Ambivalent Sexism at Home
and at Work: How Attitudes Toward
Women in Relationships Foster
Exclusion in the Public Sphere
Mina Cikara, Tiana L. Lee, Susan T. Fiske, and Peter Glick
According to ambivalent sexism theory (AST; Glick & Fiske, 1996; 2001), sex-
ism combines complementary gender ideologies, held by both men and women
worldwide, which serve to justify social hierarchy. This chapter reviews how be-
nevolent and hostile attitudes toward women operate in concert, ultimately main-
taining gender inequity. Research speciﬁ cally targets the relationship between
sexism and system justiﬁ cation, as endorsed and enacted by men and women.
Hostile and benevolent beliefs map onto widely held prescriptions and proscrip-
tions for men and women; these beliefs shape men’s and women’s interactions
in the private sphere (i.e., the home, close relationships). Finally, these system
justifying beliefs extend to the workplace and impede women from progressing
in the public sphere.
We yield to none in our admiration, veneration, and respect for
woman. We recognize in her admirable and adorable qualities and
sweet and noble inﬂ uence which make for the betterment of man-
kind and the advancement of civilization. . . . We would take from
women none of their privileges as citizens but we do not believe
that women are adapted to the political work of the world. . . .
Woman suffrage is inconsistent with the fundamental principles
upon which our. . . . government was founded . . . If woman suffrage
should become universal . . . , in time of great excitement. . . . this
country would be in danger of . . . insurrections . . . [We] should
guard against emotional suffrage. What we need is to put more
logic and less feeling into public affairs. . . .
Suffragists insist that if woman suffrage became universal “it
would set in motion the machinery of an earthly paradise.” It was
a woman of high standing in the literary and journalistic ﬁ eld who
answered, “It is my opinion that it would let loose the wheels of
purgatory.” . . .
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Ambivalent Sexism at Home and at Work 445
There are spheres in which feeling should be paramount . . . the
realm of gentler and holier and kindlier attributes that make the
name of wife, mother and sister . . . but it is not in harmony with
suffrage and has no place in government.
—Nebraska Men’s Association Opposed
to Woman Suffrage, Omaha, 1914
Giving women the vote created neither heaven nor hell on earth. Neverthe-
less, we cite this admittedly quaint but sexist manifesto to illustrate the main
themes of our chapter. In ambivalent sexist ideology, women are viewed as
adorable and sweet, subjectively positive traits that suit them to hearth and
home, but also as too emotional and insufﬁ ciently logical to accomplish the
work of the world (the writers blamed even the French Revolution on wom-
en’s passions). Ambivalent sexism theory (AST) reveals, like the quotation
above, how attitudes about women within heterosexual romantic relation-
ships are part and parcel of the justiﬁ cations (both subjectively benevolent
and hostile) that exclude women from high-status roles outside the home.
Indeed, we argue that subjectively benevolent views about women within
heterosexual relationships help to make sexist ideologies acceptable (and
even attractive) to many women. Although contemporary women’s (and
men’s) attitudes are less extreme than those of the “woman of high standing”
who feared that women’s suffrage “would let loose the wheels of purgatory,”
ambivalent sexism continues to justify limiting women’s roles in the public
In this chapter, we review how benevolent and hostile attitudes toward
women complement one another and give rise to discrimination against
women, according to AST (Glick & Fiske, 1996, 2001). We also consider em-
pirical ﬁ ndings that help to illustrate the relationship between sexism and
system justiﬁ cation, as endorsed and enacted by men and women. Next, we
examine how hostile and benevolent beliefs map onto romanticized ideals
about what men and women ought (and ought not) to be, and how these
beliefs shape people’s mate preferences. Finally, we review how these system
justifying beliefs spill over into the workplace and how they work to block
women’s progress in the public sphere.
AMBIVALENT SEXISM: THEORY AND FINDINGS
Ambivalent sexism theory contends that sexism is not rooted in unalloyed
antipathy. Rather, sexism is the combination of complementary gender
ideologies, held by both men and women worldwide (Glick, et al., 2000),
which serve to maintain the present social hierarchy. Benevolent sexism
(BS) is a paternalistic ideology in which women are subordinate beings,
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446 IMPLICATIONS FOR SELF, GROUP, AND SOCIETY
best suited for traditional, low-status roles, who need to be protected, cher-
ished, and revered for their virtue. Hostile sexism (HS), which does express
antipathy, is a combative ideology that is hostile toward women, who are
viewed as seeking to control men, whether by using their sexuality or femi-
nist ideology as a means to achieving status and power. The Ambivalent
Sexism Inventory (ASI; Glick & Fiske, 1996) is a 22-item self report mea-
sure, which includes both benevolent and hostile subscales and assesses
the extent to which people maintain benevolent and hostile attitudes to-
ward women. Examples of benevolent items are “Men are incomplete with-
out women,” “Women should be cherished and protected by men,” and
“Many women have a quality of purity that few men posses.” Hostile items
include statements such as “Women seek to gain power by getting control
over men,” “Many women get a kick out of teasing men by seeming sexu-
ally available and then refusing male advances,” and “When women lose
to men in a fair competition, they typically complain about being discrimi-
Hostile and benevolent sexism are the predictable products of the power
differences and interdependence between men and women, which deter-
mine the nature of patriarchy, gender differentiation, and heterosexual re-
lations; each domain reinforces the structural foundations of ambivalent
sexism. Patriarchy yields paternalism, the ideological justiﬁ cation of male
dominance. The hostile elements of patriarchy are based in dominative
paternalism, the belief that men ought to have more power than women
and the fear that women might usurp men’s power. In complement, the
benevolent elements of patriarchy are based in protective paternalism, the
belief that men need to protect and provide for the women on whom they
Gender differentiation refers to the social distinctions all cultures make
between men and women and the importance of gender identity in so-
cial hierarchy (Harris, 1991). Competitive gender differentiation justiﬁ es
women’s lower status through stereotypes of their inherent inferiority and
incompetence, consistent with the assumptions of antipathy theories of prej-
udice (e.g., social identity theory; Tajfel & Turner, 1986). On the other hand,
complementary gender differentiation stresses the functionality of women
in gender-conventional roles and accounts for the view that women are
“wonderful” because they are nurturing and supportive (Eagly & Mladinic,
Finally, heterosexual relations and sexual reproduction highlight the in-
terpersonal interdependence of men and women. The hostile interpretation
of this interdependence is that women are purportedly able to “use” sex to
control men, whereas the benevolent interpretation asserts that women are a
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Ambivalent Sexism at Home and at Work 447
valuable resource (e.g., essential for true happiness), even if they are (in some
Both men and women report subscribing to these ideologies, albeit to
varying degrees (Glick & Fiske, 1996; Kilianski & Rudman, 1998). Speciﬁ cally,
across six U.S. samples, men consistently scored higher than women on HS,
presumably because it is not in women’s self-interest to endorse the hostile
components of patriarchy, gender differentiation, and heterosexual intimacy.
Men also scored higher than women on BS (in ﬁ ve out of six samples); how-
ever, the gender gap for BS was signiﬁ cantly smaller (Glick & Fiske, 2001).
More important, the two subscales were positively correlated in U.S. and
cross-cultural samples. The HS–BS correlation, however, was signiﬁ cant for
women in 18 out of 19 samples, whereas, it was signiﬁ cant for men in 13 out
of 19 samples. Moreover, averaging across the 19 samples, the correlation
was signiﬁ cantly stronger for women as compared to men (average r = .37
versus .23; t (18) = 5.02, p < .01), suggesting that the relationship is stronger
and more universal among female participants. Why do these attitudes per-
sist even in the face of considerable social changes in gender relations? How,
in particular, are women induced to accept these beliefs (even if to a lesser
degree than men)?
Men are socially dominant by many measures (e.g., presence in high- status
roles, greater income) (United Nations Development Programme, 2006). Ac-
cording to system justiﬁ cation theory, people are motivated to create beliefs
that reinforce the status quo, so that they can see the social system in which
they live as fair and legitimate ( Jost & Banaji, 1994). Therefore system justi-
fying gender ideologies emerge that reﬂ ect and stabilize the current system.
Hostility alone, however, is a difﬁ cult strategy for keeping subordinates in
check. This leads dominant groups to prefer paternalistic ideologies toward
subordinates in order to justify the hierarchy, through conferring beneﬁ ts
upon subordinates to keep them complacent ( Jackman, 1994). Subordinates,
ever sensitive to their position and the cultural view, are inﬂ uenced by sta-
tus beliefs in their own behavior, and cooperate to maintain amicable condi-
tions (Sechrist & Stangor, 2001). The preference for paternalism as a system
justifying strategy is energized and made particularly necessary in the case
of gender because the dominant group has especially strong incentives to
reward and mollify the subordinate group members on whom they rely, en-
couraging warmth and cooperation within intimate heterosexual relation-
ships. Thus, BS is strongly rooted in the intimate interdependence of men and
women (i.e., within heterosexual romantic relationships). Overtly paternal-
istic ideologies toward racial and ethnic groups have largely broken down
and been exposed as exploitative in contemporary societies (e.g., consider
how antiquated as well as racist older depictions of Blacks—e.g., the “Uncle
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448 IMPLICATIONS FOR SELF, GROUP, AND SOCIETY
Tom” type of character in ﬁ lms that preceded the Civil Rights movement or
White entertainers’ use of “black-face”—nw seem). In contrast, paternalism
toward women remains quite strong (e.g., the notion that women ought to
be rescued ﬁ rst in emergencies), especially within the context of romantic
relationships (e.g., consider the likely reaction to a husband who takes the
last seat in the lifeboat, abandoning his wife on a sinking ship).
These paternalistic beliefs about men and women probably also generate
acceptance because they can be viewed as ﬂ attering toward both sexes. For
men, being a “protector and provider” is a much more subjectively positive
identity than being an “exploiter” and provides greater legitimacy for their
social dominance. For women, the view that they are pure, morally superior,
and deserving of men’s protection is also a subjectively positive (even if pa-
tronizing) view of their group. Thus, for women, BS potentially solves the
conﬂ ict between ego justiﬁ cation, group justiﬁ cation, and system justiﬁ ca-
tion that Jost and Banaji (1994) suggest afﬂ icts many subordinated groups
(for whom justifying the system typically would entail embracing a negative
view of themselves and/or their group).
Ambivalent sexism theory builds on the existing theories of gender-
based system justiﬁ cation by demonstrating why it is that both hostile and
benevolent ideologies contribute to persistent prejudice and discrimination
against women. First, although BS is seemingly innocuous, and in certain
situations is perceived as beneﬁ cial by women as well as men, it is problem-
atic because it is yoked to HS. At the societal level, BS does not exist without
HS and the resulting gender inequality. Comparisons of national averages
from 19 countries illustrate that benevolent and hostile sexism are highly
correlated with one another, and negatively correlated with other indicators
of gender equality in economic and political life (Glick, Fiske, et al., 2000).
Second, BS is selectively favorable toward women who occupy traditional
female roles. Ambivalent sexists reconcile their presumably conﬂ icting ide-
ologies about women by directing benevolent beliefs toward traditional
women (idealizing homemakers) and hostile beliefs toward nontraditional
women (disliking career women) (Glick, Diebold, Bailey-Werner, & Zhu,
1997). Lastly, BS reduces women’s resistance to prejudice and discrimina-
tion, because benevolence can be used effectively to justify discriminatory
acts (Moya, Glick, Expósito, De Lemus, & Hart, 2007).
Further, recent work reveals that benevolent and hostile sexism are re-
lated to a variety of correlates of political ideology. The evidence suggest
that these individual differences validate sexism as system support, but in
two distinct ways. Hostile sexism relates more to competition for status and
power, whereas BS relates more to controlling women. For example, social
dominance orientation and the Protestant work ethic (both of which relate
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Ambivalent Sexism at Home and at Work 449
to concerns for status and intergroup competition) predict individuals’ en-
dorsement of HS (Christopher & Mull, 2006; Sibley, Wilson, & Duckitt, in
press). A symbolic example of how HS relates to diminishing women’s status
is that it predicts the likelihood of passing on female- and male- disparaging
jokes, as well as how funny men think they are (Thomas & Esses, 2004).
In contrast, right-wing authoritarianism, which has been shown to relate
to concerns with maintaining control and traditional values, predicts BS
(Christopher & Mull, 2006). Also along the lines of control and ambiguity
intolerance, intrinsic religiosity, extrinsic religiosity, and scriptural literalism
all positively relate to BS, but not HS (Burn & Busso, 2005), as does Catholi-
cism (Glick, Lameiras, Castro, 2002).
Ambivalently sexist ideologies work together not only to justify gen-
der hierarchy, but to maintain it by providing incentives (BS) for women to
fulﬁ ll gender-traditional ideals and punishments (HS) for those who seek
“too much” status and power. Further, AST, the content of Glick and Fiske’s
(1996) measure of ambivalent sexism, and the ﬁ ndings described earlier, are
all consistent with the notion that BS accomplishes this goal mainly through
the idealization of women within heterosexual romantic relationships and
HS by derogating women who pose a threat to men’s status and power, espe-
cially in the workplace (where women have increasingly assumed positions
of authority). This is not to say that HS is irrelevant within relationships or
that BS has no effect on how women are treated in the workplace. Indeed, we
argue here that although BS is primarily sustained in contemporary society
because of its connection to heterosexual romance, it both serves to legitimize
HS and also itself spills over to the treatment of women at work. First, we
consider how ambivalent sexism (especially BS) is related to how men and
women conceive of and behave in heterosexual romantic relationships. We
then consider how the idealization of women in the private realm plays into
their exclusion from power and status in the public realm of the workplace.
AMBIVALENT SEXISM AT HOME,
IN CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS
Formed out of partners’ interdependence, BS functions to maintain that inter-
dependence by depicting men and women as complementary to each other:
men need women as caretakers and mothers to their offspring; women need
men to provide for them and keep them safe. These benevolent gender ideolo-
gies allow people to express positive views of their romantic partners while
nevertheless endorsing system justifying beliefs that perpetuate the power
differential between men and women by idealizing traditional partners, trans-
planting men’s greater power in society to heterosexual close relationships.
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450 IMPLICATIONS FOR SELF, GROUP, AND SOCIETY
Benevolent sexism is associated with traditionalism (Christopher & Mull,
2006; Sibley et al., in press). Speciﬁ cally, BS is negatively related to Schwartz’s
(1992) self-direction values and positively associated with traditional val-
ues (Feather, 2004). Self-direction values include prioritizing independent
thought and action, freedom, and choosing one’s own goals. Traditional val-
ues, on the other hand, concern one’s cultural and religious customs. Such
traditionalism has very different consequences for women and men. Tradi-
tional values within heterosexual romantic relationships emphasize men’s
role as protector and provider, which requires success in the wider world. In
contrast, traditional values idealize women as homemakers who place home
life above worldly success, and BS promises them that they will achieve se-
curity and be provided for if they do so. Women high in BS, for example, are
more likely to use cosmetics, presumably because they feel dependent on at-
tracting a man who will provide (Franzoi, 2001). Furthermore, women who
implicitly associate their partner with chivalrous images show less interest
in education and career goals (Rudman & Heppen, 2003). In other words, a
woman who tends to think of her partner as a kind of Prince Charming is less
likely to pursue high-status or high-paying work. Not surprising then, BS is
associated with paternalistic chivalry (Viki, Abrams, & Hutchison, 2003).
Benevolent sexism also predicts evaluations of women (and presumably,
men also) depending on how they meet expectations of their gender. They
predict both positive responses to women who fulﬁ ll traditional female roles
(Glick, et al. 1997; Sibley & Wilson, 2004), and negative evaluations of women
who violate societal expectations of a chaste and virtuous female, such as
women who engage in premarital sex (Sakalli-Ugurlu & Glick, 2003). Benev-
olent sexism is also related to people’s blaming of victims of acquaintance
rape when their initial behavior violates ideals of feminine virtue (Abrams,
Viki, Masser, & Bohner, 2003; Viki & Abrams, 2002). Thus, benevolently sex-
ist ideology serves as a control strategy to keep women in check. Within close
relationships themselves, this is especially evident in the prescriptions and
proscriptions, or rules, that people hold about ideal romantic partners.
Lee, Fiske, and Glick (2007) investigated the intersection of sexist ideolo-
gies and close relationship ideals, especially how benevolent ideologies guide
personal relationship preferences (in terms of prescriptive and proscriptive
expectations of an ideal partner). Previous research has documented consis-
tent gender differences in mate preferences, with men preferring younger
women and women preferring men with resources and status (Buss, 1989;
Eagly & Wood, 1999). Two studies have empirically linked BS to these gender
differences. In one, BS predicted women’s preferences for an older man with
good earning potential and men’s preferences for a younger woman who
can cook (Eastwick et al., 2005). Likewise, BS predicted women’s tendency to
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Ambivalent Sexism at Home and at Work 451
look for a man with good earning potential and for men to look for a chaste
partner ( Johannesen-Schmidt & Eagly, 2002). Lee and colleagues (2007) ex-
amined, in addition to these gender differences in close relationship prefer-
ences, the rules that individuals establish for their partner, both the desired
aspects and the boundaries for undesired characteristics.
Speciﬁ cally, Lee and colleagues (2007) asked undergraduate students to
describe the ideal close relationship partner’s characteristics, including ap-
pearance (e.g., face, attractiveness), attributes (e.g., nice, funny), behavior
(e.g., communicates with me, challenges me to be better), roles (e.g., con-
ﬁ dante, caretaker), and origins (e.g., a particular ethnicity, a particular reli-
gious background). A reduced list of prescriptions was compiled from these
responses. Likewise, a list of proscriptions was created from participants’ re-
sponses to what the ideal partner should not be like or do. A different sample
of participants rated the importance of these prescriptions and proscriptions,
as well as their agreement with items from the short version of the Ambiva-
lent Sexism Inventory (Glick & Fiske, 1996).
Factor analysis revealed a great deal of overlap between women and men
on prescriptive ideals, revealing a few common concerns among men and
women. First, a prescription for a traditional partner emerged. In addition,
both men and women had some version of a strength prescription (e.g., as-
sertive). A warmth prescription describing a considerate and caring person,
and an attractiveness prescription, including general descriptions of physi-
cal appeal (e.g., good-looking, striking appearance), were similar for both
genders. Finally, women’s preferences revealed a ﬁ fth dimension, a romantic
prescription for the male partner to be good with kids and to complete her—
also consistent with the notion that, due to dependence on men for resources,
women have a strong need to assess how willing the male partner is to invest
in her and her offspring.
Proscriptive ideals (i.e., clusters of undesirable traits prohibited in part-
ners) received less agreement between the sexes. Both men and women did
uphold some “general rejection” criteria, various characteristics that elimi-
nated a potential partner on the spot. For example, an uncaring or manip-
ulative partner would call for prompt rejection. Another concern men and
women shared was a partner too stereotypically feminine (e.g., too girly).
The women were generally less likely to endorse sexist ideologies (such
as HS and BS) than men. However, to the degree that they were sexist, it more
strongly guided women’s partner preferences than it did men’s. Further, BS
more strongly related to relationship ideals than did HS. Correlational and
regression analyses showed that the perceived importance of most relation-
ship ideals (both prescriptive and proscriptive) held by the female partici-
pants related to their belief in BS. The general pattern that emerged from
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452 IMPLICATIONS FOR SELF, GROUP, AND SOCIETY
the analyses revealed that benevolent ideology uniquely explained more
variance for more relationship ideals than did hostile ideology, especially for
women. More speciﬁ cally, among women, BS was positively related to desire
for a romantic, strong partner who fulﬁ lls a traditional male role and is not
too feminine, as well as negatively related to an abusive or clingy partner.
Perhaps the most disturbing part is that the more a woman endorses benevo-
lently sexist beliefs, the less she rejected partners who might be abusive. Pos-
sibly, she requires a higher threshold before considering her partner’s acts
as abusive or intolerable. Recent research shows that women who are high
in BS were more likely to interpret a romantic partner’s restrictions on their
behavior as due to benevolent motives (he loves me and wants to protect me)
(Moya, et al., 2007).
In sum, Lee and colleagues’ (2007) study demonstrates that benevolently
sexist attitudes inﬂ uence both men’s and women’s preferences for tradi-
tional partners, with stronger effects for women. The pattern of ﬁ ndings re-
veals that BS is related more strongly to women’s ideals for a traditional
partner (described in various ways as romantic, strong, and fulﬁ lling a tra-
ditional male role) than men’s ideals, and more than HS guides both men’s
and women’s relationship ideals. Although women tend to reject overtly HS,
they are more willing to endorse benevolently sexist beliefs (Glick, Fiske,
et al., 2000). Women’s endorsement of BS, in turn, predicts their preferences
for traditional close relationship partners.
How important are women’s adherence to benevolently sexist beliefs and,
relatedly, their traditional partner preferences for the justiﬁ cation and main-
tenance of gender hierarchy? We suggest that that answer is “extremely!” In
cross-national comparisons, women’s endorsement of BS has been found to
be strongly related (more so than men’s) to their adherence to other gender-
traditional ideologies, including HS (Glick, Fiske, et al., 2000; Glick, Lamei-
ras, Fiske, et al., 2004). A recent longitudinal study more directly suggests
that women’s endorsement of BS leads them, over time, to be more likely
to embrace HS (Sibley, Overall, & Duckitt, 2006). Finally, mere exposure to
BS has been found to increase women’s agreement with general system jus-
tifying beliefs ( Jost & Kay, 2005). Thus, women’s endorsement of BS (which
prominently features the conviction that a male partner will protect and pro-
vide for them) seems to be a key ingredient in getting women to accept a
traditional role, presumably by sweetening the pot, so that many women
are more content to value their domestic roles more than work opportunities
outside the home.
In addition to endorsement of BS itself, the traditional relationship val-
ues that BS reinforces are also important. The evolutionary view argues
that women’s mate preferences have selected men to be hypercompeti-
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Ambivalent Sexism at Home and at Work 453
tive seekers of status and resources, resulting in patriarchy (Trivers, 1972;
Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Alternatively, the social structural view contends
that women’s preferences for powerful male partners is a response to pa-
triarchy, because when women depend on men for resources, they have
great incentive to prefer the men who are most successful at amassing
them (Eastwick et al., 2005). Whether one embraces either (or both) of these
views, women’s partner preferences are important because they increase
men’s incentive to compete for status and resources, at the very least per-
petuating a system in which men are likely to continue to dominate and to
resent women’s forays into powerful work roles (which shifts the balance
of power both at work and in relationships, by reducing women’s economic
dependence on men).
Thus, women’s benevolently sexist preferences in romantic relationships
are intimately connected to sexist beliefs and behaviors that affect women’s
participation in the workplace. Benevolently sexist ideals of women in rela-
tionships are the ﬂ ip side of hostile sexist views of the inappropriateness of
women valuing careers over home life. The stereotypically sweet traits that
suit women to their domestic role conﬂ ict with the harsher masculine traits
associated with powerful work roles. Women who exhibit these highly mas-
culine traits risk being viewed as unattractive to men (Prentice & Carranza,
2002). This, in combination with the subjective positivity of benevolently
sexist ideals of womanhood, leads many women to accept BS and the notion
that a powerful male partner (rather than an independent career) will protect
and provide for their well-being. In the next section, we explore how the BS
associated with the home sometimes spills over into the workplace, but also
serves as a justiﬁ cation within the workplace context for the HS that excludes
women from powerful work roles.
AMBIVALENT SEXISM IN THE WORKPLACE
By some accounts, women have closed the gender gap in the professional
realm. In the United States, women constitute 46% of the paid labor force (U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006a) and 50% of paid managers ( U.S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics, 2006b). In 2004, 51% of the bachelor degrees awarded went
to women, as did 52% of advanced degrees, 35% of professional degrees, and
33% of doctorate degrees (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2004). However, in For-
tune 500 companies, women represent only 15.6% of top ofﬁ cers, and 6.7% of
most highly paid ofﬁ cers (Catalyst, 2006). In Congress, only 14% of Senators
and 15% of Congressional Representatives are female (Center for the Ameri-
can Woman and Politics, 2006). Clearly, the ratio of women in powerful lead-
ership positions falls disturbingly short of the population’s ratio.
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454 IMPLICATIONS FOR SELF, GROUP, AND SOCIETY
Some research suggests that these disparities originate in the difﬁ culty
some individuals have in reconciling their beliefs about women and their
beliefs about the nature of elite professional positions. Like stereotypes about
social groups, occupation stereotypes are seen as having well-deﬁ ned gender
and status dimensions. Participants’ images of job types load on two orthog-
onal factors: prestige and gender type (Glick, Wilk, & Perreault, 1995). How-
ever, speciﬁ c gender-related attributes (e.g., masculine personality traits)
load on the perceived occupational prestige factor, indicating that these at-
tributes are more closely related to prestige than to perceived gender-type of
the job. Indeed, masculine traits predict the prestige and salary of jobs (Glick,
1991). Thus, if employers have to hire someone for a prestigious position,
they are more likely to value masculine qualities and therefore more likely to
look for a man as the appropriate candidate.
Unfortunately, despite the overall subjective positivity of stereotypes
about women, which tend to be more favorable than stereotypes about men
(Eagly & Mladinic, 1993), the traits assigned to women are not those that
are typically valued at work (especially for prestigious jobs). Social-role
theory (Eagly, 1987) posits that gendered division of labor is the source of
the favorable elements of stereotypes about women; women are associated
with domestic roles (e.g., mother), which require communal qualities (e.g.,
warmth, patience), whereas men are associated with high-status roles (e.g.,
professional), which require agentic traits (e.g., competence, independence).
This theory is consistent with the notion that benevolently sexist beliefs are
rooted in women’s domestic and relationship roles and that these beliefs, in
turn, lead people to view women as less suited to high-status jobs outside
the home. Although the content of stereotypes for women are subjectively
positive, they are low in status. In a workplace situation, this means that
women are favored for low-status, feminine jobs, which include support po-
sitions that serve, mainly, male superiors (e.g., secretary) or paid versions of
women’s traditional domestic role (e.g., day care worker). When BS spills
over into the workplace, women may be seen as warmer, but are presumed
to be less competent than men, so that women are conﬁ ned to feminine and
low-status roles. Additionally, BS in the workplace may elicit patronizing
discrimination (Glick & Fiske, 2007), which includes but is not limited to
handicapping via overhelping, taking over, and limiting the responsibilities
of targets (Rudman, Glick, & Phelan, 2007).
Patronizing discrimination, which is embedded in BS, maintains the
dominant group’s higher status. The double-edged nature of patronizing
discrimination is precisely what makes BS so insidious. It is not overtly hos-
tile and, in many cases, is seemingly beneﬁ cial to the recipient. Furthermore,
the perpetrator may think he is helping the recipient. Women may accept
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Ambivalent Sexism at Home and at Work 455
paternalistic gestures either because they are not aware that they reinforce
the notion that women are suitable only for low-status roles, or because they
understand that to cooperate and accept benevolent gestures is a better alter-
native to enduring overt hostility.
Consider the consequences of refusing benevolent gestures or violating
feminine norms. If a woman elects to reject patronizing assistance, she is seen
uncooperative. As a result, the beneﬁ ts of paternalism reserved for women
who stick to traditional gendered behavior are revoked, and backlash rooted
in HS can take its place. This is the paradox that women face in performance
settings: they have to provide strong counter-stereotypical information (e.g.,
that they are agentic and competent) in order to demonstrate that they are
qualiﬁ ed for high-status professional roles (Glick, Zion, & Nelson, 1988), but
this deviation from prescribed and proscribed gender norms can elicit a back-
lash effect (Rudman, 1998). Manifestations of backlash effects include hiring
discrimination (Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004), being judged more
harshly (Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992), being sabotaged (Rudman &
airchild, 2004), and being sexually harassed (Fiske & Glick, 1995). Research
demonstrates that endorsement of HS, but not BS, is related to more negative
evaluations and recommendations for female candidates for management po-
sitions, but more positive recommendations for male candidates (Masser &
Abrams, 2004). Moreover, women are bound by workplace culture norms; re-
search indicates that the social costs of making attributions to discrimination
prevent stigmatized individuals from dealing with instances in which they
have been discriminated against (Kaiser & Miller, 2001).
Gender stereotypes in concert with ambivalent sexism breed hostility to-
ward men as well. Benevolent attitudes toward men are based on the belief
that men must be instrumental and protective, whereas hostile attitudes to-
ward men are based on resentment of men’s social dominance (Glick & Fiske,
1999). Although HS is the origin of harassment for both genders, the moti-
vation the backlash against men and women differs. Women’s harassment
of men comes from female offenders’ needs to challenge male dominance,
whereas harassment of women arises from the need to reinforce female sub-
ordinate status (Berdahl, Magley, & Waldo, 1996). Same-sex sexual harass-
ment of men occurs because targeted men do not ﬁ t offenders’ gender-role
stereotypes of heterosexual hypermasculinity; therefore these men incur
backlash effects similar to those of women who deviate from gender norms
(Stockdale, Visio, & Batra, 1999).
Working mothers pose a paradox all their own. Research from the Ste-
reotype Content Model (Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002) demonstrates that
homemakers are seen as cooperative and having low status and are there-
fore characterized as warm, but not competent. On the other hand, female
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456 IMPLICATIONS FOR SELF, GROUP, AND SOCIETY
professionals are seen as competitive and having high status and are there-
fore characterized as competent, but not warm. Glick and colleagues (1997)
have found that ambivalent sexists often reconcile their polarized attitudes
toward women by reserving benevolence for traditional women (e.g., home-
makers) and hostility for nontraditional women (e.g., business women).
What happens when a mother, normally a target of benevolence and pa-
ternalistic prejudice, works in a setting where women are more often the tar-
get of hostility and envious prejudice? Professional women exchange their
perceived competence for perceived warmth when they become mothers.
Cuddy, Fiske, and Glick (2004) found that a woman with a child was not
only perceived as less competent that a woman without a child, she was per-
ceived as less competent than she was before becoming a mother. Moreover,
competence predicted the likelihood that participants would hire, promote,
or further train an employee, whereas warmth did not, indicating that the
gain in warmth does not aid women, but the loss in competence does de-
tract from their appeal as an employee. Thus, having a child changes the
stereotypes that are associated with that woman, placing her in the domestic,
warm, and incompetent category, making her seem unﬁ t for the work force.
More recently, Heilman and Okimoto (2007) demonstrated another possible
consequence of becoming a working mother. In this study, penalties toward
competent (but cold) women were reduced when participants learned that
the target was a mother. In this case, becoming a mother did not lead to a di-
rect warmth–competence trade-off. Still, this ﬁ nding again demonstrates how
difﬁ cult it is for women to be seen as simultaneously warm and competent
in the absence of explicit evidence that they are fulﬁ lling gender- prescribed
roles (e.g., mother). Working mothers are not the only case in which wom-
en’s gender role inhibits the perception of their work role, because gender is
such a salient social category (Fiske, 1998).
Sex role spillover (Gutek & Morasch, 1982) is the merging of gender roles
with work roles. In male-dominated settings, sex role and work role merge
for men by mere association, whereas women are highlighted as the visible
minority because their gender is incongruent with the sex role normally as-
sociated with the job (Gutek & Cohen, 1987). Making gender salient activates
associated status beliefs, which can lead perceivers to question a woman’s
qualiﬁ cations, e.g., “She must be an afﬁ rmative action hire.” Additionally,
women in nontraditional jobs experience more aggressive manifestations of
sex role spillover in the form of sexual overtures and harassment because
“woman as sex object” is another obvious element of their sex role (Gutek &
Morasch, 1982). A hostile interpretation of heterosexual intimacy can lead
perceivers to infer that female coworkers acquired their positions illegiti-
mately (e.g., by sleeping with a superior), because sexuality is supposedly
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Ambivalent Sexism at Home and at Work 457
the domain in which women have the perceived ability to control men.
Being perceived as “sexy” can elicit hostile reactions and lead people to per-
ceive sexual harassment as justiﬁ ed (Muehlenhard & MacNaughton, 1988).
Although women are less tolerant of harassment than men are, ambivalent
sexism and hostility toward women predicts tolerance above and beyond
gender (Russell & Trigg, 2004).
Unfortunately, being seen as submissive can also lead to exploitation
(Richard, Rollerson, & Phillips, 1970). Because women do not believe that
they can be seen simultaneously as competent and sexual (Gutek, 1989),
ﬂ irtatiousness and harassment have negative consequences for women’s self-
conﬁ dence (Satterﬁ eld & Muehlenhard, 1997). Moreover, if women internal-
ize the objectiﬁ cation, it can impact their future performance (Fredrickson,
Roberts, Noll, Quinn, & Twenge, 1998).
The pernicious effects of benevolent and hostile attitudes, however sub-
tle, have critical implications for gender relations and ratios in the work-
place. Ambivalent sexism theory provides a useful framework by which to
approach these issues and offers a way to explicate the intricacies of system
justiﬁ cation enacted by women and men in the workplace.
We have suggested that ambivalent sexism shapes system maintaining be-
havior in both the private and public spheres, though neither is earthly
heaven nor purgatory as the two sides of the suffrage movement predicted.
Our central contention here is that the system justifying attitudes and the re-
sulting discrimination that restricts women in the public sphere cannot be
properly understood without considering well-entrenched, benevolently sex-
ist beliefs about women’s and men’s roles in romantic relationships and home
life. These romanticized ideals remain strong in contemporary society and—
because they ﬂ atter each sex, although in very different ways—continue to be
attractive to both women and men.
Because of its subjectively positive tenor, BS seems harmless. Further, be-
cause it primarily reﬂ ects attitudes about women and men in romantic rela-
tionships, it hardly seems like a prime candidate for explaining why women
face a glass ceiling at work. Yet, benevolently sexist ideals reinforce the view
that women’s priority should be hearth and home, as well as that men ought
to excel in the competitive world of work, so that they can effectively protect
and provide for their female dependents. These system justifying beliefs not
only set up the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for women as leaders, but
the hard bigotry of backlash against women who fail to live up to benevo-
lently sexist prescriptions. Hostile sexism and the exclusion of women who
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458 IMPLICATIONS FOR SELF, GROUP, AND SOCIETY
seek or obtain power and status in the public realm is legitimated and jus-
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ideals of women as fragile damsels and men as their white knights. How-
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and emphasize the importance of social structure, individuals may be able
to reduce the fallout of these system justifying beliefs both in the home and
at work. Disadvantage need not lead to system justiﬁ cation, and we would
encourage resistance rather than denial or avoidance (e.g., see Reicher &
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