism
Allport (1954), in his foundational book entitled The Nature of Prejudice,
defined prejudice as "an antipathy based upon a faulty and inflexible generalization" (p.
virtually all psychological theorists have likewise equated prejudice with antipathy
On the basis of cross-cultural indicators of status and power, women are clearly a disadvantaged
Hunter-gatherer societies (common to an earlier era of human history), in which wealth
could not be accumulated
o may have been relatively egalitarian,
o bul the idea that matriarchy was once common has been thoroughly debunked
The standard model of prejudice would suggest, then, that attitudes toward women must
be overwhelmingly hostile and contemptuous.
o Recent research, however, shows that overall attitudes toward women are quite
o Men and women have more favorable attitudes toward women than toward men,
attributing an extremely positive set of traits to women.
Known as the "women are wonderful" effect
theorists: How can a group be almost universally disadvantaged yet loved?
o the favorable, communal traits ascribed to women (e.g., nurturing, helpful, and
warm) suit them for domestic roles, whereas men are presumed to possess the
traits associated with competence at high-status roles
o women's stereo typically communal attributes are also the traits of deference that,
when enacted in daily interaction, place a person in a subordinate, less powerful
o Thus, the favorable traits attributed to women may reinforce women's lower
The dualityo Dominant groups prefer to act warmly toward subordinates, offering them
patronizing affection as a reward for "knowing their place" rather than rebelling.
o Open antagonism is reserved for subordinates who fail to defer or who question
existing social inequalities.
But can subjectively benevolent attitudes be a form of prejudice? By Allport's (1954) definition
of prejudice as an antipathy, the answer is no.
Yet, Allport immediately followed his definition by stating that "the net effect of prejudice . . . is
to place the object of prejudice at some disadvantage" afterthought suggests that the crux of
prejudice may not be antipathy but social inequality
If so, a patronizing bul subjectively positive orientation toward women that reinforces gender
inequality is a form of prejudice.
Why Benevolent Prejudices Matter
Benevolent sexism is a subtle form of prejudice
hostile and benevolent sexism are presumed to be "legitimizing ideologies,"
o beliefs that help to justify and maintain inequality between groups
"White man's burden"
o The widespread belief that Europeans were redeeming the primitive masses was
essential to maintaini