“Wonderful but Weak”: Children’s Ambivalent Attitudes Toward Women

Abstract

According to ambivalent sexism theory, prejudice toward women has two forms: hostile (i.e., antipathy toward women) and benevolent (i.e., patronizing and paternalistic attitudes toward women). We investigated whether 5- to 11-year-old children’s gender attitudes exhibit this bipartite, ambivalent structure. Consistent with this possibility, latent variable modeling on a new developmentally appropriate instrument revealed that children’s (n = 237) hostile and benevolent attitudes were two distinct but positively associated factors. Using this instrument, we then explored age and U.S. regional differences in ambivalent gender attitudes, as well as whether these attitudes predicted self-evaluations and preferences associated with traditional gender roles. Stronger agreement with hostile and benevolent gender attitudes was found among younger children, except for boys’ benevolent attitudes, which did not vary with age. Children also reported lower agreement with benevolent gender attitudes in a more gender-egalitarian region of the United States (New York vs. Illinois). Finally, children’s benevolent and hostile attitudes differentially predicted their self-evaluations (e.g., boys’ benevolent vs. hostile attitudes predicted higher vs. lower self-evaluations of warmth, respectively). No evidence emerged for links between gender attitudes and traditional career or relationship expectations. These findings provide the first known evidence that children’s gender attitudes are ambivalent—comprising distinct, but positively related, dimensions of subjective positivity and negativity.

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Acknowledgements

Matthew D. Hammond, School of Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington; Andrei Cimpian, Department of Psychology, New York University.

The present research was supported by National Science Foundation grants BCS-1530669 and BCS-1733897 awarded to Andrei Cimpian. Matthew Hammond was supported by a Victoria University of Wellington grant (URF#216404).

We would like to thank the participating families and schools, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum for their support of our research; the members of the Cognitive Development Labs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and New York University for assistance in collecting these data; and the Cognitive Development Lab at New York University and the Gender Lab at Yale University (headed by Marianne LaFrance) for their helpful feedback as we prepared our manuscript.

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Hammond, M.D., Cimpian, A. “Wonderful but Weak”: Children’s Ambivalent Attitudes Toward Women. Sex Roles 84, 76–90 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01150-0

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Keywords

  • Gender
  • Stereotypes
  • Sexism
  • Prejudice
  • Development