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Template:One source Ambivalent sexism is a theoretical concept developed by Peter Glick and Susan Fiske[1] designed to further develop the study and understanding . Ambivalent sexism has two sub-components: hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. Traditionally, only hostile sexism was considered relevant, but recently a strong stream of research has been conducted to show the detrimental effects of benevolent sexism. This article will provide basic background information, discuss the tools for measuring this construct and conclude with a section examining the practical implications of ambivalent sexism research.


Ambivalent sexism offers a reconceptualization of the traditional view of sexism to include both subjectively benevolent and hostile feelings toward women.[1] The addition of the benevolence component is a major contribution because it addresses the interdependency that men and women share. A central argument to ambivalent sexism rests on women's dyadic power. Dyadic power is the power that women gain from men's dependency on women in interpersonal relationships; basically dyadic power is the idea that "women, you can't live without 'em." This complex interdependency between the two genders supports that even from the perspective of an extreme sexist, women are not normally viewed in a completely hostile manner.[2]

Benevolent and hostile sexism both reinforce traditional gender roles and preserve patriarchal social structures by sharing the common assumption that women are the weaker sex; however, the two forms of sexism differ in their expression. Benevolent sexism is defined as subjectively positive attitudes of protection, idealization, and affection towards women in traditional roles, while hostile sexism is defined as their negative equivalents of domination, degradation, and hostility.[2] Men can hold both types of sexist beliefs without contradicting each other (e.g. "Women need to be protected" and "Women are incompetent at work"). Hostile sexism is the all too familiar form of traditional sexism such as offensive jokes, discrimination and harassment. In contrast, benevolent sexism takes on a more subtle form such as a man's unsolicited help of carrying things or finishing a team work assignment alone based on the implicit assumption that a woman is not capable of completing this task by herself. Even though he may not be conscious of this subtle and perhaps unintended message, his actions suggest that she is inferior. Distinctions between benevolent sexism and friendly behavior are often blurred and can lead to misinterpretation.

Theoretically, each form of sexism is composed of three subcomponents: paternalism, gender differentiation, and heterosexuality.[3] Dominative paternalism suggests that men should control women, while protective paternalism implies that men should protect and care for women. Competitive gender differentiation bolsters male self-confidence (e.g., males are the better half of the population), while complementary gender differentiation places importance on traditional female roles (e.g., mother & wife) and assumes that men depend on women to fulfill these roles. Finally, heterosexual hostility views women as sexual objects and fears the power that women can gain through sexual attraction, while intimate heterosexuality romanticizes women as sexual objects and views romantic intimacy as necessary to complete a man.

Originally, Glick and Fiske proposed that the sources of hostile and benevolent sexism are rooted in social and biological origins rather than stemming from cultural differences. A cross-cultural study examining the theory of ambivalent sexism in 19 countries found that hostile and benevolent components of sexism are not culturally specific.[4] Traditionally, women have always been viewed as the victims of sexism, but recently researchers examined males as potential victims in 16 countries.[5] This study revealed that hostile and benevolent attitudes toward men also exist cross culturally and further supports the theory of ambivalent sexism. The following section will provide past and current evidence for hostile and benevolent sexism, as it relates to the work environment.

Empirical evidence

Ambivalent sexism is an issue in the workplace that, until somewhat recently, researchers have not thoroughly studied. Researchers have shown that there are many individuals, men and women alike, who still do not believe that benevolent sexism merits concern.[6]

Begany and Milburn (2002) performed a study of undergraduate students to test for hostile and benevolent sexist attitudes, as well as authoritarianistic attitudes.[7] They found that authoritarianism predicted both benevolent and hostile sexism, but only hostile sexism predicted sexual harassment. The research evidence presented here further illustrates the correlates and negative consequences of ambivalent sexism.

Sexist men usually sort women into two categories based on his feelings of hostile and/or benevolent sexism. Glick, Diebold, Bailey-Werner, and Zhu (1997) showed that benevolent sexist males would look at an ideal woman and classify them in a traditional role, such as a homemaker; whereas hostile sexist males would look at the same woman and see them as worthless and servile.[8] This distinction highlights the difference in attitudes between hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. In a similar study, Glick and Fiske (2001) further clarified this distinction by investigating the cultural attitudes that form the two different types of ambivalent sexism.[9] They suggested that because men have traditionally occupied the dominant role this creates feelings of hostile sexism towards women, most likely because the men are trying to maintain that domineering role. Whereas benevolent sexism stems from men's dependencies on women (e.g., interpersonal relationships and caregiver) and thus elicits the feelings and actions traditionally associated with benevolent sexism.

While the consequences of hostile sexism are more widely known and accepted, research has shown that benevolent sexism may in fact have a more severe impact on a women's cognitive performance.[10] Researchers suggested that hostile sexism can elicit anger or frustration which increases the offended person's motivation to succeed or perform, while benevolent sexism, because of its sweet façade and implicit versus explicit attributions, may hinder a person's confidence and performance. The researchers showed that, in a typical team working environment, hostile sexism as well as benevolent sexism had consequences for the participant's performance. Masser and Abrams (2004) highlighted that fact that previous research has shown that benevolent sexism can have detrimental effects on a women's performance evaluation if that women violates certain specified norms associated with certain sexist attitudes.[11] Their study showed that hostile, but not benevolent sexism, hurt women's evaluations and recommendations for promotion.

Fischer (2006) found that women may develop a benevolent sexist attitude as a response to experiencing sexism themselves. The researcher showed that hostile sexism can have negative effects on women in traditional ways: evocation of anger, frustration, low self-esteem, etc.[12] However, women's negative reactions to personal experiences often occur simultaneously with personal increases in their feelings of benevolent sexism. Researchers speculated that a negative consequence of a woman's reactionary feelings to sexist attitudes may just encourage more inequality between males and females.[5][12] The researchers ague that women's sexist attitudes usually classify men as traditionally dominant, which may reinforce hostile sexist attitudes in men, thus perpetuating the cycle of sexism and inequality.

While there may not be complete consensus on the effects of benevolent and hostile sexism, it is apparent from several of the aforementioned studies that they are both very real, and they both have negative consequences for the working person. To help further understand the evidence presented the following section describes the various methods and measures used when dealing with ambivalent sexism.


Researchers typically measure ambivalent sexism at the individual level. The primary self report measure used is the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI).[1] Thus far, research supports that this inventory possesses psychometric characteristics indicating that this measure is both reliable and valid. In addition, the ASI is not limited to English speakers, but has also been validated in French.[13]

The ASI is a 22-item self-report measure of sexism on which respondents indicate their level of agreement with various statements, which are placed on a 6-point likert-type scale.[1] It is composed of two subscales that may be independently calculated for subscale scores or may be averaged for an overall composite sexism score. The first subscale is the hostile sexism scale. It is composed of 11 items designed to assess an individual's position on the dimensions of dominative paternalism, competitive gender differentiation, and heterosexual hostility, as previously defined. A sample item from the hostile sexism subscale is "Women are too easily offended." The second subscale is the benevolent sexism scale. This scale is composed of 11 items that aim to assess an individual's position on the dimensions of protective paternalism, complementary gender differentiation, and heterosexual intimacy, as previously defined. A sample item from the benevolent sexism subscale is "Women should be cherished and protected by men."

Although the ASI is widely used and accepted among researchers[14] Sakalli-Ugurlu & Beydogan, 2002), one criticism of the ASI is that because it is a self report measure, respondents may answer the items in a socially desirable manner. For this reason, some studies use variations of the ASI that better suit research designs that do not require self reports. For example, Dardenne, Dumont, and Bollier (2007) transformed some items of the ASI into scenarios presented to participants to induce conditions of both hostile and benevolent sexism.[10] Hebl, King, Glick, Singletary, and Kazama (2007) designed a field study in which they observed the sexist behaviors of others; they used the theory of ambivalent sexism and the ASI to generate items for their own measure to assess these observed behaviors.[15] To help put all of the aforementioned evidence, measures, and methods into a more realistic view, the following section discusses the practical implications of ambivalent sexism.


One of the major reasons that ambivalent sexism is studied so thoroughly in the psychological literature is that this theory has clear practical implications, especially in regards to benevolent sexism. Barreto and Ellemers (2005) point out that the public does not normally recognize benevolent sexism as true sexism, and this fact influences many of the gender inequalities that still exist in society today.[6] Generally, people report that hostile sexist statements are not acceptable; in contrast, a much higher percent of people will endorse benevolent sexist statements, such as women are more "pure" than men.[1] The rationale behind the endorsement of benevolent sexism, but not hostile sexism is that benevolent sexism is harmless. Research however, does not support this assumption.

One practical implication of ambivalent sexism is the negative impact that benevolent sexist attitudes have on women's cognitive ability.[10] Women who experienced benevolent sexism performed worse on a cognitive ability task than women who experienced hostile sexism. The psychological mechanism that the authors use to explain this difference is that hostile sexist behavior is clearly identifiable and therefore easily dismissible. Benevolent sexist comments are more ambiguous leading to a greater use of cognitive resources that are spent thinking about the behavior. This is one possible explanation for the gender inequality that is seen in society.

Additionally, many studies have shown that benevolent sexist attitudes lead to lower evaluations from men and women.[3][11] Glick and colleagues have noted that sexist men hold conflicting opinions.[3] In order to repair this cognitive dissonance, sexist men will split women into two subtypes, career women and homemakers. In an organizational context, women that are categorized as "homemakers" will be the victim of benevolent sexist behavior. Additionally, since these women should not be in the workplace as the stereotype holds, they will receive lower evaluations. Masser and Abrams (2004) argue a similar hypothesis.[11] Using an experimental design, they showed that individuals with hostile sexist attitudes rated women lower when applying for a male-dominant position. Additionally, high hostile sexist individuals recommend males to fill this position more often than women. The authors argue that this is one of the main contributors to the glass ceiling effect.

Based on the discussion above, it is clear that ambivalent sexist attitudes have practical implications, not only for the workplace, but also for the psychological well-being of women. While hostile sexism is quite familiar, benevolent sexism is a new face in the theoretical perspective of sexism and research clearly supports that it has real consequences. Future research should not limit itself to only focus on what benevolent sexism is and its implications, but should strive to present a solution to this societal problem. The public perception of hostile sexism is that this behavior is unacceptable in any situation, but benevolent sexism has not garnered the same acceptance, although this is just as detrimental to the equality of women, if not more so. In conclusion, individuals should be aware of the impact that this more subtle form of discrimination can have and actively engage in non-sexist (benevolent or hostile) behavior.


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  2. 2.0 2.1 Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1997). Hostile and benevolent sexism: Measuring ambivalent sexistattitudes toward women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, (119-135).
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  4. Glick, P., Fiske, S. T., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J., Abrams, D., Masser, B., Adetoun, B.,Osagie, J., Akande, A., Alao, A., Brunner, A., Willemsen, T. M., Chipeta, K., Dardenne, B., Dijksterhuis, A., Wigboldus, D., Eckes, T., Six-Materna, I., Exposito, F., Moya, M., Foddy, M., Kim, H.-J., Lameiras, M., Sotelo, M. J., Mucchi-Faina, A., Romani, M., Sakalli, N., Udegbe, B., Yamamoto, M., Ui, M., Ferreira, M. C, & Lopez, W. L. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 763-775.
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  8. Glick, P., Diebold, J., Bailey-Werner, B., & Zhu, L. (1997). The two faces of Adam: Ambivalent sexism and polarized attitudes toward women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 1323-1334.
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  13. Dardenne, B., Delacollette, N., Grégoire, C., & Lecocq, D. (2006). Latent structure of the French validation of the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: L'Echelle de Sexisme Ambivalent. L'Année Psychologique, 106, 235–264.
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  15. Hebl, M. R., King, E. B., Glick, P., Singletary, S. L., & Kazama, S. (2007). Hostile and benevolent reactions toward pregnant women: Complementary interpersonal punishments and rewards that maintain traditional roles. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(6), 1499-1511.
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