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The Madonna-Whore Dichotomy: Men Who Perceive Women's Nurturance and Sexuality as Mutually Exclusive Endorse Patriarchy and Show Lower Relationship Satisfaction

Abstract

The Madonna-Whore Dichotomy (MWD) denotes polarized perceptions of women in general as either “good,” chaste, and pure Madonnas or as “bad,” promiscuous, and seductive whores. Whereas prior theories focused on unresolved sexual complexes or evolved psychological tendencies, feminist theory suggests the MWD stems from a desire to reinforce patriarchy. Surveying 108 heterosexual Israeli men revealed a positive association between MWD endorsement and patriarchy-enhancing ideology as assessed by Social Dominance Orientation (preference for hierarchical social structures), Gender-Specific System Justification (desire to maintain the existing gender system), and sexist attitudes (Benevolent and Hostile Sexism, Sexual Objectification of Women, and Sexual Double Standards). In addition, MWD endorsement negatively predicted men’s romantic relationship satisfaction. These findings support the feminist notion that patriarchal arrangements have negative implications for the well-being of men as well as women. Specifically, the MWD not only links to attitudes that restrict women’s autonomy, but also impairs men’s most intimate relationships with women. Increased awareness of motives underlying the MWD and its psychological costs can help practice professionals (e.g., couple therapists), as well as the general public, to foster more satisfying heterosexual relationships.

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Correspondence to Orly Bareket.

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The research was conducted in compliance with APA’s ethical standards in the treatment of human participants, which includes providing informed consent and a full debriefing. The study was approved by Tel-Aviv University Institutional Review Board.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Bareket, O., Kahalon, R., Shnabel, N. et al. The Madonna-Whore Dichotomy: Men Who Perceive Women's Nurturance and Sexuality as Mutually Exclusive Endorse Patriarchy and Show Lower Relationship Satisfaction. Sex Roles 79, 519–532 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0895-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0895-7

Keywords

  • Madonna-whore dichotomy
  • Sexism
  • Social dominance orientation
  • Gender-specific system justification
  • Gender attitudes
  • Relationship satisfaction