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Experiences with Benevolent Sexism: Scale Development and Associations with Women’s Well-Being


Ambivalent sexism theory (Glick and Fiske 1996, 1997) suggests that sexism takes two forms: an overt hostility as well as a subtle benevolence. We examined benevolent sexist behaviors and developed a 25-item Experiences with Benevolent Sexism Scale. Exploratory factor analysis (Study 1, U.S. college sample of 489 women) and confirmatory factor analysis (Study 2, online sample of 216 women) revealed three subscales of benevolently sexist experiences: Heterosexual Intimacy, Protective Paternalism, and Complementary Gender Differences. Women reported experiencing benevolently sexist events more frequently than overtly hostile sexist events; however, they perceived the hostile events to be more distressing and sexist (Studies 1 and 2). Experiencing Protective Paternalism was positively associated with self-doubt and negatively associated with self-esteem (Studies 1 and 2), and psychological well-being (Study 2). However, experiencing Complementary Gender Differentiation was negatively associated with self-doubt and positively associated with self-esteem (Studies 1 and 2), psychological well-being, flourishing, and submission to authority (Study 2). Finally, women in romantic relationships reported more benevolently sexist experiences than did those not in romantic relationships and the frequency of those experiences was positively associated with perceptions of the partner’s benevolently sexist attitudes (Study 2). The results highlight that women frequently experience sexism, ranging from overtly hostile to a subtle benevolence, and the different types of benevolent sexism each have unique associations with women’s well-being.

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The authors thank Steve Franzoi and Kristine Chapleau for their helpful comments on this manuscript and feedback on item development. Thank you to Brooke Magnus for her assistance with the confirmatory factor analysis.

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Correspondence to Debra L. Oswald.

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This study was approved by the institutional review board at Marquette University and conforms to the APA research ethics. All authors have read and approve of submitting the manuscript to Sex Roles. This manuscript has not been published, in any part, elsewhere. This manuscript has not received any grant funding.

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Oswald, D.L., Baalbaki, M. & Kirkman, M. Experiences with Benevolent Sexism: Scale Development and Associations with Women’s Well-Being. Sex Roles 80, 362–380 (2019).

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  • Sexism
  • Benevolent sexism
  • Women
  • Well-being