Power, Sexism, and Discrimination - Stereotypes, Discrimination, and Power

The Psychology of Sex and Gender - Jennifer Katherine Bosson, Joseph Alan Vandello, Camille E. Buckner 2022

Power, Sexism, and Discrimination
Stereotypes, Discrimination, and Power

Painting depicting the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912.

Source: Getty Images / Bettmann / Contributor

Test Your Knowledge: True or False?

· 6.1 When women outnumber men on college campuses, heterosexual men put less effort and commitment into their college dating relationships.

· 6.2 Individuals who are members of one subordinate group tend to experience the same amount of discrimination as individuals who are members of two subordinate groups.

· 6.3 People who endorse hostile attitudes toward women also tend to endorse benevolent attitudes toward women (i.e., beliefs that women should be cherished and protected).

· 6.4 The United States typically ranks in the top 10 countries in the world in terms of gender equality (measured in terms of gaps between women and men in health, education, political representation, and economic participation).

· 6.5 Women’s intentions to confront gender discrimination match their actual rates of confronting gender discrimination.


How Do Power and Privilege Relate to Sex and Gender?

· Patriarchal and Matriarchal Social Structures

· Structural Versus Dyadic Power

· Ways of Exerting Power

o Force

o Resource Control

o Cultural Ideologies

· Privilege

· Intersectionality, Double Jeopardy, and Invisibility

What Is Sexism, and Why Does It Persist?

· Ambivalent Sexism Toward Women

· Ambivalent Attitudes Toward Men

· Journey of Research: Measuring Gender Role and Sexist Attitudes

· Social Dominance and System Justification Theories

· Why Do Sexist Attitudes Matter?

· Debate: Do Men Experience Sexism?

What Is Gender Discrimination?

· Overt Discrimination and Microaggressions

· Global Gender Discrimination in Education and Politics

How Can We Resist and Reduce Gender Discrimination?

· Employment Nondiscrimination: It’s the Law

· Confronting Gender Discrimination: Individual Efforts

· Resisting Gender Discrimination: Collective Action

· Being an Ally


Students who read this chapter should be able to do the following:

· 6.1 Explain how social structures are organized by sex across cultures and how power and privilege shape the experiences of individuals and groups.

· 6.2 Evaluate different theoretical perspectives on sexism and gender inequality.

· 6.3 Explain the types and consequences of gender discrimination.

· 6.4 Evaluate the difficulties of recognizing and confronting discrimination and the methods that individuals and groups use to resist and reduce discrimination.


On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean on its trip from Southampton, England, to New York City. Over the course of the 2 hours and 15 minutes that it took for the ship to sink, 1,500 people died, making it one of the deadliest maritime events in history. Interestingly, women and men did not have equal survival rates: While 75% of the women on board survived the accident, only 17% of the men did. Why? The Titanic’s captain enforced a code known as the Birkenhead drill, which dictates that women and children should be saved first in times of emergency. This meant that women and children filled the limited number of lifeboats on the Titanic before the captain allowed men to board them.

To many, the word sexism conveys hostility toward women, inappropriate attention to women’s physical appearance, or negative assumptions about women’s competence. From this perspective, rescuing women before men on a sinking ship may not seem like sexism—in fact, it may seem chivalrous. But as Peter Glick and Susan Fiske explain in their ambivalent sexism theory, chivalry toward women constitutes a type of sexism (called benevolent sexism) that often coexists alongside the negative and more commonly recognized hostile sexism (Glick & Fiske, 1996). And, in fact, benevolent sexism has negative consequences for women that are just as harmful as—and sometimes more harmful than—treating women with openly sexist hostility. We will consider these consequences in greater detail throughout this chapter.

This chapter tackles broad issues of power, status, sexism, and discrimination. Unlike the previous chapter, which focused on the specific contents of gender-relevant stereotypes, this chapter steps back and looks at the bigger picture of group relations. We will examine how sex interacts with other social group memberships to influence levels of group power and how dominant groups maintain power over subordinate groups. We will also take a detailed look at several theories (including ambivalent sexism theory) that contribute to our understanding of gender relations and examine some concrete evidence of gender discrimination and its consequences. Finally, we will discuss why members of disadvantaged groups often do not confront personal discrimination and what positive steps can be taken by those who wish to resist and reduce discrimination.


Patriarchal and Matriarchal Social Structures

All human societies have hierarchical structures, with dominant groups enjoying more power and resources than subordinate groups. Differential access to power shapes different experiences, and gender cannot be fully understood without examining these power dynamics (Stewart & McDermott, 2004). Dominant groups have more political and decision-making power and better access to education, desirable jobs, good food, housing and protection, quality medical care, and leisure activities than subordinate groups (Pratto, Sidanius, & Levin, 2006). Though researchers tend to identify men as the dominant group and women as the subordinate group, the picture is more complex than that. As you read this section, keep in mind that not all men share the same degree of privilege and power and not all women are equally disempowered (Collins, 2015), a point we will revisit shortly.

Experts largely agree that all known human societies have been patriarchal, meaning that certain groups of men organize the society and control how it operates. In contrast, there is no evidence of any true matriarchal societies, or societies in which women constitute the dominant group. In her book Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, anthropologist Margaret Mead (1935) asserted that the Chambri people of Papua New Guinea were a true matriarchal society, with women serving as the primary breadwinners and traders. But later studies of Chambri society revealed that Mead’s original analysis overlooked some subtle but important gender dynamics. While Chambri women were the primary fishers and traders, they did not ultimately hold more political power than Chambri men (Gewertz, 1983).

Although social scientists generally view male- rather than female-dominated societies as a human universal, many people still believe in the myth of matriarchy, which is the idea that dominant women governed early societies (Eller, 2011). According to the myth, ancestral women ruled over peaceful, cooperative, and nature-loving societies, and people worshipped goddesses instead of gods. As the story goes, matriarchies disappeared gradually over time as patriarchies—which emphasize status, competition, war, and wealth acquisition—rose in prominence and became the dominant human social structure.


Why do you think people find the myth of matriarchy so intriguing? Why is it compelling to envision a past where women held power over men? If truly matriarchal societies did exist, how (if at all) might they differ from patriarchal ones?


While we lack concrete evidence of matriarchal human societies, the nonhuman primate world offers an example in Bonobo chimpanzees, who share about 99% of their genes with humans. Dominant female apes govern Bonobo groups and control their activities (Herdt & Polen-Petit, 2014). Not only are they cooperative and largely peaceful, but Bonobo groups are also quite sexual, with about 75% of their sexual activity being nonreproductive. Primatologists believe that this sexual activity, which includes same-sex sexual activity, promotes strong social bonds and facilitates tendencies to cooperate, share, and live together peacefully (Parish & de Waal, 2000).

Bonobos live in matriarchal groups governed by dominant females.

Source: © iStockphoto.com/USO

In addition to patriarchies and matriarchies, there are several other types of gender-related social structures. For instance, matrilineal societies trace descent through the mother’s kinship line and pass inheritance down from mothers, while patrilineal societies trace descent and pass inheritance through fathers. Numerous matrilineal societies, such as the Navajo of North America, the Garo of India, and the Tuareg of Northern Africa, have been documented throughout history. Similarly, societies can be matrilocal, in which husbands live near their wives’ families, or patrilocal, in which wives live near their husbands’ families (Koratayev, 2003). Although matrilineal and matrilocal societies are not matriarchies—because women in these societies hold less overall political and decision-making power than men—they do grant women certain power. For instance, the Tuareg of the Sahara Desert are a seminomadic Muslim society in which women have the same sexual rights as men, are free to take lovers before marriage and to divorce without shame, and keep their property and rights after divorce (Drury, 2016).

Matrilineal society A society that traces descent through the mother’s kinship line and passes inheritance down from mothers to their offspring.

Patrilineal society A society that traces descent through the father’s kinship line and passes inheritance down from fathers to their offspring.

Matrilocal society A society in which husbands typically live near their wives’ families.

Patrilocal society A society in which wives typically live near their husbands’ families.

Structural Versus Dyadic Power

Thus far, we have discussed power without defining it. Power refers to the capacity to determine not only one’s own outcomes but the outcomes of others as well. Multiple types of power exist. Patriarchal power is, by definition, structural. This means that it manifests by shaping how society operates and determining which groups of people have (or lack) access to resources, education, autonomy, jobs, and so on. In contrast, dyadic power refers to the capacity to choose intimate partners and relationships and to control the interactions and decisions that occur within those relationships. Thus, those who hold more structural power control the society at large, while those who hold more dyadic power tend to have more control in the home and family. This distinction is important because although certain groups of men hold more political and economic power than women in public domains, women sometimes have more dyadic power and exert influence over private matters in relationships and the household (Guttentag & Secord, 1983). The dyadic power of women is not absolute, however, since men can and do use their structural power to limit women’s dyadic power. The ability of women to control their own relationship outcomes also depends on factors such as their age, ethnicity, income, and education level (Wingood & DiClemente, 2000). Thus, not all women have the same amount of dyadic power over decisions about things like housework, childcare, and sexual activity (Albarracin & Plambeck, 2010).

Power The capacity to determine one’s own and other people’s outcomes.

Structural power The power to shape societies and social systems.

Dyadic power The power to choose intimate partners and relationships and to control the interactions and decisions that occur within those relationships.

The sex ratio, or ratio of men to women in a given environment, also influences the levels of dyadic power that the sexes hold. According to sex ratio theory (Guttentag & Secord, 1983), when men outnumber women, women should hold more dyadic power because they have a larger pool of potential partners and more alternatives to choose from if they grow dissatisfied with current partners. As their dyadic power increases, heterosexual women should become more selective, placing more emphasis on high-quality male mates who exhibit signs of status, commitment, and financial resources. Heterosexual men, who must attract partners from a relatively small pool, should become motivated to display more desirable qualities—such as relationship commitment—to increase their appeal as mates.

To what extent does the evidence support sex ratio theory? The answer is complicated. In contrast to the theory, women’s mate preferences are not always more selective when men outnumber them (Stone, Shackelford, & Buss, 2007), although this pattern does emerge in Western cultures where women tend to have greater autonomy in determining their relationship status (Schacht & Smith, 2017). In support of the theory, men do tend to show more relationship and family commitment when they outnumber women, resulting in lower divorce rates (Schacht & Kramer, 2016). Further, since the value that people place on women’s traditional work (e.g., child-rearing and domestic labor) increases under these conditions, women tend to marry younger and have more children. With their life options more constrained by traditional labor arrangements, women tend to achieve lower rates of literacy, education, and labor force participation (World Economic Forum, 2019), which can reinforce their relatively low structural power. Thus, structural and dyadic power levels are interconnected, with women’s levels of dyadic power impacting how much structural power they have.

Not all women, however, experience increases in dyadic power when men outnumber them. Consider current sex ratios in India. Due to the long-term practice of sex-selective abortion (disproportionate abortion of female fetuses), men substantially outnumber women, particularly in the Northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana. While sex ratio theory would predict that women in this situation should see straightforward increases in their dyadic power, many rural women across India instead are at risk of “bride purchase” in a growing bride trade, due to their general lack of structural power (Samal, 2016). In addition, while the relationship between sex ratios and violence against women is complex (Schacht & Smith, 2017), some evidence suggests that when men far outnumber women, there is greater competition among men and this can lead to increases in coercive behaviors such as partner violence and rape (Diamond-Smith & Rudolph, 2018). Thus, lower-status and vulnerable women in any given context may see decreases, rather than increases, in dyadic power when men outnumber women.


With a sex ratio of about 115 males per 100 females (from birth to age 24), China is an interesting case. Given that China has the largest population of any country in the world (1.38 billion), this sex gap is significant. Depending on the age range, there are about 50—100 million more men than women in China (Central Intelligence Agency, 2016). China’s skewed sex ratio has roots in its one-child policy, in effect from 1979 to 2015, when the rates of sex-selective abortion and female infanticide increased as parents tried to ensure having male offspring. With men substantially outnumbering women in China, women should have greater dyadic power compared with men. But what does the research show? High sex ratios (meaning men outnumber women) are associated with most Chinese women marrying younger (before age 25) and engaging in more premarital and extramarital sex (Trent & South, 2011). Further, some educated, professional Chinese women delay marriage to establish their careers, despite being stigmatized by family and the general public as unmarriageable and “leftover” women (Ji, 2015). Thus, we do see displays of dyadic power as Chinese women increasingly choose the terms of their intimate relationships even in the face of stigmatization.

Tuareg women live in a matrilineal society.

Source: Courtesy of Alain Elorza

What happens when women outnumber men, as they do in former Soviet Republics like Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (Smirnova & Cai, 2015)? In these cases, men tend to have more dyadic power because they have a larger pool of potential mates. According to sex ratio theory, the availability of numerous female partners should encourage male promiscuity and discourage male commitment to any one partner, so heterosexual marriage rates will decline, people will marry later, and divorce rates will climb. College campuses in the United States constitute an environment in which these hypotheses can be tested because women outnumber men, with a ratio of approximately 56% women to 44% men (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). As members of the scarcer sex, heterosexual men on U.S. campuses should be able to get more out of their college relationships while giving less. Research findings support this. When women are in the majority on college campuses, heterosexual women report expecting and receiving less from their male dating partners (Uecker & Regnerus, 2010). Moreover, even though college women outnumber college men across ethnic groups, the sex gaps are approximately two times larger for Black and Latinx students than they are for White students. Given this, how do you think heterosexual college relationship dynamics might differ across different ethnic groups?

Ways of Exerting Power

People can wield power in many different ways, and these different types of power have relevance for understanding relations not only between sex groups but also between groups who differ on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. In Western cultures, dominant groups tend to be White, wealthy, heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian, cisgender men, whereas subordinate groups are those that lack power based on sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability, religion, and the intersections of these categories. Though we could discuss many different types of power, we will focus on three types identified by Pratto and Walker (2004)—force, resource control, and cultural ideologies—due to their relevance to sex and gender.


Force refers to the capacity to inflict physical or psychological harm (Pratto & Walker, 2004). Examples of force, by which dominant groups wield power over subordinate groups, include domestic abuse, emotional abuse, rape, sexual harassment, murder, child abuse, slavery, human trafficking, imprisonment, and capital punishment. Force need not always involve actual harm because threats of violence can serve as effective forms of control. Given their greater average size, strength, and physical aggressiveness, men, as a group, have universally used force more often and more effectively than women to exert social and political power over others (Brown, 1991). Similarly, heterosexual and cisgender groups use violence against LGBTQ populations as an exercise of power (Meyer, 2015; Wirtz, Poteat, Malik, & Glass, 2020).

As an example, consider that men’s use of sexual violence against women correlates directly with the amount of structural power that men hold over women. One correlational, cross-national study found that national levels of male-to-female sexual violence were associated with national gender inequality (larger power disparities favoring men over women) and more fear on the part of women (Yodanis, 2004). Of course, we cannot conclude from these correlational findings that men’s use of sexual violence causes their greater relative power over women, but they at least suggest that sexual violence may serve as a means of force by which men maintain power over women (for further discussion of sexual violence, see Chapter 14, “Aggression and Violence”).


Given that the link between national levels of male-to-female sexual violence and gender inequality is correlational, how should we interpret it? What are some possible third variables that might explain this association?

Men use force to exert power over other men as well. Most violent crimes, such as assault and murder, are committed not only by men but against men as well (Fox & Fridel, 2017). In the United States and Europe, men are twice as likely as women to be victims of aggravated assault and at least three times more likely than women to be murdered. Around the world, men die in battle far more often than women. Additional examples of men’s use of force against men include imprisonment and capital punishment (state-sanctioned execution). Across countries, the percentages of male prisoners range from 78% to 98%, with 92% of prison inmates in the United States being men. Capital punishment rates show even more gender disparity: In recent years, women made up less than 1% of those legally executed worldwide, and men made up more than 97% of those executed in the United States (Benatar, 2012).

Group-based dominance and power play substantial roles in men’s use of force against men. Men of color are by far the most frequent targets of imprisonment and capital punishment, while White men in the United States—and men of dominant ethnic groups in other cultures—most commonly represent the state that sanctions such punishment (Pratto & Pitpitan, 2008). Note that the higher incarceration rates of racial and ethnic minority men in the United States do not indicate higher criminality among these men, as men of color face higher arrest rates, harsher sentencing, and higher incarceration rates than White men do for the same crimes (Pettit & Western, 2004). Similarly, gay men are disproportionately likely to be victims of violent hate crimes by other men (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2015a). These patterns suggest that dominant male groups regularly use force to exert power over subordinate male groups.

Due to bias in the criminal justice system, racial and ethnic minority men are vastly overrepresented among prison inmates.

Source: © iStockphoto.com/sakhorn38

Resource control Controlling the creation or distribution of essential and desirable goods, such as money, land, food, and other valued commodities.

Resource Control

A second type of power, resource control, refers to controlling the creation or distribution of essential and desirable goods, such as money, land, food, and other valued commodities (Pratto & Walker, 2004). Resource control gives power to dominant groups because having access to more resources correlates with safety, health, freedom, and quality of life. In contrast, those who lack resources must depend on others. On average, men have greater resource control compared with women. Cross-culturally, men tend to make more money, on average, than women for the same work (International Labour Organization, 2018), though the size of this wage gap—at least in the United States—varies significantly by race and ethnicity (as we discuss further in Chapter 11, “Work and Home”). Men also hold high-paying, socially valued jobs more often than women. For example, one study of more than 21,000 firms in 91 different countries found that women hold only 14% of all top executive jobs, and they constitute only 4.5% of all CEOs worldwide (Noland et al., 2016). Historically, laws in many countries have given (and still give) men ownership of household property and possessions, leaving women economically dependent on men (Coontz, 2006). Across Africa, men own substantially more land than women do (Doss, Kovarik, Peterman, Quisimbing, & van den Bold, 2015).

Although men tend to control resources more often than women do, men of color and gay men have less control over resources than do White and heterosexual men. As an example, heterosexual people regularly attempt to limit sexual minority individuals’ access to resources, for instance, through legislation that prevents same-sex couples from adopting children or that allows businesses to deny services to sexual minority individuals (Phillips, 2016). Furthermore, White and Asian people in the United States have access to more wealth, better jobs and education, and higher-quality health care than do Black and Latinx people (American Psychological Association, 2017). Worldwide patterns indicate that members of dominant ethnic groups receive more desirable jobs, earn more money, own more land, control more natural resources, and claim more rights and freedoms than do members of subordinate ethnic groups (Pratto & Pitpitan, 2008).

One exception to the general pattern of men’s greater resource control is that of child custody following divorce. Men gain sole custody of children in only about 10% of divorce cases in the United States, and this trend is similar across many cultures (Benatar, 2012). Compare this with women, who gain sole custody in about 70% of divorce cases. Likely due to stereotypes about women’s superior parenting skills, custody decisions tend to favor mothers over fathers. (You will read more about parenting stereotypes in Chapter 10, “Interpersonal Relationships.”) David Benatar (2012) argues that custody decisions favoring mothers constitute an important—but largely ignored—source of systematic sex bias against men. Moreover, he suggests that the lack of daily contact with their children contributes to men’s worse mental health following divorce. Though women often suffer more financially from divorce, they generally report being happier than men following a divorce (A. E. Clark & Georgellis, 2013). We explore the possibility of systemic discrimination against men further in the debate titled “Do Men Experience Sexism?”

Cultural Ideologies

Cultural ideologies are sets of beliefs and assumptions about groups that explain and justify unequal social hierarchies. They serve as a means of exerting power because the values that they promote reflect and protect the interests of those in power (Pratto & Walker, 2004). In other words, cultural ideologies represent reality the way dominant groups see it, and they justify the privileged position of dominant groups. We will provide a few examples here and then discuss cultural ideologies further in the “What Is Sexism?” section. As discussed in Chapter 2 (“Studying Sex and Gender”), the cultural ideology of androcentrism defines men and their experiences as the universal or default for the species and treats women and their experiences as deviations from the male norm. As one vivid example, the field of psychology largely ignored women’s viewpoints and experiences until the 1970s. Researchers assumed that findings from studies with only male participants would generalize to all people, and both the topics of investigation and the definitions of key variables within psychology reflected primarily male interests (Crawford & Marecek, 1989). Though the field has become less androcentric over time, androcentrism is still a powerful ideology that reflects and perpetuates men’s dominant status.

Cultural ideologies Overarching sets of beliefs and assumptions about groups that justify unequal social hierarchies.

Androcentrism A cultural ideology that defines men and their experiences as universal and treats women and their experiences as deviations from the male norm.

Other ideologies relevant to discussions of group-based power include ethnocentrism and heterocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the tendency to view one’s own culture as the universal standard and to judge other cultures as deviations from the norm. Similarly, heterocentrism is the assumption that heterosexuality is the universal and that other sexualities are deviations from this norm. Because these ideologies reflect the perspectives and narratives of dominant groups and largely ignore the perspectives of subordinate groups, they communicate the idea that subordinate groups are less normal and less important. And just as mainstream psychology has been androcentric throughout its history, it has also been ethnocentric and heterocentric by assuming that the experiences of primarily White, heterosexual samples will generalize to ethnic and sexual minority individuals (Cole, 2009).

Ethnocentrism A cultural ideology that defines one’s own culture as the universal standard and judges other cultures as deviations from the norm.

Heterocentrism A cultural ideology that defines heterosexuality as universal and treats other sexualities as deviations from the norm.

Importantly, cultural ideologies sometimes encourage members of subordinate groups to accept their own lower status. One example of this is when heterosexual women embrace the notion that they should defer to their male partners, and rely on them for protection and provision. In fact, across cultures, the less structural power women have relative to men, the more they embrace cultural ideologies that justify and perpetuate their relative lack of power (Glick et al., 2004).


We discussed androcentrism, ethnocentrism, and heterocentrism as three cultural ideologies that can reflect and privilege the perspectives of dominant groups over subordinate groups. What other cultural ideologies can you think of that privilege dominant groups? What other “-isms” shape how people think about the relations between social groups, and how do they operate?


The concept of privilege, which you may recall from Chapter 1, relates to power. As an automatic, unearned advantage associated with membership in a dominant group, privilege removes the barriers and stressors that members of subordinate groups encounter regularly (Case et al., 2014). In the United States, privilege is typically associated with being White, male, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, Christian, and middle class or wealthy. Concrete examples of male privilege include “higher pay for equal work,” “lower risk of sexual harassment,” and “lower chance of being interrupted in conversation.” Examples of heterosexual privilege include “lower risk of being disowned by family or losing one’s job because of one’s sexual orientation” and “being able to share public displays of affection without fear.” Notice that privileges can be the absence of barriers or hardships rather than the presence of obvious advantages. Since dominant group members experience these privileges routinely and automatically, they may fail to notice them—much like how runners notice a tailwind, which boosts from behind, less than a headwind, which pushes against them (Davidai & Gilovich, 2016). However, members of dominant groups can develop greater awareness of their privilege through classroom discussions and other educational activities (Case et al., 2014). They may also develop greater awareness of their privilege and more intercultural sensitivity when they have repeated opportunities over time to interact positively with others from different backgrounds to accomplish meaningful goals (Bernstein, Bulger, Salipante, & Weisinger, 2019).

Privilege Automatic, unearned advantages associated with belonging to a dominant group.

Intersectionality, Double Jeopardy, and Invisibility

As you learned in previous chapters, all individuals occupy social locations at the intersections of major social categories, such as sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, and socioeconomic class (Collins, 2015). Members of subordinate groups often experience discrimination, and the double jeopardy hypothesis states that individuals who belong to two or more subordinate groups will experience more discrimination than individuals who belong to one subordinate group. For example, women of color tend to experience more frequent workplace harassment than White women, men of color, and White men (Berdahl & Moore, 2006). This occurs because many racial and ethnic minority women encounter both sexual harassment and racial harassment at work, leading to higher levels of overall discriminatory treatment. Similarly, women with disabilities earn lower wages than those without disabilities (O’Hara, 2004), and sexual minority women with disabilities report experiencing more discrimination than sexual minority women without disabilities (Eliason, Martinson, & Carabez, 2015). Elevated levels of discrimination may help to explain why sexual minority teenagers with physical disabilities are about twice as likely to have seriously considered suicide in the past year, compared to both sexual minority teenagers without disabilities and heterosexual teenagers with physical disabilities (Tejera, Horner-Johnson, & Andresen, 2019).

Sexual minority (LGB) teenagers with physical disabilities have an elevated risk of suicide. Pride parades, like this one in Norwich, United Kingdom, can provide opportunities for members of marginalized groups to connect with each other and bring visibility to their experiences.

Source: John Birdsall / Alamy Stock Photo

In contrast to the double jeopardy hypothesis, the intersectional invisibility hypothesis proposes that the experiences of people with multiple subordinate identities are sometimes ignored or disregarded, leading them to feel socially invisible. To understand why this occurs, think back to the cultural ideologies discussed earlier. Ideologies of androcentrism, ethnocentrism, and heterocentrism can reinforce the idea that members of dominant groups are the cultural default, or prototype. For instance, men are the prototypical sex, while women are nonprototypical; White people are the prototypical race (in the United States and many modern Western contexts), while people of color are nonprototypical; heterosexual people are the prototypical sexual orientation, while sexual minority individuals are nonprototypical; and so on. Because prototypes come to mind more easily than nonprototypical examples do, people tend to assume prototypicality unless otherwise specified. “Women” are thus automatically assumed to be White and straight (the prototypical race and sexual orientation), while “gay people” are assumed to be White and male (the prototypical race and sex). As a result, people who belong to two or more subordinate social groups tend to be more socially “invisible” relative to those who belong only to one subordinate social group (Purdie-Vaughns & Eibach, 2008).

Intersectional invisibility manifests in various ways. Perceptually, people with multiple subordinate identities tend to go unnoticed and have their contributions overlooked in some contexts. To illustrate this, Amanda Sesko and Monica Biernat tested people’s memory for faces and statements made by Black women. In one experiment, White participants viewed faces of Black women, White women, Black men, and White men. After a break, participants viewed the same faces again, along with some new faces that they had not viewed earlier, and made quick decisions about whether the face was “old” (appeared in the first series) or “new” (did not appear in the first series). Participants made more recognition errors with faces of Black women than they did with any of the other groups (see Figure 6.1). In a second experiment, participants (81.5% were White) listened to a conversation among a group that included both Black and White women and Black and White men. Later, when asked to match each speaker’s face with their statements, participants made more errors recalling statements made by Black women than by speakers from the other three groups (Sesko & Biernat, 2010). In real-world contexts, this might translate into women of color feeling like others disregard or ignore them, and they may fail to receive credit for contributions that they make to joint projects or collaborations.

Double jeopardy hypothesis The hypothesis that individuals who belong to two or more subordinate groups face more discrimination than individuals who belong to only one subordinate group.

Intersectional invisibility hypothesis The prediction that people with multiple subordinate identities are noticed less than those with one subordinate identity.

While these findings offer an experimental illustration of the relative invisibility of people with multiple subordinate identities, history offers numerous other examples. Black and Latina women’s contributions to both the U.S. civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s have been downplayed, and gay Black men’s stories have been left out of both African American and gay histories (Purdie-Vaughns & Eibach, 2008). Similarly, not all men experience male privilege, leaving some (e.g., working-class feminist Latino men) to develop their own unique understandings of manhood (Hurtado & Sinha, 2008). The experiences of individuals with multiple subordinate identities are routinely ignored in psychology research, in cultural discussions of oppression and discrimination, and even in the work of advocacy organizations (Strolovitch, 2006).


Figure 6.1 Recall of Faces and Statements Based on Race and Sex

Source: Adapted from Sesko and Biernat (2010).

Despite these negative consequences of intersectional invisibility, Purdie-Vaughns and Eibach (2008) provocatively suggest that invisibility can serve a protective function as well. Because nonprototypical group members receive less notice and attention from others, they may escape some of the more direct and extreme forms of discrimination that other subordinate group members face. For instance, gay men (prototypical with regard to sex) are the targets of more negative attitudes and more aggressive hate crimes than are lesbian women (nonprototypical with regard to sex). Black men (prototypical with regard to sex) experience disproportionate rates of incarceration and employment discrimination, while incarceration and employment biases against Black women (nonprototypical with regard to sex) are relatively smaller (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). These trends suggest that having two subordinate identities can shield people from some forms of oppression that are more likely to befall those with only one subordinate identity.


We have discussed some seemingly contradictory findings. Some evidence shows that individuals who have multiple subordinate identities (e.g., women with disabilities) face worse outcomes than individuals who have only one subordinate identity (e.g., men with disabilities), a phenomenon known as double jeopardy. Other evidence shows that individuals with multiple subordinate identities are shielded from some forms of discrimination, reflecting intersectional invisibility. How might you reconcile these discrepant sets of findings?


Sex-based power differences can foster sexism. Discussions of sexism often lead to disagreement and debate about what it is, especially centering on the concepts of power and privilege. To many feminist psychologists, sexism and sex-based discrimination are two separate constructs, with sexism, by definition, involving structural power differences. From this perspective, since men as a group have more structural power than women, they cannot be targets of sexism. However, men can be targets of sex-based discrimination, which refers to negative or unfair treatment based on sex. That said, people do not unanimously agree on whether or not men can be the targets of sexism, an issue we address in the chapter debate. Here, we define sexism as negative attitudes toward individuals based solely on their sex, combined with institutional and cultural practices that support the unequal status of different sex categories (Swim & Hyers, 2009).

Sexism Negative attitudes toward individuals based solely on their sex, combined with institutional and cultural practices that support the unequal status of different sex categories.

Some examples of sexism are relatively obvious, such as when a male boss routinely passes over more qualified women to promote less qualified men. But what about when a man behaves chivalrously toward a woman by offering to carry her groceries for her? Does that qualify as sexism? In this section, we will review theories that define and explain the nature and underlying causes of sexism.

Ambivalent Sexism Toward Women

The relationship between women and men as social groups is unique. No other groups have endured so long a relationship of status inequality coupled with such close physical and psychological intimacy. (Glick & Fiske, 1999, p. 520)

Think back to the chapter opening, when we introduced the distinction between hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. This distinction lies at the heart of ambivalent sexism theory, which offers a framework for understanding gender relations and sex-based power differences across cultures. According to this theory, a combination of hostile and benevolent attitudes characterizes the relations between women and men across time and cultures. Men, especially those with greater status and resources, tend to be dominant worldwide—politically, economically, and interpersonally. This unequal gender hierarchy is supported by hostile sexism, a cultural ideology that justifies men’s dominance over women by portraying women as inferior to men. Hostile sexism consists of antagonistic and derogatory beliefs about women and their roles. As examples, consider the beliefs that women are less competent than men, that women are moody and untrustworthy, that women manipulate and control men sexually, and that women complain about sexism when they are outperformed fairly by men.

Ambivalent sexism theory A theory proposing that gender relations are characterized by both negative attitudes toward women (hostile sexism) and seemingly positive attitudes toward women (benevolent sexism).

Hostile sexism Negative, antagonistic attitudes toward women who violate traditional gender role norms.

In addition to being dominant over women, however, men depend on women in many ways. As the quote that begins this section notes, heterosexual women and men share more “physical and psychological intimacy” than any other pair of social groups. Women’s roles in heterosexual intimacy and reproduction, as well as their substantial contributions to labor and childcare, benefit heterosexual men greatly. This dependence on women gives rise to benevolent sexism, a cultural ideology that justifies men’s need for women by portraying women as wonderful, pure, and worthy of protection. Thus, benevolent sexism consists of subjectively positive and well-intentioned beliefs about women and their importance, but it also patronizes women because it portrays them as weak and in need of protection. In the chapter opener, we saw benevolent sexism in action with the tendency to save “women and children first” in an emergency.


An advertisement from the 1950s that illustrates benevolent sexism.

Source: Shawshots / Alamy Stock Photo

Hostile sexism directly insults women, making it pretty obvious and easy to identify, whereas benevolent sexism flatters women, making it more socially acceptable. In fact, people may not recognize benevolent sexism as a form of gender bias. In one experiment, Kristen Salomon and collaborators randomly assigned women to experience hostile sexism, benevolent sexism, or no sexism from a male experimenter (Salomon, Burgess, & Bosson, 2015). In the hostile sexism condition, the male experimenter expressed annoyance over women’s lack of competence on a difficult test, while in the benevolent sexism condition he expressed patronizing sympathy for women who disliked the test. In the control condition, the male experimenter made no comment about women’s reactions to the test. Later in the experiment, women rated how sexist the experimenter was. As shown in Figure 6.2, women rated the experimenter as more sexist in the hostile than in the benevolent condition, and more sexist in the benevolent than in the control condition. Benevolent sexism from a stranger thus comes across as more subtle than hostile sexism but less subtle than no sexism. Moreover, in the context of dating, many women respond favorably to men who show benevolent sexism by opening doors and offering to pay for them (Viki, Abrams, & Hutchison, 2003). Women see men who are high in benevolent sexism as warm, and consequently assume that such men are low in hostile sexism (Hopkins-Doyle, Sutton, Douglas, & Calogero, 2019).

Benevolent sexism Subjectively positive but patronizing attitudes toward women who conform to traditional gender role norms.

Since benevolent sexism often sounds positive on the surface, many people underestimate its harmful nature. Benevolent sexism has an unexpectedly long impact on women’s emotional and cardiovascular functioning (Bosson, Pinel, & Vandello, 2010; Salomon et al., 2015). Exposure to benevolent sexism tends to have a pacifying effect on women, suppressing their motivations to fight against unfair treatment (J. C. Becker & Wright, 2011). And holding benevolently sexist attitudes correlates with having less sympathy for and more controlling attitudes toward female survivors of abuse. Both women and men who are higher in benevolent sexism assign less blame and recommend shorter sentences to perpetrators of rape (Viki, Abrams, & Masser, 2004). Similarly, they assign more blame to survivors of rape and domestic violence (Abrams, Viki, Masser, & Bohner, 2003; Yamawaki, Ostenson, & Brown, 2009) and report less support for traumatic abortion (e.g., abortion of pregnancies that result from rape or where the health of the fetus or mother is in jeopardy; Osborne & Davies, 2012).


Figure 6.2 Women’s Reports of Hostile Versus Benevolent Sexism

Source: Salomon, Burgess, and Bosson (2015).

While hostile and benevolent ideologies may seem contradictory, they actually complement one another. They work jointly to maintain and perpetuate a gender hierarchy in which men tend to wield more power than women but simultaneously depend on women (Glick et al., 2000). This works in a couple of ways. First, people typically direct hostile and benevolent sexism at different types of female behaviors. People most often direct hostile sexism at women who seek status and power or who reject traditional gender role norms and attempt to move into male-dominated spheres. Hostile sexism casts such women as manipulative, untrustworthy, and “seeking to control men,” and it punishes them socially for attempting to disrupt the gender hierarchy. In contrast, people most often direct benevolent sexism at women who embrace traditional gender roles as homemakers, caregivers, and low-status workers. Such women are idealized, cherished, and protected (think back to the women-are-wonderful effect that we discussed in Chapter 5). Thus, benevolent sexism “rewards” women who accept traditional female roles without fuss, whereas hostile sexism punishes women who reject these roles.

Second, endorsing hostile and benevolent sexism simultaneously may serve an important psychological purpose by helping people to view the unequal gender hierarchy as fair. That is, women’s feelings of resentment aroused by reminders of men’s unfair dominance over women (hostile sexism) may be soothed, to some degree, by the promise of men’s flattery and chivalrous treatment (benevolent sexism). In support of this idea, hostile and benevolent sexism, as measured by the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI), tend to be positively correlated (Glick & Fiske, 1996). See Table 6.1 for the items of the ASI. Using the ASI, Glick, Fiske, and their collaborators measured both hostile and benevolent sexism in 16 different nations and found that the average correlation (r) between them was .33 among men and .44 among women (Glick et al., 2004). Also, higher levels of both types of sexism at the national level negatively predict national levels of gender inequality across cultures: Women have less power, fewer rights, and a lower standard of living in countries in which women and men have higher levels of both hostile and benevolent sexism (Glick et al., 2000). Thus, when they work together, hostile and benevolent sexism effectively maintain men’s dominance over women.


Across several studies conducted both before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Kate Ratliff and her colleagues surveyed nearly 3,000 adults of voting age in the United States. The researchers assessed participants’ self-reported hostile and benevolent sexism, attitudes toward Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and actual voting behavior (Ratliff, Redford, Conway, & Smith, 2019). The results showed that participants with higher levels of hostile and benevolent sexism reported more positive attitudes toward Trump and less positive attitudes toward Clinton. Moreover, participants higher in hostile sexism were more likely to report having voted for Trump after the election. How do you interpret these findings?

Table 6.1

Source: Glick and Fiske (1996).

Note: Items are scored such that higher numbers indicate higher levels of sexism. [R] indicates a reverse-scored item.

Ambivalent Attitudes Toward Men

The ASI focuses on attitudes about women, but what about men? Men report frequent encounters with prejudice directed toward them and other men—for example, hostile or negative comments—and both men and women convey this prejudice (Brinkman, Isacco, & Rosen, 2016). In fact, Glick and Fiske (1999) find evidence that people hold ambivalent attitudes about men that mirror their ambivalent attitudes toward women. Hostile attitudes toward men consist of resentment toward men who are viewed as arrogant, power-hungry, juvenile, and sexually predatory. Benevolent attitudes toward men consist of positive attitudes about men’s roles as protectors and providers and beliefs that men ought to be cared for domestically by women. These attitudes are measured with Glick and Fiske’s Ambivalence Toward Men Inventory (AMI; see Table 6.2).

Table 6.2

Source: Glick and Fiske (1999).

Just as with ambivalent sexism toward women, hostile and benevolent attitudes toward men correlate positively with each other. Glick and his colleagues (2004) found that the correlation (r) between hostility and benevolence toward men was .46 among both men and women across 16 different countries. Moreover, across these same cultures, people who more strongly endorsed hostile and benevolent sexism toward women also endorsed more hostile and benevolent attitudes toward men, with correlations ranging from .34 to .69. Finally, higher national scores on hostility and benevolence toward men negatively predict national gender equality indices. This suggests that ambivalent attitudes toward both women and men reflect the same underlying ideology that sustains and perpetuates the unequal gender hierarchy across cultures.


Consider the language that Glick and Fiske use when describing ambivalent attitudes toward women versus men. Specifically, they use the term sexism when describing hostile and benevolent attitudes toward women, but they do not use this term when describing hostile and benevolent attitudes toward men. Why do you think Glick and Fiske only refer to sexism when describing attitudes toward women? For more on this topic, see the chapter debate (“Do Men Experience Sexism?”).


Gender role attitudes are beliefs about the roles that women and men ought to occupy in society. Within psychology, attempts to measure gender role attitudes began in the early 1970s as activism brought women’s rights more to the forefront of cultural awareness. As the first of its kind, Spence and Helmreich’s (1972) Attitudes Toward Women Scale (AWS) measured beliefs about the rights and roles of women and men in the community, workplace, and home (e.g., “The intellectual leadership of a community should be largely in the hands of men”; “A woman should be as free as a man to propose marriage”). While the AWS is one of the most widely used gender role scales in psychology (McHugh & Frieze, 1997), some items are outdated in both wording and tone (e.g., “It is ridiculous for a woman to run a locomotive and for a man to darn socks”). Perhaps more importantly, given the increasing support for gender equality in the United States since the 1970s (Donnelly et al., 2016), the AWS now demonstrates ceiling effects. That is, most people’s AWS scores cluster at the high (more egalitarian) end of the scale, which reduces the scale’s usefulness as a statistical predictor (Buckner, 2009).

The next generation of measurements included scales that assess both traditional and egalitarian beliefs about gender roles across a range of domains, such as employment, education, marriage, parenting, social activities, sexuality, and emotional expression. Examples of such scales include the Sex Role Egalitarianism Scale (Beere, King, Beere, & King, 1984) and the Traditional—Egalitarian Sex Role Scale (Larsen & Long, 1988). These scales cover a comprehensive set of gender role attitudes but, like the AWS, they tend to show ceiling effects.

In 1995, Janet Swim and colleagues published the Modern Sexism (MS) scale in an effort to capture sexist beliefs that people may be reluctant to reveal on more traditional scales such as the AWS (Swim, Aikin, Hall, & Hunter, 1995). Swim reasoned that the ceiling effects commonly observed on more traditional gender role scales might not reflect real declines in sexist attitudes but rather people’s concerns about appearing sexist to others. The MS scale thus measures a more socially acceptable way to express sexism toward women: denial that discrimination against women still exists (e.g., “Discrimination against women is no longer a problem in the United States”). People high in modern sexism might acknowledge that gender discrimination was a problem in the past but assert that women and men now have equal opportunities. Importantly, scores on the MS predict certain behaviors—such as voting preferences for male over female senate candidates—that are not predicted by more overt measures of gender role attitudes (Swim et al., 1995). This finding lends credence to the idea that overt measures of gender role attitudes may have some statistical shortcomings.

Taking a different approach, Glick and Fiske (1996)—as discussed in the “What Is Sexism” section of this chapter—proposed that sexist attitudes are often ambivalent, simultaneously reflecting both hostile and benevolent beliefs about women and their roles. To test this idea, they developed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI; Glick & Fiske, 1996) and the corresponding Ambivalence Toward Men Inventory (AMI; Glick & Fiske, 1999), as shown in Tables 6.1 and 6.2, respectively. Across cultures, scores on the benevolent and hostile sexism subscales of both the ASI and the AMI are positively correlated, indicating that both positive and negative beliefs jointly fuel sexism and gender inequality (Glick et al., 2004).

More recently, researchers have become interested in gender role attitudes toward people who do not fit cleanly into the gender binary. For example, the Genderism and Transphobia Scale (D. B. Hill & Willoughby, 2005) assesses beliefs about the “naturalness” of gender identities that fall outside the male—female binary (e.g., “God made two sexes and two sexes only”). Unlike past measures of gender role attitudes, this scale does not assess attitudes about the roles that transgender people ought to occupy but instead taps into something even more fundamental: attitudes about the legitimacy of transgender identity.

What do you envision as the next generation of gender role and sexist attitudes measures? If you were a researcher, how would you measure gender role attitudes?

Social Dominance and System Justification Theories

In addition to ambivalent sexism theory, which specifically addresses gender relations between women and men, social dominance and system justification theories are useful for explaining more generally how unequal group hierarchies persist within societies. According to social dominance theory, people differ in social dominance orientation (SDO), which is the extent to which they believe that social groups are and should be equal versus hierarchical (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Those low in SDO reject status hierarchies and those high in SDO believe that inequality is right and fair because some groups should have more status than others. Endorsing a high SDO thus helps to legitimize hierarchies based on sex and ethnicity. To measure SDO, researchers use items such as “Some people are just more worthy than others” and “It is not a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others” (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). There are several interesting findings to note about SDO. First, and perhaps not surprisingly, members of dominant groups (such as men) tend to score higher on SDO than do members of subordinate groups (such as women; Pratto, Sidanius, & Levin, 2006). Second, SDO correlates with cultural ideologies that legitimize unequal hierarchies, such as sexism, racism, and prejudice against sexual minority individuals. Third, people higher in SDO tend to seek and prefer occupations (such as law, politics, and business) that protect the interests of high-status groups, while those lower in SDO tend to prefer occupations (such as social work, counseling, and special education) that benefit members of subordinate groups (Pratto et al., 2006). Thus, group hierarchies are maintained via a combination of individual differences in SDO, cultural ideologies that justify inequality, and individuals’ self-selection into occupations that perpetuate power differences between groups.

Modern sexism A socially acceptable form of sexism consisting of a denial that women still face gender discrimination, coupled with resentment toward women who seek social change.

Social dominance orientation (SDO) The extent to which individuals believe that inequality among social groups is right and fair because some groups should have more status than others.

While it may make sense that dominant groups defend the system that benefits them, why would members of subordinate groups defend a system that denies them power? Social dominance theory proposes that as long as the social hierarchy is perceived as stable and unchanging, subordinate groups will generally internalize cultural ideologies that justify their own low status. However, when the hierarchy gets disrupted, subordinate groups begin to withdraw their support for ideologies that portray them as less deserving of status (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Taking this idea even further, system justification theory posits that people are motivated to justify the sociopolitical system in which their lives are embedded. Because feelings of uncertainty and unfairness threaten people’s needs for security, people are motivated to accept the current social system as legitimate, even if it denies them access to resources (J. T. Jost et al., 2012). Thus, system justification theory proposes that members of subordinate groups endorse legitimizing cultural ideologies out of a psychological need to view the system as fair. Notably, this need sometimes results in subordinate group members endorsing more favorable stereotypes about the dominant group than about their own group (J. T. Jost, Kivetz, Rubini, Guermandi, & Mosso, 2005).

Those who are low in social dominance orientation tend to prefer occupations that allow them to help disadvantaged individuals and serve the community.

Source: © iStockphoto.com/FatCamera

Why Do Sexist Attitudes Matter?

We end this section of the chapter by asking why sexist attitudes matter. What real-world consequences do they have? Research suggests that sexist attitudes may produce behaviors that harm women and impact their physical and psychological well-being (Matheson & Foster, 2013). For example, men’s sexist attitudes are associated with their likelihood to perpetrate sex-based harassment (Begany & Milburn, 2002), rape (Masser, Viki, & Power, 2006), and intimate partner violence (Renzetti, Lynch, & DeWall, 2018). We will discuss these topics further in Chapter 14 (“Aggression and Violence”).

System justification theory The theory proposing that people are motivated to justify the sociopolitical system that governs them (even if it treats them unfairly) because doing so reduces uncertainty.

Moreover, widespread sexist attitudes may shape societal conditions for women and men on a large scale. In one nationally representative, longitudinal study of 57 different countries from every major world region, Mark Brandt (2011) tracked the association between nation-level endorsement of sexist beliefs and national indices of gender equality over a 3-year time span. At Time 1, over 82,000 respondents rated their agreement with two statements reflecting sexist beliefs: “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do” and “On the whole, men make better business executives than women do.” Brandt used these ratings to predict national gender equality indices 3 years later (Time 2), controlling for both Time 1 national gender equality and other important variables, such as levels of national educational and economic development. His findings showed that sexist attitudes at Time 1 predicted decreases in national gender equality at Time 2. Interestingly, when Brandt examined these associations separately by sex, he found no differences. This indicates that sexist attitudes held by both women and men predict decreases in women’s opportunities and status at the national level. In a very real sense, then, sexist attitudes likely do translate into large-scale societal restrictions on women’s opportunities.


When people hear the term sexism, they typically think of bias against women and not against men. Sexism involves institutional and cultural practices that contribute to inequality between women and men. Because men generally have more power than women to determine these institutional practices, it follows that women would be the primary—and perhaps only—targets of sexism. But some take issue with this stance, arguing that men can experience this systemic sexism as well. Furthermore, some argue that men face far more violent and damaging forms of sex bias than women. Here, we cover both sides of this issue.


Across all human cultures, men are disproportionately represented among political leaders, decision-makers, business executives, and owners of land, wealth, and other valued resources. In contrast, women in all cultures are disproportionately denied access to desirable positions of power and wealth. This is the very definition of sexism: Because of their sex, women lack structural power and have fewer opportunities compared with men. Though men certainly do experience gender discrimination, they cannot experience sexism, given their relatively higher levels of structural power.

Even when women have more dyadic power than men and even in matrilineal societies that trace kinship and inheritance lines to mothers, women as a group do not have as much structural power as men. Widespread cultural ideologies reinforce and perpetuate men’s group-based interests, too, by portraying men as well suited for competitive leadership positions and women as better suited for low-status and homemaker roles (Pratto & Pitpitan, 2008).

For these reasons, some argue that there is no such thing as “sexism against men.” In other words, sexism refers to a systemic pattern of cultural practices that supports men’s power over women. Of course, many people hold negative beliefs about men, and men as a group experience some negative outcomes that women do not. But to claim that men experience sexism against them ignores the fact that men, the world over, have dominance over women.


Prejudice and discrimination against men often get overlooked. Though it is true that men, as a group, have more power than women, this comparison of group averages ignores the reality of many men who occupy the lower rungs of the social hierarchy. Because human societies are organized hierarchically, only the most dominant and privileged men at the top of the hierarchy possess structural power. In contrast, the opportunities of men at the bottom of the social hierarchy tend to be just as limited as those of women—and sometimes even more limited.

Most societies exploit low-status men by using them for high-risk activities, such as fighting in wars or doing dangerous, physically demanding work (Baumeister, 2007). Consider the facts that men die in war and in workplace accidents much more often than women, men are much more likely than women to be incarcerated, and men receive harsher prison sentences than women for the same crimes (Benatar, 2012). Men are also much more likely than women to be victims of homicide. Dying in violent altercations, wars, or workplace accidents may not seem like obvious sexism, but cultural expectations can create strong pressures to conform, leaving men feeling like they have little choice but to perform dangerous roles. In short, societies often treat men as expendable.

Gender bias against men extends to opportunities and resources as well. For example, women in the United States now enter and graduate college at higher rates than men do, and this sex gap is particularly pronounced for students of color (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). Men also make up the majority of the U.S. homeless population (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2015), and they confront substantial bias when it comes to child custody decisions, which heavily favor mothers over fathers (Benatar, 2012). Whether you use the word sexism to refer to these patterns, there is no question that men—and especially low-status men—are targets of systemic gender bias.

What do you think? Do men experience sexism against their group in the same way that women do? Which side of the debate seems more compelling? Which evidence do you find most and least convincing? Why?


Discrimination refers to unjust treatment based solely on a person’s group membership. Thus, gender discrimination is unjust treatment based solely on one’s sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Unlike the concept of sexism, structural power imbalances need not figure centrally in the definition of discrimination. This means that discrimination can be directed toward members of any social group, including dominant groups. Discrimination can take many forms, ranging from blatant and obvious to subtle and ambiguous. Rates and types of gender discrimination also vary widely across the globe, which we will highlight by presenting current examples from the domains of education and politics.

Gender discrimination Unjust treatment based solely on one’s sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.


A substantial proportion of men in the United States believe that men experience gender discrimination as much as or more than women do. In one study, U.S. adults rated how much gender bias both women and men experienced in American society in 2012, as well as during past decades in American history (e.g., the 1950s). While men agreed that women’s gender bias in the 1950s far outweighed men’s, about 44% of men reported that men in 2012 experienced gender bias that was either equal to or greater than women’s (Bosson, Vandello, Michniewicz, & Lenes, 2012). Thus, if we take men’s own perceptions of discrimination seriously, then discrimination against men appears to be a common, if overlooked, phenomenon. What do you think? Do men have a valid point here?

Overt Discrimination and Microaggressions

Overt gender discrimination is obvious and easy to recognize—examples of this type of discrimination abound. It occurs when an employer refuses to consider well-qualified women for management positions or does not allow men to take parental leave upon the birth of a child. It occurs when girls are denied access to formal education that is open to boys (as they were under Taliban rule in Afghanistan). We see it in Saudi Arabia where women must get permission from a male guardian to obtain a passport (McGary, 2019) and in Yemen where women cannot testify in cases of adultery, sodomy, or theft (Dewey, 2013). In several U.S. states, “bathroom bills” have been proposed or enacted to restrict transgender individuals’ public bathroom use to that of their assigned sex instead of the gender with which they identify (E. Green, 2016).

Microaggressions Common, everyday insults and indignities directed toward members of subordinate social groups.

In contrast to these overt examples, negative group-based treatment can also be subtle, leading to some disagreement about what qualifies as discrimination. Microaggressions—one type of subtle discrimination—are common, everyday insults and indignities directed toward members of subordinate social groups. They can be verbal or behavioral and need not be intentional on the part of the perpetrator (Sue et al., 2007). Researchers have analyzed microaggressions targeting men of color, women of all racial and ethnic groups, gay and transgender individuals, and people with disabilities (Conover & Israel, 2019; Nadal, 2013; Owen, Tao, & Rodolfa, 2010). Consider these examples: A woman asks her gay male coworker to oversee decorations for the office party because “you’re probably good at that sort of thing.” A patient mistakes a female physician who is wearing scrubs for a nurse. A man explains something to a woman that she clearly already knows, a phenomenon referred to as mansplaining. A man tells his female coworker that she should smile more. In these examples, there may not be an explicit intent to cause harm on the part of the perpetrator. But these subtle behaviors may be detrimental precisely because they appear trivial or harmless, which can make targets feel uncomfortable about speaking up against them or even feel guilty for finding them annoying.

The construct of microaggressions came under criticism recently because the term describes such a wide range of phenomena that it lacks coherent meaning (Lilienfeld, 2017). This conceptual muddiness makes it difficult to study the effects of microaggressions on their targets, as empirical studies require precise definitions of constructs. Moreover, as you will read in Chapter 14 (“Aggression and Violence”), many psychologists define aggression as behavior that is intended to harm another person. But microaggressions are often not intended to be hurtful, and instead reflect insensitivity or unawareness on the part of perpetrators. Moving forward, research on microaggressions will benefit from clearer definitions, as well as a thorough examination of the adverse effects of these acts.

Global Gender Discrimination in Education and Politics

The World Economic Forum (2019) annually reports a Global Gender Gap Index, which attempts to capture the degree of equality between men and women in 153 countries by examining measures of health and survival, economic opportunity, educational attainment, and political participation. In 2020, countries with the highest gender equality (in order) were Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Nicaragua, and countries with the lowest gender equality were Congo, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen. The United States ranks 53rd, with gender equality scores closely matching those of Singapore, Romania, Luxembourg, and Mozambique. These rankings indicate that there is wide variability in gender equality around the globe. Here, we will examine the specific areas of education and political representation more closely.

Mansplaining refers to a phenomenon in which a man explains to a woman something that she already knows or corrects her in front of others to demonstrate that he has more expertise.

Source: © iStockphoto.com/Georgijevic

Girls and boys have somewhat different levels of access to education around the world, with 32.1 million girls and 28.9 million boys of primary-school age not attending school. This translates into a global gender gap in which 1.6% more girls of primary-school age are out of school than their male counterparts. However, the gender gaps in out-of-school rates vary widely by region of the world. While the Middle East, Oceania (the islands of the central Pacific Ocean), and sub-Saharan Africa show gender gaps two to four times larger than the global gender gap, East and Southeast Asia show virtually no gender gap (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, 2016). The countries with the highest percentages of impoverished girls who have never been to school, with rates ranging from 77% to 95%, are Somalia, Niger, and Liberia (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, 2013). Why does this matter? Cross-nationally, the educational status of women negatively correlates with rates of sexual violence, meaning that countries’ violence rates decrease as girls’ education levels increase (Yodanis, 2004). Educating girls also delays the age of marriage and childbirth and improves health outcomes for mothers and their children. There are positive economic outcomes associated with girls’ education as well, with a country’s average GDP (an indicator of economic health) increasing by 3% with every 10% increase in girls who receive an education (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2018).

Malala Yousafzai, first introduced in Chapter 1, is a well-known advocate for girls’ education. After winning Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize for her advocacy, Yousafzai suffered an assassination attempt by the Taliban for promoting secular, anti-Taliban values. She survived the attack and continued her advocacy by establishing the Malala Fund, an organization that works to realize a vision where all girls worldwide will have access to 12 years of quality education. At age 17, Yousafzai won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her work; to date, she is the youngest recipient of the prize (https://www.malala.org).

The balance of political representation between women and men is another indicator of national gender equality. In most countries, women are vastly underrepresented in politics. In 2019, only three countries (Rwanda, Cuba, and Bolivia) had 50% or more women in national legislative bodies (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2019). Although the percentages of women in legislative bodies around the globe have almost doubled in the past 20 years, the average representation of women is currently at only 24%. This global percentage accurately captures the current representation of female members of the U.S. House of Representatives (23%) and the U.S. Senate (25%).

Women are also less likely than men to be heads of state or government. In 2018, there were 25 women serving as their country’s head of state or government, with 8 of these (including Angela Merkel of Germany) being their country’s first female leader. Although some countries elected their first female leaders approximately 50 years ago (e.g., Indira Gandhi in India in 1966 and Golda Meir in Israel in 1969), the United States lags behind in this regard. Hillary Rodham Clinton, however, came close to winning the U.S. presidency as the Democratic Party nominee in the 2016 presidential election, and she won the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes. As mentioned in Sidebar 6.3, hostile sexism toward women predicted more negative attitudes toward Clinton and more positive attitudes toward Donald Trump among voters in the United States, even after controlling for political affiliation (Ratliff et al., 2019).

Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani education activist, is the youngest recipient of a Nobel Prize.

Source: Getty Images / Fairfax Media / Contributor

Given women’s ongoing underrepresentation in politics and education around the globe, we will likely see organizations like the Malala Fund continue to advocate for greater gender equality, and progress will come incrementally. For example, when Justin Trudeau became prime minister of Canada in 2015, he appointed the first gender-balanced cabinet (15 women and 15 men) in Canada’s history. When asked why this was important to him, he replied, “Because it’s 2015” (Austen, 2015).


Why have there been so few women elected as heads of state or government throughout history? Why do female lawmakers make up only about 25% of the U.S. Senate and of the U.S. House of Representatives? Do you think that a woman who runs for political office has as good a chance of winning as a man does if she is equally qualified? Why or why not?


Efforts to resist and reduce sexism and gender discrimination come in many forms. Individuals can confront perpetrators of sexism in their daily lives, groups of like-minded people can organize to agitate for social change, and legal reforms can prohibit discrimination at the institutional level. In this section, we consider all of these ways of combatting discrimination. Along the way, we also consider factors that act as barriers to social change and that make the ultimate goal of eliminating discrimination a challenging one. The field of psychology is uniquely positioned to apply its understandings to improve conditions for those whose health and well-being are negatively impacted by discrimination and social inequality, and some call for a more intentional focus within the field on engaging with this kind of social change (Rosenthal, 2016).

Employment Nondiscrimination: It’s the Law

In the domain of employment, sex- and race-based discrimination have been illegal in the United States since the passage of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. According to Title VII, employers who do business with the U.S. government must hire people of different sexes and races/ethnicities at rates equal to their representation in the population. Federal protections against workplace discrimination based on LGBTQ status were not explicitly covered in Title VII, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—the organization responsible for enforcing federal employment antidiscrimination laws—interprets the Civil Rights Act to cover discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation (Tate, 2015). In agreement with the EEOC, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that Title VII protects LGBTQ individuals from workplace discrimination (Sponzilli, 2020).

When employers are found in violation of Title VII, they may be legally required to adopt affirmative action policies or practices. Affirmative action refers to efforts to combat discrimination by increasing opportunities for protected groups; it can include things like hiring quotas, or numerical requirements regarding percentages of underrepresented groups who must be hired or promoted. The passage of Title VII in the United States and the adoption of affirmative action policies in the United States and around the world have reduced (but not eliminated) sex and race disparities in employment, earnings, and political representation since the 1960s (Morgenroth & Ryan, 2018; Snipp & Cheung, 2016). In addition, beyond increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups, affirmative action programs can impact young people by increasing the numbers of female and racial/ethnic minority role models. For instance, in villages in India in which affirmative action laws increased women’s representation in village council leadership positions, adolescent girls and their parents both reported more gender-egalitarian educational and career aspirations (Beaman, Duflo, Pande, & Topalova, 2012).

Affirmative action Active efforts to combat discrimination by increasing opportunities for protected groups.

However, although Title VII has been law in the United States for more than 50 years, it remains controversial. The belief in meritocracy represents one source of opposition to affirmative action. This refers to the belief that individuals should achieve or fail on their own merits and hard work and not receive any advantages due to affirmative action policies. Individualist cultures like the United States tend to hold strong values of meritocracy, which can make it difficult to enforce antidiscrimination laws. Dominant group members in particular oppose affirmative action when they view such policies as biased against their own group (Wellman, Liu, & Wilkins, 2016).

Modern sexism, which you encountered in the “Journey of Research,” is a form of opposition to affirmative action for women. People high in modern sexism deny that gender discrimination still exists, and they oppose policies that benefit women because they view such policies as unfair (Swim et al., 1995). Since people high in modern sexism view the “playing field” as level, they believe that women already have opportunities equal to men’s and therefore do not need legal protections. If women fail to achieve the same success that men enjoy, people high in modern sexism believe that it is not because discrimination suppresses women’s achievements but rather because women lack the appropriate levels of effort or skill.

Another source of controversy surrounding affirmation action programs is that these programs can have some unintended negative effects on their beneficiaries. For instance, individuals who benefit from affirmative action may be seen (by others or themselves) as less competent or deserving. So, what’s the bottom line? One recent review concluded that the overall benefits of affirmative action outweigh the costs, but that to be maximally effective, these programs must be designed and implemented carefully, following evidence-based best practices (Morgenroth & Ryan, 2018).

Confronting Gender Discrimination: Individual Efforts

If someone treated you in a discriminatory manner, how would you react? Would you shrug it off, make a joke about it, confront the perpetrator, or do something else? When asked to imagine their responses to a hypothetical episode of gender discrimination, 62% of women claimed that they would subtly note the inappropriateness of the behavior and 28% claimed that they would confront the perpetrator directly. However, when they were later exposed to actual gender discrimination, no women spoke up (Woodzicka & LaFrance, 2001). Thus, what people think they would do and what they actually do may be quite different.

What makes confronting discrimination so difficult? According to the Confronting Prejudiced Responses Model (see Table 6.3), individuals must overcome several hurdles before they will actively confront discrimination (Ashburn-Nardo, Morris, & Goodwin, 2008). One hurdle, attributional ambiguity, refers to the difficulty that people have in attributing negative treatment to discrimination when other possible explanations are present. To illustrate, imagine being a woman enrolled in a seminar in which the male instructor smiles and nods encouragingly in response to comments made by a particular male student. In contrast, when you speak up, the instructor averts his eyes and remains expressionless. Why does your instructor react this way? Perhaps he is sexist and does not respect women. But what if he acts this way because your discussion contributions are off the mark? Or what if he suddenly recalled a troubling memory that has nothing to do with you? How can you know which of these explanations is correct?

Attributional ambiguity Difficulty in attributing negative treatment to group-based discrimination when other possible explanations for the treatment are present.

In fact, members of stigmatized groups often cannot know for sure whether negative treatment from others reflects discrimination or some other cause(s). After all, when people treat you poorly, they rarely explain their rationale. This can lead to a phenomenon known as the personal-group discrimination discrepancy, in which members of social groups perceive that discrimination occurs more often toward their group in general than it occurs to them personally. In a classic test of this phenomenon, Donald Taylor and his colleagues assessed perceptions of personal and group discrimination in a sample of Haitian and Indian immigrant women in Canada (Taylor, Wright, Moghaddam, & Lalonde, 1990). While the women reported that Haitian and Indian women in general experienced fairly high levels of discrimination on the basis of race and culture, they reported personally experiencing only low-to-moderate levels of race- and culture-based discrimination.

Personal-group discrimination discrepancy The tendency for individuals to think that their social groups experience more discrimination than they do personally.

Why might this occur? Well, as we noted, attributional ambiguity makes it difficult to know whether any isolated, personal experience counts as discrimination or not. In contrast, it is often easier to observe discrimination when it occurs (or is described) at the group level. To illustrate, imagine that you work at a company at which half of all employees are women, but 75% of people who get promoted to managerial positions are men. When considered in the aggregate like this, these statistics make it pretty clear that women, as a group, experience some discrimination at your workplace. But if you are a woman at this company who is denied a promotion, attributional ambiguity can make it difficult to know exactly why you were not promoted. This can result in people believing that their group faces quite a bit of discrimination, whereas they personally do not face as much discrimination (Crosby, Clayton, Alksnis, & Hemker, 1986). However, people differ in their levels of personal-group discrimination discrepancy. When individuals are lower in personal-group discrimination discrepancy—that is, when people believe that they personally experience as much discrimination as their group does—they tend to be more likely to take action against discrimination (Foster & Matheson, 1999; Lindsey et al., 2015).

Table 6.3 The Confronting Prejudiced Responses Model

Source: Adapted from Ashburn-Nardo, Morris, and Goodwin (2008); Czopp, Monteith, and Mark (2006); and E. H. Dodd, Giuliano, Boutell, and Moran (2001).

The tone in which discriminatory comments are delivered also contributes to attributional ambiguity. For instance, jokes that convey insulting stereotypes may mask the speaker’s intent and make listeners less likely to attribute the sentiment to discrimination. In one study, college women chatted online with a male partner named Mike (really an experimenter) who made either a joke or a serious statement that conveyed the stereotype that “household chores are a woman’s job.” When the stereotype came in the form of a joke, women rated Mike as less sexist, and they were less likely to confront or challenge him via instant message than when the stereotype came in the form of a serious statement (Mallett, Ford, & Woodzicka, 2016). Thus, humor can make discriminatory sentiments seem more palatable and less like “real” discrimination.

Even with clear and unambiguous discrimination, confrontation does not always occur. Individuals must decide to disregard any potential personal costs that might result from the confrontation. Those who confront discrimination tend to be perceived negatively, especially when they adopt a hostile or accusatory tone (Czopp, Monteith, & Mark, 2006). For instance, women who confront sexism tend to be perceived as colder and are liked less by men compared with those who do not (J. C. Becker, Glick, Ilic, & Bohner, 2011; E. H. Dodd, Giuliano, Boutell, & Moran, 2001). This may occur because confronting discrimination violates female gender role norms of “niceness” and conflict avoidance. In fact, women who endorse such gender norms tend to confront discrimination less frequently (Swim, Eyssell, Murdoch, & Ferguson, 2010). Perhaps this is shifting with time, however. In 2017, as part of the Me Too movement, Time magazine named a group known as the “Silence Breakers” as its Person of the Year. These individuals—all of whom experienced sexual harassment or sexual abuse by a person with power over them—were recognized and honored for confronting their harassers publicly despite incredible professional and personal pressure to keep silent. By publicly calling out perpetrators and celebrating the individuals who confront them, the Me Too movement may help reduce the perceived costs of confronting sexist behaviors (Kawakami, Karmali, & Vaccarino, 2019).

Fortunately, when people successfully overcome the interpersonal and social barriers to confronting discrimination, they tend to experience benefits. For example, women (though not men) have more respect and liking for women who confront sexism than for those who do not (E. H. Dodd et al., 2001). Confrontation can also effectively reduce stereotypic and discriminatory behaviors. In one set of studies, White participants who were confronted (via computer) about their apparently racist responses to a word task subsequently showed less stereotypical responding and lower racial prejudice scores than those who were not confronted (Czopp et al., 2006). Another experiment found that when a female research assistant confronted male participants in person about their sexist behavior, the men compensated for the awkwardness of the interaction by behaving more positively and seeking common ground with the woman. Ultimately, men’s attempts to repair their image led them to like the woman better and to use less sexist language (Mallett & Wagner, 2011). Confronting discrimination can thus increase people’s awareness of their own biases and motivate them to repair their actions.

Resisting Gender Discrimination: Collective Action

While individual responses are important, they alone cannot address the more complex forms of gender discrimination embedded structurally in societies (Matheson & Foster, 2013). On January 21, 2017, over 4.5 million people in more than 165 countries demonstrated the power of collective action by participating in a series of Women’s Marches in protest of President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric regarding women, immigrants, and people of color (Chenoweth & Pressman, 2017). By some counts, this was the biggest collective act of protest in history. What makes collective action unique? In contrast to individual efforts aimed at improving one’s own plight, collective action consists of behavior enacted on behalf of a group with the goal of improving conditions for the entire group.

Collective action Behavior enacted on behalf of a group with the goal of improving conditions for the entire group.

Two key factors must be present before people will engage in collective action: (1) recognition that a subordinate group is unfairly disadvantaged and (2) anger on behalf of the group (S. C. Wright, 2010). But now recall what you read earlier about system justification theory, which states that members of disadvantaged groups are often motivated to view their situation as fair, and may therefore legitimize their own relatively low status. Thus, a group’s level of perceived unfairness must exceed a certain threshold, and the resulting anger must be felt intensely, before people are willing to disrupt their lives and join collective action efforts.

As we have discussed, benevolent sexism reduces women’s tendency to view their group as unfairly disadvantaged. In fact, even brief reminders of benevolent sexism temporarily reduce women’s motivation to fight for gender equality. One set of experiments showed that reading brief descriptions of benevolently sexist beliefs (e.g., “Men are incomplete without women”) reduced women’s collective action behavior (e.g., signing petitions and distributing flyers promoting gender equality) relative to a condition in which they read gender-neutral beliefs (e.g., “Tea is healthier than coffee”). Moreover, this effect emerged because reading about benevolent sexism increased women’s perceptions that the gender hierarchy was fair and that they personally benefited from being a woman (J. C. Becker & Wright, 2011).

What motivates people to engage in more collective action against discrimination? One answer lies in hostile sexism. While women often feel more satisfied with the status quo after reminders of benevolent sexism, they feel less satisfied with the status quo after reminders of hostile sexism. Episodes of hostile sexism increase women’s anger, disgust, and even their physiological arousal: One experiment found that women’s heart rate, blood pressure, and other indices of cardiovascular arousal showed a sharp spike several minutes after they were treated in a hostilely sexist manner by a male experimenter (see Figure 6.3; Salomon et al., 2015). Importantly, anger arouses and motivates people to confront and challenge the source of their anger. In fact, women engaged in more collective action behavior after reading descriptions of hostilely sexist beliefs than they did after reading gender-neutral beliefs, an effect driven by increases in anger and decreases in the perceived fairness of the gender hierarchy (J. C. Becker & Wright, 2011). Thus, while women are often socialized to contain their anger, anger can serve as a productive emotion for confronting discrimination (Matheson & Foster, 2013).


Figure 6.3 Women’s Heart Rate and Blood Pressure Reactivity Following Experiences With Hostile Versus Benevolent Sexism

Source: Salomon, Burgess, and Bosson (2015).


Suppose you were charged with developing an educational program that addresses effective ways to confront and decrease discrimination (e.g., in a school or workplace). Given the material discussed in this section so far, what you would include as the central components of your program? How might you engage dominant group members (e.g., men, cisgender individuals, heterosexual individuals) in addressing gender discrimination?

Encouraging greater awareness of the unfair disadvantage that sexism perpetuates also motivates collective action. In a series of studies, women and men recorded the numbers and types of sexist events they observed or experienced in their lives each day for a week (J. C. Becker & Swim, 2011). In the control condition, participants kept records of their daily communications. At the end of the week, the researchers offered participants an opportunity to sign a petition supporting the implementation of anti-sexism programs in schools. Both women and men who spent the week focusing on sexism were more likely to sign the anti-sexism petition than those who did not. Thus, focusing people’s attention on sexism can increase their awareness of its unfair consequences and thereby motivate them to take action against it.

Allies Individuals who publicly support and promote the rights of disadvantaged group members but who are not themselves part of the disadvantaged group.

Being an Ally

Of course, you do not need to belong to a disadvantaged social group in order to challenge discrimination and advocate for equality. Allies publicly support and promote the rights of marginalized group members, despite not belonging to the group. For example, heterosexual LGBTQ allies stand up for LGBTQ communities and issues, gender-egalitarian men advocate for greater political and economic rights for women, and White allies publicly engage in anti-racism efforts.

One barrier that allies encounter is stigmatization. For example, people tend to stereotype men who advocate for gender equality and women’s causes as high in femininity and low in masculinity (Rudman, Mescher, & Moss-Racusin, 2012). But allies also report experiencing benefits, such as promoting values of social justice, gaining knowledge, and meeting needs for belonging and community (Rostosky, Black, Riggle, & Rosenkrantz, 2015). For many, the benefits of aligning themselves with valued social causes outweigh the potential interpersonal costs.

As you read the chapters to come, you will learn about numerous domains—education, language, sexuality, the workplace, health, and violence—in which some groups experience systematic disadvantages relative to others. In digesting this information, you may wish to consider ways to get involved and take action on behalf of those who lack certain privileges that you possess, whether it be based on sex, race, religion, class, sexual orientation, physical or cognitive ability, or mental health (or the intersections of these categories). Discrimination will be dismantled more readily through the combined efforts of all, including those whose privilege shields them from personally experiencing the discrimination.


· 6.1 Explain how social structures are organized by sex across cultures and how power and privilege shape the experiences of individuals and groups.

Human societies are organized hierarchically, with some groups (dominant groups) having more power and access to resources than other groups (subordinate groups). Patriarchal social structures, in which certain men are dominant and women are subordinate, appear to be the universal norm. Patriarchal power is structural, meaning that it manifests on a large scale and shapes the entire society. While there are no known human societies controlled by women (matriarchies), societies do vary in terms of how much power women have over inheritance, lineage, and economic decisions. Women also often have dyadic power (the power to choose close relationships and control the decisions that occur within those relationships), although the amount of dyadic power they hold depends on their demographic characteristics (e.g., age and education level) and on men’s levels of structural power.

Dominant groups exert power in many ways, including through force, resource control, and cultural ideologies. Men, on average, have more power than women, but power is not distributed evenly among men, with dominant men routinely maintaining power over ethnic minority, sexual minority, transgender, and low-income men. Privilege is an automatic, unearned advantage associated with belonging to a dominant group. Becoming aware of privilege can motivate dominant group members to reduce their own prejudice toward less privileged groups.

All individuals occupy locations at the intersections of major social categories, such as sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, and socioeconomic class. The double jeopardy hypothesis states that individuals who belong to two or more subordinate groups face more discrimination than individuals who belong to only one subordinate group because disadvantage accumulates across subordinate identities. In contrast, the intersectional invisibility hypothesis argues that people with multiple subordinate identities receive less attention than those with a single subordinate group identity, which means that they likely escape some of the more extreme forms of discrimination that other subordinate groups face.

· 6.2 Evaluate different theoretical perspectives on sexism and gender inequality.

Sexism refers to negative attitudes toward individuals based solely on their sex, combined with institutional and cultural practices that support the unequal status of different sex groups. Ambivalent sexism theory explains sexism as consisting of both hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. These beliefs complement one another and contribute jointly to the unequal gender hierarchy. While hostile sexism punishes women who seek status and power and reject traditional gender role norms, benevolent sexism “rewards” women who embrace traditional gender roles as homemakers, caregivers, and low-status workers. Similarly, ambivalent attitudes toward men consist of hostility and benevolence. Across cultures, hostile and benevolent attitudes toward women and toward men correlate positively with each other, and they correlate negatively with indices of national gender equality.

Social dominance theory argues that unequal group hierarchies are maintained via an ideology called social dominance orientation—the degree to which individuals believe that some groups rightly have more status than others. System justification theory proposes that people are motivated to defend the status quo, regardless of their dominant or subordinate group status. To do this, they embrace ideologies that legitimize unequal group hierarchies.

· 6.3 Explain the types and consequences of gender discrimination.

Gender discrimination refers to unfair treatment of individuals based solely on their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Since gender discrimination does not necessarily involve structural power imbalances, anyone can experience gender discrimination, including members of dominant groups. Discrimination varies in form from subtle to overt, with overt discrimination being obvious and easy to identify. In contrast, microaggressions are a more subtle form of discrimination consisting of brief, everyday slights directed toward members of less privileged groups. The consequences of gender discrimination are seen in the domains of education and politics. Around the globe, girls have less access to primary and secondary education and are more likely to be illiterate compared with boys. In the political arena, women make up about 24% of legislators worldwide, and only 25 countries currently had a female head of state or government in 2018.

· 6.4 Evaluate the difficulties of recognizing and confronting discrimination and the methods that individuals and groups use to resist and reduce discrimination.

In the United States, antidiscrimination laws enacted in the mid-1960s led to gradual declines in sex- and race-based employment discrimination. However, affirmative action practices are controversial, in part because some perceive them as violating values of meritocracy. Modern sexism is a form of opposition to affirmative action for women. People high in modern sexism deny that gender discrimination still exists and oppose policies that benefit women because they view such policies as unfair.

While many women believe that they would confront a person who treated them in a sexist manner, actual confrontation rates are low. People must overcome several hurdles before they will confront the source of a sexist comment or act. Attributional ambiguity refers to the difficulty that people have in knowing whether negative treatment reflects discrimination or some other cause. People tend to incur interpersonal costs when confronting sexism, such as making a bad impression on others and being disliked. If these hurdles can be overcome, confrontation often results in reducing other people’s stereotypical and sexist behavior.

Collective action on behalf of a group is unlikely unless people surpass a threshold of perceived unfair disadvantage combined with anger. Experiencing hostile sexism increases women’s anger, cardiovascular reactivity, and motivation for collective action. In contrast, benevolent sexism suppresses women’s motivation to fight for equality by reminding them of the benefits of being a woman.

Allies are members of advantaged groups who publicly support and promote the rights of members of disadvantaged groups, such as straight and cisgender people who take action to support the rights of LGBTQ individuals. Allies may be negatively stereotyped because they choose to align themselves with disadvantaged groups, but allies also experience benefits, such as promoting social justice values, gaining knowledge, and meeting needs for belonging.

Test Your Knowledge: True or False?

· 6.1. When women outnumber men on college campuses, heterosexual men put less effort and commitment into their college dating relationships. (True: When women outnumber men, men are less committed to college relationships.) [p. 197]

· 6.2. Individuals who are members of one subordinate group tend to experience the same amount of discrimination as individuals who are members of two subordinate groups. (False: In some cases, members of two subordinate groups experience more mistreatment than members of one subordinate group [double jeopardy]. In other cases, members of two subordinate groups are shielded from some forms of oppression that face members of one subordinate group [intersectionality invisibility].) [p. 203]

· 6.3. People who endorse hostile attitudes toward women also tend to endorse benevolent attitudes toward women (i.e., beliefs that women should be cherished and protected). (True: Hostile and benevolent sexism are positively correlated.) [p. 206]

· 6.4. The United States typically ranks in the top 10 countries in the world in terms of gender equality (measured in terms of gaps between women and men in health, education, political representation, and economic participation). (False: The United States ranks 53rd out of 149 nations in gender equality.) [p. 217]

· 6.5. Women’s intentions to confront gender discrimination match their actual rates of confronting gender discrimination. (False: Women tend to report that they will confront sexism at higher rates than they actually do.) [p. 221]

Descriptions of Images and Figures

Back to Figure

The x axis shows face recognition accuracy and statement matching errors. The y axis ranges from 1 to 2.8 in increments of 0.2.

Facial recognition accuracy:

· Black women: 1.64

· White women: 1.89

· Black men: 1.76

· White men: 1.86

Statement matching errors:

· Black women: 1.76

· White women: 1.34

· Black men: 1.46

· White men: 1.53.

Back to image

The article is titled “You mean a woman (underlined) can open it?” and reads the following information:

Easily — without a knife blade, a bottle opener or even a husband! All it takes is a dainty grasp, an easy, two-finger twist — and the catsup is ready to pour.

We call this safe-sealing bottle cap the Alcoa HyTop. It is made of pure, food-loving Alcoa Aluminum. It spins off — and back on again — without muscle power because an exclusive Alcoa process tailors it to each bottle’s threads after it is on the bottle. By vacuum sealing both top and sides, the HyTop gives purity a double guard.

You’ll recognize the attractive, tractable HyTop when you see it on your grocer’s shelf. It’s long, it’s white, it’s grooved — and it’s on the most famous and flavorful brands. Put the bottle that wears it in your basket…save fumbling, fuming and fingers at opening time with the most cooperative cap in the world — the Alcoa HyTop Closure.

Back to Figure

The x axis shows three bars for hostile sexism, benevolent sexism, and no sexism. The y axis ranges from 1 to 5 in increments of 0.5. The values of three conditions are:

· Hostile sexism: 3.30

· Benevolent sexism: 2.18

· No sexism: 1.13.

Back to Figure

The first bar chart measures the heart rate reactivity. The x axis shows hostile sexism, benevolent sexism, and no sexism. The y axis labeled change in bpm ranges from 0 to 10 in increments of 2. The values for each experience are listed below:

· Hostile sexism: 7.8

· Benevolent sexism: 5.6

· No sexism: 3.8.

The second bar chart measures the systolic blood pressure reactivity. The x axis shows hostile sexism, benevolent sexism, and no sexism. The y axis labeled change in millimeter of mercury ranges from 0 to 10 in increments of 2. The values for each experience are listed below:

· Hostile sexism: 7.1

· Benevolent sexism: 3.8

· No sexism: 3.85.