Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 455–464 | Cite as

Sexist Attitudes Among Emerging Adult Women Readers of Fifty Shades Fiction

  • Lauren E. AltenburgerEmail author
  • Christin L. Carotta
  • Amy E. Bonomi
  • Anastasia Snyder
Original Paper


Stereotypical sexist representations of men and women in popular culture reinforce rigid views of masculinity (e.g., males as being strong, in control, masterful, and aggressive) and femininity (e.g., women as being fragile and weak, unassertive, peaceful, irrational, and driven by emotions). The present study examined associations between the fictional series Fifty Shades—one popular culture mechanism that includes pervasive traditional gender role representations—and underlying sexist beliefs among a sample of 715 women ages 18–24 years. Analyses revealed associations between Fifty Shades readership and sexism, as measured through the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory. Namely women who reported reading Fifty Shades had higher levels of ambivalent, benevolent, and hostile sexism. Further, those who interpreted Fifty Shades as “romantic” had higher levels of ambivalent and benevolent sexism. Our findings support prior empirical studies noting associations between interacting with aspects of popular culture, such as television and video games, and individual beliefs and behaviors.


Media Sexism Gender socialization Emerging adults Romance 


  1. Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55, 469–480. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.5.469.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bailey, M. J. (2006). More power to the pill: The impact of contraceptive freedom on women’s life cycle labor supply. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 121, 289–320. doi: 10.1093/qje/121.1.289.Google Scholar
  3. Bem, S. L. (1993). The lenses of gender: Transforming the debate on sexual inequality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bond, M. A., Punnett, L., Pyle, J. L., Cazeca, D., & Cooperman, M. (2004). Gendered work conditions, health, and work outcomes. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 9, 28–45. doi: 10.1037/1076-8998.9.1.28.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bonomi, A. E., Altenburger, L. E., & Walton, N. L. (2013). “Double crap!” Abuse and harmed identity in Fifty Shades of Grey. Journal of Women’s Health, 22, 733–744. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2013.4344.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bonomi, A. E., Nemeth, J., Altenburger, L. E., Anderson, M. L., Snyder, A., & Dotto, I. (2014). Fiction or not? Fifty Shades is associated with health risks in adolescent and young adult females. Journal of Women’s Health, 23, 720–728. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2014.4782.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Bonomi, A. E., Nichols, E., Carotta, C. L., Perry, S., & Kiuchi, K. (2015). Young women’s perceptions of the relationship in Fifty Shades of Grey. Journal of Women’s Health, 24, 1–10. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2015.5318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carter, S. J., Corra, M., & Carter, S. K. (2009). The interaction of race and gender: Changing gender-role attitudes, 1974–2006. Social Science Quarterly, 90, 196–211. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2009.00611.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chen, Z., Fiske, S. T., & Lee, T. L. (2009). Ambivalent sexism and power-related gender-role ideology in marriage. Sex Roles, 60, 765–778. doi: 10.1007/s11199-009-9585-9.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Christakis, D. A., & Zimmerman, F. J. (2007). Violent television viewing during preschool is associated with antisocial behavior during school age. Pediatrics, 120, 993–999. doi: 10.1542/peds.2006-3244.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Cikara, M., Eberhardt, J. L., & Fiske, S. T. (2011). From agents to objects: Sexist attitudes and neural responses to sexualized targets. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 540–551. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2010.21497.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Cotter, D., England, P., & Hermsen, J. (2008). Moms and jobs: Trends in mothers’ employment and which mothers stay home. In S. Coontz, M. Parson, & G. Raley (Eds.), American families: A multicultural reader (2nd ed., pp. 379–386). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. Coyne, S. M., Linder, J. R., Rasmussen, E. E., Nelson, D. A., & Collier, K. M. (2014). It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a gender stereotype!: Longitudinal associations between superhero viewing and gender stereotyped play. Sex Roles, 70, 416–430. doi: 10.1007/s11199-014-0374-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Coyne, S. M., Nelson, D. A., Graham-Kevan, N., Tew, E., Meng, K. N., & Olsen, J. A. (2011). Media depictions of physical and relational aggression: Connections with aggression in young adults’ romantic relationships. Aggressive Behavior, 37, 56–62. doi: 10.1002/ab.20372.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. de Lemus, S., Moya, M., & Glick, P. (2010). When contact correlates with prejudice: Adolescents’ romantic relationship experience predicts greater benevolent sexism in boys and hostile sexism in girls. Sex Roles, 63, 214–225. doi: 10.1007/s11199-010-9786-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dietz, T. L. (1998). An examination of violence and gender role portrayals in video games: Implications for gender socialization and aggressive behavior. Sex Roles, 38, 425–442. doi: 10.1023/A:1018709905920.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dill, K. E., & Thill, K. P. (2007). Video game characters and the socialization of gender roles: Young people’s perceptions mirror sexist media depictions. Sex Roles, 57, 851–864. doi: 10.1007/s11199-007-9278-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eaton, A. A., & Matamala, A. (2014). The relationship between heteronormative beliefs and verbal sexual coercion in college students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 1443–1457. doi: 10.1007/s10508-014-0284-4.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Eaton, A. A., & Rose, S. M. (2012). Scripts for actual first date and hanging-out encounters among young heterosexual Hispanic adults. Sex Roles, 67, 285–299. doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0190-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. England, P. (2010). The gender revolution uneven and stalled. Gender & Society, 24, 149–166. doi: 10.1177/0891243210361475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. England, P., & Li, S. (2006). Desegregation stalled the changing gender composition of college majors, 1971–2002. Gender & Society, 20, 657–677. doi: 10.1177/0891243206290753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Faulkner, R. A., Davey, M., & Davey, A. (2005). Gender-related predictors of change in marital satisfaction and marital conflict. American Journal of Family Therapy, 33, 61–83. doi: 10.1080/01926180590889211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gerbner, G. (1999). The stories we tell. Peace Review, 11, 9–15. doi: 10.1080/10402659908426225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 491–512. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.70.3.491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2011). Ambivalent sexism revisited. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35, 530–535. doi: 10.1177/0361684311414832.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  26. Glick, P., Fiske, S. T., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J. L., Abrams, D., Masser, B., … López, W. L. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 763–775. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.79.5.763.
  27. Glick, P., Sakalli-Ugurlu, N., Ferreira, M. C., & de Souza, M. A. (2002). Ambivalent sexism and attitudes toward wife abuse in Turkey and Brazil. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 292–297. doi: 10.1111/1471-6402.t01-1-00068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2000). The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 701–721. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.79.5.701.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Hald, G. M., & Malamuth, N. N. (2015). Experimental effects of exposure to pornography: The moderating effect of personality and mediating effect of sexual arousal. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 99–109. doi: 10.1007/s10508-014-0291-5.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Harwood, J., & Anderson, K. (2002). The presence and portrayal of social groups on prime-time television. Communication Reports, 15, 81–97. doi: 10.1080/08934210209367756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. James, E. L. (2011). Fifty shades of grey. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  32. James, E. L. (2012a). Fifty shades darker. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  33. James, E. L. (2012b). Fifty shades freed. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  34. Jones, K., Stewart, K., King, E., Botsford Morgan, W., Gilrane, V., & Hylton, K. (2014). Negative consequence of benevolent sexism on efficacy and performance. Gender in Management, 29, 171–189. doi: 10.1108/GM-07-2013-0086.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Krebs, C. P., Lindquist, C. H., Warner, T. D., Fisher, B. S., & Martin, S. L. (2009). College women’s experiences with physically forced, alcohol- or other drug-enabled, and drug-facilitated sexual assault before and since entering college. Journal of American College Health, 57, 639–649. doi: 10.3200/JACH.57.6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Mar, R., & Oatley, K. (2008). The function of fiction is the abstraction and simulation of social experience. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 173–192. doi: 10.1111/j.17456924.2008.00073.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Marsh, E. J., Meade, M. L., & Roediger, H. L., III. (2003). Learning facts from fiction. Journal of Memory and Language, 49, 519–536. doi: 10.1016/S0749-596X(03)00092-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Milestone, K., & Meyer, A. (2012). Gender and popular culture. Cambridge, MA: Polity.Google Scholar
  39. Miner-Rubino, K., & Cortina, L. M. (2004). Working in a context of hostility toward women: Implications for employees’ well-being. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 9, 107–122. doi: 10.1037/1076-8998.9.2.107.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Modleski, T. (1980). Popular feminine narratives: A study of romances, gothics, and soap operas. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Moya, M., Glick, P., Expósito, F., de Lemus, S., & Hart, J. (2007). It’s for your own good: Benevolent sexism and women’s reactions to protectively justified restrictions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 1421–1434. doi: 10.1177/0146167207304790.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Nemeth, J. M., Bonomi, A. E., Lee, M. A., & Ludwin, J. M. (2012). Sexual infidelity as trigger for intimate partner violence. Journal of Women’s Health, 21, 942–949. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2011.3328.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Oatley, K. (1992). Best laid schemes: The psychology of the emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Overall, N. C., Sibley, C. G., & Tan, R. (2011). The costs and benefits of sexism: Resistance to influence during relationship conflict. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 271–290. doi: 10.1037/a0022727.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2009). Adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit internet material and notions of women as sex objects: Assessing causality and underlying processes. Journal of Communication, 59, 407–433. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01422.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Plous, S., & Neptune, D. (1997). Racial and gender biases in magazine advertising. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 627–644. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00135.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Radway, J. (1981). The utopian impulse in popular literature: Gothic romances and” feminist” protest. American Quarterly, 33, 140–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Robertson, L. A., McAnally, H. M., & Hancox, R. J. (2013). Childhood and adolescent television viewing and antisocial behavior in early adulthood. Pediatrics, 131, 439–446. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-1582.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  49. Rudman, L. A., & Glick, P. (2008). The social psychology of gender: How power and intimacy shape gender relations. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  50. Schippers, M. (2007). Recovering the feminine other: Masculinity, femininity, and gender hegemony. Theory and Society, 36, 85–102. doi: 10.1007/s11186-007-9022-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Seidman, S. A. (1992). Profile: An investigation of sex-role stereotyping in music videos. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 36, 209–216. doi: 10.1080/08838159209364168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sibley, C. G., & Overall, N. C. (2011). A dual process motivational model of ambivalent sexism and gender differences in romantic partner preferences. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35, 303–317. doi: 10.1177/0361684311401838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sibley, C. G., & Perry, R. (2010). An opposing process model of benevolent sexism. Sex Roles, 62, 438–452. doi: 10.1007/s11199-009-9705-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Stankiewicz, J. M., & Rosselli, F. (2008). Women as sex objects and victims in print advertisements. Sex Roles, 58, 579–589. doi: 10.1007/s11199-007-9359-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. StataCorp. (2011). Stata statistical software: Release 12. College Station, TX: StataCorp LP.Google Scholar
  56. Trachtenberg, J. A. (2013). Oh my! That dirty book has sold 70 million copies. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from
  57. Ward, L. M. (2003). Understanding the role of entertainment media in the sexual socialization of American youth: A review of empirical research. Developmental Review, 23, 347–388. doi: 10.1016/S0273-2297(03)00013-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wingood, G. M., & DiClemente, R. J. (2000). Application of the theory of gender and power to examine HIV-related exposures, risk factors, and effective interventions for women. Health Education & Behavior, 27(5), 539–565. doi: 10.1177/109019810002700502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Zwaan, R. A., & Radvansky, G. A. (1998). Situation models in language comprehension and memory. Psychological Bulletin, 123, 162–185. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.123.2.162.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lauren E. Altenburger
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christin L. Carotta
    • 2
  • Amy E. Bonomi
    • 2
  • Anastasia Snyder
    • 1
  1. 1.Human Development and Family Science Program, Department of Human Sciences, College of Education and Human EcologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Human Development and Family Studies, College of Social ScienceMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

Personalised recommendations