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Resisting Prejudice Every Day: Exploring Women’s Assertive Responses to Anti-Black Racism, Anti-Semitism, Heterosexism, and Sexism


Past lab and scenario research on sexism suggests that women are more likely to contemplate than to engage in assertive confrontation of prejudice. The present study was designed to explore how the competing cultural forces of activist norms and gender role prescriptions for women to be passive and accommodating may contribute to women’s response strategies. Women were asked to keep diaries of incidents of anti-Black racism, anti-Semitism, heterosexism, and sexism, including why they responded, how they responded, and the consequences of their responses. Participants were about as likely to report they were motivated by activist goals as they were to report being motivated by gender role consistent goals to avoid conflict. Those with gender role-consistent goals were less likely to respond assertively. Participants were more likely to consider assertive responses (for 75% of incidents) than to actually make them (for 40% of incidents). Assertive responders did, however, report better outcomes on a variety of indicators of satisfaction and closure, at the expense of heightened interpersonal conflict. Results are discussed with respect to the personal and social implications of responding to interpersonal prejudice.

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  1. 1.

    Many approaches to studying targets’ responses to prejudice put heavier emphasis on intrapsychic coping, which is not the focus of the present study (e.g., Allport,1954; Citron, Chein, & Harding, 1950; Fitzgerald & Ormerod, 1993; Fitzgerald, Swann, & Fischer, 1995; Lott & Rocchio, 1997; Swim et al., 1998; Tajfel & Turner, 1979, 1986; Wright, Taylor, & Moghaddam,1990).

  2. 2.

    Although these are not mutually exclusive categories in the lived experience of prejudice (e.g., one can experience a combination of sexism and racism), separating the samples helped to gather a wider range of experiences.

  3. 3.

    Participants completed short post-measures as a check on how the study influenced perceptions and behaviors; items were rated on a 0 (decreased) to 7 (increased) scale, with a midpoint of 3.5 (no effects). There were not subsample differences; participants reported that the study had little effect on noticing prejudice (M = 3.80, sd = 0.77), thinking about prejudice (M =  3.94, sd = 0.78), discussing prejudice (M = 3.52, sd = 0.70), labeling incidents as prejudicial (M = 3.51 sd = 0.80), being upset about incidents (M = 3.40, sd = 0.68), or making assertive responses (M = 3.38, sd = 0.64).

  4. 4.

    Incidents recalled from within the year may have added recall distortion (e.g., more severe; Hyers et al., 2006). After describing the incidents, participants filled out two items used as a check that incidents were comparable across groups in severity and certainty of prejudice (with 0 = low to 10 = high). The anti-Semitism subsample included the greatest proportion of entries recalled from the last year, but there were no significant group differences in severity F(l, 85) = 1.45, nor certainty ratings, F(l, 85) = 1.45.

  5. 5.

    There was a slight variation in the process of coding the incidents, because their experiences with prejudice reflect unique ingroup histories. Initial themes were gathered for each of group separately, then themes were merged into a single classification scheme which allowed for common and unique aspects of the prejudices to be characterized.

  6. 6.

    Incidents were reported during the week by 81% of anti-Black racism, 81% of heterosexism, 77% of sexism, and 30% of anti-Semitism group participants. The recent incident from the last year was used as a substitute, if no incident occured during the week.

  7. 7.

    No intersections of prejudice were reported in any incidents. Participants were asked if they did not report any incidents and to explain why they did not document them. No mention was made of non-reporting because of intersecting prejudices. It may be that these types of incidents are experienced or labeled at lower frequencies and therefore not making it into the incidents reported here. In the anti-Semitism and anti-Black racism focus group discussions, the issue did arise. For example, one participant noted of gendered racism, “I don’t know if it was because I’m a woman, I don’t know if it was because I was Black, I don’t know if it’s the way I looked. These subtle [incidents] are what I’m confused about.”


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Major support for this research was received from the Florence Geis Memorial Award through Division 35 (Psychology of Women) of the American Psychological Association. Additional support was provided from the Pennsylvania Psychological Foundation and the Research and Graduate Studies Office of the Pennsylvania State University. I would like to thank all of the participants and the prejudice research labs at Penn State University and at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, who kindly volunteered their time to make this study possible. I would like to thank my kind mentors, Janet Swim, Marylee Taylor, and Bill Cross. Special thanks to Israel Roling for his invaluable assistance in coordinating data collection and thanks to Susan Ritz for her helpful editorial comments.

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Correspondence to Lauri L. Hyers.

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Hyers, L.L. Resisting Prejudice Every Day: Exploring Women’s Assertive Responses to Anti-Black Racism, Anti-Semitism, Heterosexism, and Sexism. Sex Roles 56, 1–12 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-006-9142-8

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  • Target’s perspective
  • Everyday prejudice
  • Gender roles
  • Activism
  • Intergroup relations