Situational and ideological stake as predictors of women's perceptions of ambivalent sexism from potential romantic partners

Date of Completion

January 2006


Psychology, Social




According to the theory of ambivalent sexism, hostile sexism reflects an overt antipathy toward women, whereas benevolent sexism reflects the seemingly good-natured belief that women deserve to be cherished and protected by men. Both maintain unequal power dynamics between men and women. Previous research has shown that while women can label overt and hostile actions as sexist, they often do not recognize benevolent sexism as negative, especially when it comes from a close male partner (Killianski & Rudman, 1998; Ropp, 2004). The current research focuses on what leads (and inhibits) women to label benevolent forms of sexism from potential romantic partners. I argue that both ideological investment (i.e., endorsement of hostile and benevolent sexism and traditional gender roles) and situational determinants (i.e., feeling similar, receiving a compliment from a partner) play a role in women labeling benevolent sexism. In three experimental studies, I hypothesize that as an ideological or situational stake is heightened, the less likely she is to notice benevolent sexism. Study 1 found that women do indeed label a benevolently sexist partner as less negative compared to hostile sexist partner. Study 2 found that when women are primed to think about traditional gender roles, they are less likely to notice benevolent sexism and more likely to report positive evaluations of a male partner. However, when women were primed to think about egalitarian gender roles, they were significantly more likely to label benevolent comments as sexist and less likely to positively evaluate their partners. Both studies also found that endorsement of hostile and benevolent sexism generally did not relate to evaluations of male targets. Study 3 manipulated aspects of situational stake; however, no differences were found between women who were described to be a good romantic match to their partners (or not) or complimented by their partners (or not). Implications of understanding women's labeling of benevolent sexism is discussed in terms of normative heterosexual relationship patterns and contributing to structural levels of inequality. ^