Sex Roles

, Volume 79, Issue 9–10, pp 505–518 | Cite as

Changing Versus Protecting the Status Quo: Why Men and Women Engage in Different Types of Action on Behalf of Women

  • Helena R. M. RadkeEmail author
  • Matthew J. Hornsey
  • Fiona Kate Barlow
Original Article


We investigate women’s and men’s willingness to engage in action on behalf of women, and we identify two distinct categories of behavior: action that aims to challenge gender inequality (feminist action) and action that aims to protect women from violence (protective action). Three online studies were conducted. For each study, a U.S. community sample was recruited. In Study 1 (n = 602), women reported greater intentions to engage in feminist action than men did. Men, however, were just as willing as women to participate in protective action. In Study 2 (n = 726), we replicated these gender differences and found that protective action was positively predicted by benevolent sexism among men. In Study 3 (N = 582), we investigated why women reported greater intentions to engage in feminist action compared to men. We found that women were more aware of gender inequality, which was associated with identification as a feminist, and through this, intentions to engage in feminist action. Awareness of gender inequality also predicted intentions to engage in protective action among women. Men, however, were less aware of gender inequality, which was associated with the belief that feminist action leads to women having more rights than men do and subsequently greater willingness to participate in protective action. Our results can assist social policymakers and activists to develop appropriate campaigns for gender equality if their goal is to challenge, rather than protect women from, the status quo.


Sexism Gender Feminism Collective action Feminist consciousness Zero-sum 



The third author (Fiona Kate Barlow) is funded by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT150100147).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interests

There are no financial or non-financial conflict of interests for this project.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was received from human participants for this project.

Supplementary material

11199_2017_884_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 18 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helena R. M. Radke
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthew J. Hornsey
    • 2
  • Fiona Kate Barlow
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for PsychologyUniversity of OsnabrückOsnabrückGermany
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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