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Sexist prejudice: explanatory theories

Sexist prejudice: explanatory theories

May 6, 2021

In 2005, in Spain, the Organic Law on Comprehensive Protection Measures against Gender Violence to try to intervene in social problems such as gender violence, domestic violence or domestic terrorism.

Article 1.1 of the aforementioned Law indicates that violence occurs as a manifestation of discrimination, the situation of inequality and the power relations of men over women.

Although many believe that this inequality or "marginalization" towards the female sex is being exaggerated or that, directly, it does not exist, it shows that such a problem is due to clearly psychosocial factors. Is for that reason that from the Social Psychology studies have been realized on the matter. To solve a problem, you have to understand it, know how it operates and what factors reproduce it.

Background in the study of the status of women

Janet Taylor Spence creates in the 70s the Scale of Attitudes towards Women, which proved to be very useful and continues to be so today. In it, beliefs are measured about the rights and roles of men and women that assess a different treatment between both sexes emphasizing that women do not perform certain tasks as well as men.

Fortunately, the results of the application of this scale have varied over the years and, although today women continue to be more equal than men, the score of the latter has increased. In our country, the Scale on Gender Identity. The results conclude that men with a lower educational level and older score in more prejudicial attitudes towards the female sex .

Theory of ambivalent sexism

The ambivalence that is referred to in the name of this theory of sexism refers to the coexistence of two types of sexism that complement each other: hostile sexism and benevolent sexism.

Hostile sexism

By which women are considered as an inferior group that must be subordinated to the control of men. How can we justify its existence?

For the dominant paternalism, which underlies the belief that men should have more power than women, so they are afraid that they can usurp the status of dominance. For example, in the private sphere within a heterosexual relationship it is the male who must make the important decisions. For a hostile sexist the prototypical characteristics of women (as their greater sensitivity) make them less prone to roles of higher status.

Within heterosexual relationships, hostility includes the belief that women are manipulative with men and that, in addition, exert power over men through sexual satisfaction. With the paradox that although they consider them subordinate, they depend on them sexually.

Benevolent sexism

In this second one adopts a "positive" connotation towards women but subject to certain functions . This kind of sexism is explained by the protective paternalism, according to which, women depend on men and they must protect them. For example, to attend to women before men in case of emergency. The complementary sex differentiation for the benevolent sexist is that the feminine characteristics complement them, however, their roles will always be of less status than those that he can or should exercise.

Finally, in this sexism heterosexual intimacy is also based on cooperation, however, the physical and psychological aggression towards their partner has been a way to control them to maintain inequality.

How does a man react to the ambivalent conflict?

To resolve the unpleasant psychological conflict that occurs before an ambivalent man towards the opposite sex, one can choose to react in two ways.

First of all, you can Divide the woman into subparts by evaluating each one differently . They can, for example, love some women (for example, their daughters) and hate others (for example, those who defend gender equality). The problem with this form of resolving the conflict is that the subdivision of women can lead to the fact that not all women fit into one of these categories.

Secondly, sexists can negatively evaluate powerful women but respect them for being competent in their professional life . Or vice versa, to feel affection towards subordinated women but perceive them as incompetent.What sexists must take into account is that, in real life, they do not interact with stereotypes but with women of flesh and blood who can be included in many categories (housewife, mother, worker with positions of responsibility, etc.). ) for which they will have ambivalent feelings, especially if they maintain some type of social or affective bond with them.


The theories that address the issue of sexist prejudices should understand the problem as part of a psychosocial dynamics . On the one hand, we must study about the styles of thought linked to sexism, and on the other we must study the way in which individuals interact with each other and with the environment. In this way you can get to understand a phenomenon as complex as this.

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