Sex Roles

, Volume 78, Issue 9–10, pp 591–605 | Cite as

When Sexism Leads to Racism: Threat, Protecting Women, and Racial Bias

  • Jean M. McMahonEmail author
  • Kimberly Barsamian Kahn
Original Article


The stated goal of protecting White women from harm has been used, historically and contemporarily, as a pretext for racial violence. Two studies explored the relationship between protective paternalism (the belief that men should protect and care for women—part of benevolent sexism; Glick and Fiske 1996) and anti-minority racial attitudes. In Study 1 (n = 474, 61% women, 61% White), survey data found that protective paternalism was related to anti-Black bias, but only for White respondents. Study 2 (n = 242, 52% women, 74% White) experimentally manipulated feelings of threat to test for increases in protective paternalism and its corresponding effect on three anti-minority racial attitudes. For male participants only, threat (i.e., reading about recent increases in violent crime) increased endorsement of protective paternalism, which was in turn associated with a more negative view of immigration, and, for White men only, less support for policies that benefit racial minority groups and greater denial of racial bias in policing. Threat did not increase protective paternalism in female participants. For White men in particular, news of crime and danger increases racial bias by first increasing the desire to protect women. Policymakers should be aware that framing policies around safety concerns or appealing to the protection of women might unintentionally bolster anti-minority racial prejudices.


Benevolent sexism Sexism Paternalism Racism Threat 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest

There are no potential conflicts of interest (financial or non-financial) to disclose.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

This research involved human participants. Both of the studies reported in this manuscript received approval from the Portland State University Institutional Review Board prior to the collection of any data. Compensation for participation was non-coercive, data are anonymous and stored in a secure facility, informed consent was gathered, and procedures put participants at ‘minimal risk’.

Informed Consent

All of the participants were over the age of 18 and gave their informed consent before participating in any research.

Supplementary material

11199_2017_828_MOESM1_ESM.docx (23 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 23 kb)


  1. Abrams, D., Tendayi Viki, G., Masser, B. M., & Bohner, G. (2003). Perceptions of stranger and acquaintance rape: The role of benevolent and hostile sexism in victim blame and rape proclivity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 111–125. Scholar
  2. Allen, S. A. (2015). Sexual stereotypes about ethnic minorities in the United States. In The International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality (Vol. 3, pp. 1115–1354). Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
  3. Ammons, L. L. (1995). Mules, madonnas, babies, bathwater, racial imagery and stereotypes: The African-American woman and the battered woman syndrome. Wisconsin Law Review, 5, 1003–1080.Google Scholar
  4. Angerer, C. (2016). Cologne sex attacks ‘good for us’, anti-refugee protesters say. NBC News. Retrieved from
  5. Apel, D. (2004). Imagery of lynching: Black men, White women, and the mob. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Arab American National Museum. (2011). Reclaiming identity: Dismantling Arab stereotypes. Retrieved from
  7. BBC News. (2016, March 4). Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts. Retrieved from
  8. Becker, S. (2007). Race and violent offender propensity: Does the intraracial nature of violent crime persist on the local level? Justice Research and Policy, 9, 53–86. Scholar
  9. Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2003). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. American Economic Review, 94, 991–1013. Scholar
  10. Burn, S. M., & Busso, J. (2005). Ambivalent sexism, scriptural literalism, and religiosity. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29(4), 412–418. Scholar
  11. Carlsson, M., & Rooth, D. O. (2007). Evidence of ethnic discrimination in the Swedish labor market using experimental data. Labour Economics, 14, 716–729. Scholar
  12. Christopher, A. N., & Mull, M. S. (2006). Conservative ideology and ambivalent sexism. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30(2), 223–230. Scholar
  13. Dardenne, B., Dumont, M., Sarlet, M., Phillips, C., Balteau, E., Degueldre, C., … Collette, F. (2013). Benevolent sexism alters executive brain responses. Neuroreport, 24(10), 572–577.
  14. Davis, A. Y. (1981). Women, race, and class. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  15. Difendila! [Online image]. (1944). Retrieved from
  16. Dines, G. (2006). White man's burden: Gonzo pornography and the construction of Black masculinity. Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, 18, 283–297.Google Scholar
  17. Edwards, D. (2014). Louie Gohmert: Obama don’t ‘defend women’ from ‘hundreds of thousands’ of immigrant rapists. Raw Story. Retrieved from
  18. Espinoza Ornelas, R., Moya, M., & Willis, G. B. (2015). The relationship between fear of rape and benevolent sexism in a sample of women from Ciudad Juarez (Mexico). Suma Psicológica, 22, 71–77. Scholar
  19. Evans, S. (1979). Personal politics: The roots of women’s liberation in the civil rights movements and the new left (Vol. 228). New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  20. Fischer, A. R. (2006). Women's benevolent sexism as reaction to hostility. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 410–416. Scholar
  21. Garcia, A. (2014). Michelle Bachmann calls immigrant children ‘invaders’ and compares them to rapists. Raw Story. Retrieved from
  22. Glick, P., Diebold, J., Bailey-Werner, B., & Zhu, L. (1997). The two faces of Adam: Ambivalent sexism and polarized attitudes toward women. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 1323–1334. Scholar
  23. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56, 109–118. 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. Scholar
  25. Glick, P., Fiske, S. T., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J. L., Abrams, D., Masser, B., … Lopez, W. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 763–775.
  26. Goff, P. A., & Kahn, K. B. (2013). How psychological science impedes intersectional thinking. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 10, 365–384. Scholar
  27. Gordon, R., Piana, L. D., & Keleher, T. (2000). Facing the consequences: An examination of racial discrimination in U.S. public schools. Oakland: Applied Research Center.Google Scholar
  28. Guerrero, E. (1993). Framing blackness: The African American image in film. Philadelphia: Temper University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Hall, J. D. (1993). Revolt against chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the women's campaign against lynching. New York City: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  31. Hayes, E. R., & Swim, J. K. (2013). African, Asian, Latina/o, and European Americans’ responses to popular measures of sexist beliefs some cautionary notes. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37, 155–166. Scholar
  32. Hee Lee, M. Y. (2015). Donald Trump’s false comments connecting Mexican immigrants and crime. The Washington Post. Retrieved from
  33. Huang, Y., Osborne, D., Sibley, C. G., & Davies, P. G. (2014). The precious vessel: Ambivalent sexism and opposition to elective and traumatic abortion. Sex Roles, 71(11–12), 436–449. Scholar
  34. Huff, C., & Tingley, D. (2015). “Who are these people?” Evaluating the demographic characteristics and political preferences of MTurk survey respondents. Research & Politics, 2(3), 1–12. Scholar
  35. Jackman, M. R. (1994). Velvet glove: Paternalism and conflict in gender, class, and race relations. Berkley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  36. Jost, J. T., Glaser, J., Kruglanski, A. W., & Sulloway, F. J. (2003). Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychological Bulletin, 129(3), 339–375. Scholar
  37. Jost, J. T., & Kay, A. C. (2005). Exposure to benevolent sexism and complementary gender stereotypes: Consequences for specific and diffuse forms of system justification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 498–509. Scholar
  38. King, E. B., Botsford, W., Hebl, M. R., Kazama, S., Dawson, J. F., & Perkins, A. (2012). Benevolent sexism at work gender differences in the distribution of challenging developmental experiences. Journal of Management, 38(6), 1835–1866. Scholar
  39. Krieger, N., Waterman, P. D., Hartman, C., Bates, L. M., Stoddard, A. M., Quinn, M. M., … Barbeau, E. M. (2006). Social hazards on the job: Workplace abuse, sexual harassment, and racial discrimination--a study of Black, Latino, and White low- income women and men workers in the United States. International Journal of Health Services, 36, 51–85. Scholar
  40. Lee, E. (2007). The “Yellow Peril” and Asian Exclusion in the Americas. Pacific Historical Review, 76(4), 537–562. Scholar
  41. Marchetti, G. (1994). Romance and the "Yellow Peril": Race, sex, and discursive strategies in Hollywood fiction. Berkley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  42. McConahay, J. B. (1986). Modern racism, ambivalence, and the modern racism scale. In J. D. Dovidio & S. L. Gaertner (Eds.), Prejudice, discrimination, and racism (pp. 91–125). Orlando: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  43. McMahon, J. M., & Kahn, K. B. (2016). Benevolent racism? The impact of target race on ambivalent sexism. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 19, 169–183. Scholar
  44. Michalak, L. (1988). Cruel and unusual: Negative images of Arabs in American popular culture. ADC Issue Paper No. 15. Retrieved from
  45. Miles, H. (2012). WWII propaganda: The influence of racism. Artifacts, 6. Retrieved from
  46. Montañés, P., de Lemus, S., Bohner, G., Megías, J. L., Moya, M., & Garcia-Retamero, R. (2012). Intergenerational transmission of benevolent sexism from mothers to daughters and its relation to daughters’ academic performance and goals. Sex Roles, 66(7–8), 468–478. Scholar
  47. Morton, D. (1991). Disfigured images: The historical assault on Afro-American women. Westport: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  48. Nagel, J. (2001). Racial, ethnic, and national boundaries: Sexual intersections and symbolic interactions. Symbolic Interaction, 24, 123–139. Scholar
  49. National Women’s Law Center. (2016). Equal pay for African American women. Retrieved from
  50. Navarrete, C. D., Mcdonald, M. M., Molina, L. E., & Sidanius, J. (2010). Prejudice at the nexus of race and gender: An outgroup male target hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 933–945. Scholar
  51. Phelan, J. E., Sanchez, D. T., & Broccoli, T. L. (2010). The danger in sexism: The links among fear of crime, benevolent sexism, and well-being. Sex Roles, 62, 35–47. Scholar
  52. Plant, E. A., Goplen, J., & Kunstman, J. W. (2011). Selective responses to threat: The roles of race and gender in decisions to shoot. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 1274–1281. Scholar
  53. Quillian, L., & Pager, D. (2001). Black neighbors, higher crime? The role of racial stereotypes in evaluations of neighborhood crime. American Journal of Sociology, 107, 717–767. Scholar
  54. Sakalh-Uğurlu, N., & Glick, P. (2003). Ambivalent sexism and attitudes toward women who engage in premarital sex in Turkey. Journal of Sex Research, 40, 296–302. Scholar
  55. Sarrasin, O., Fasel, N., Green, E. G. T., & Helbling, M. (2015). When sexual threat cues shape attitudes toward immigrants: The role of insecurity and benevolent sexism. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1–13. Scholar
  56. Schloesser, P. E. (2002). The fair sex: White women and racial patriarchy in the early American republic. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
  57. Shepherd, M., Erchull, M. J., Rosner, A., Taubenberger, L., Queen, E. F., & McKee, J. (2011). “I’ll get that for you”: The relationship between benevolent sexism and body self-perceptions. Sex Roles, 64, 1–8. Scholar
  58. Sibley, C. G., & Wilson, M. S. (2004). Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexist attitudes toward positive and negative sexual female subtypes. Sex Roles, 51, 687–696. Scholar
  59. Sibley, C. G., Wilson, M. S., & Duckitt, J. (2007). Antecedents of men’s hostile and benevolent sexism: The dual roles of social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(2), 160–172. Scholar
  60. Sidanius, J. (1993). The interface between racism and sexism. The Journal of Psychology, 127(3), 311–322. Scholar
  61. Sidanius, J., & Pratto, F. (1999). Social dominance: An intergroup theory of social hierarchy and oppression. New York: Cambridge University Press. Scholar
  62. Sidanius, J., & Veniegas, R. C. (2000). Gender and race discrimination: The interactive nature of disadvantage. In S. Oskamp (Ed.), Reducing prejudice and discrimination: The Claremont Symposium on Applied Social Psychology (pp. 47–69). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  63. Smith, T. W., Marsden, P., Hout, M., & Kim, J. (2015). General Social Surveys, 1972–2012: Cumulative codebook. National Data Program for the Social Sciences Series, No. 22. Chicago: NORC at the University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  64. Swim, J. K., Aikin, K. J., Hall, W. S., & Hunter, B. A. (1995). Sexism and racism: Old-fashioned and modern prejudices. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(2), 199–214. Scholar
  65. Tchen, J. K. W., & Yeats, D. (Eds.). (2014). Yellow peril!: An archive of anti-Asian fear. New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  66. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (2016). Blacks during the Holocaust. Retrieved from
  67. Wade, L. (2015). How ‘benevolent sexism’ drove Dylann Roof’s racist massacre. The Washington Post. Retrieved from
  68. Ware, V. (2015). Beyond the pale: White women, racism, and history. Brooklyn: Verso Books.Google Scholar
  69. Wilson, T. C. (2001). Americans' views on immigration policy: Testing the role of threatened group interests. Sociological Perspectives, 44(4), 485–501. Scholar
  70. Wood, A. L. (2011). Lynching and spectacle: Witnessing racial violence in America, 1890–1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  71. Yardley, J. (2016). Sexual attacks widen divisions in European migrant crisis. The New York Times. Retrieved from
  72. Young, D. V. (1986). Gender expectations and their impact on Black female offenders and victims. Justice Quarterly, 3, 305–327. Scholar
  73. Young, I. M. (2003). The logic of masculinist protection: Reflections on the currentsecurity state. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 29, 1–25. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA

Personalised recommendations