National Institute on Aging

Study Finds ‘Benevolent Sexism’ Is Not Equally Applied to Black and White Women

Benevolent sexism is a term that refers to views about women that seem positive but also exhibit a level of inferiority to men based on fragility, a lack of competence or intelligence, or a need for the guardianship of men. A new study led by scholars at the University of Virginia and Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, surveyed a large group of individuals to determine their level of benevolent sexism.

Participants were then given a fictional news release describing an incident in which a police officer responding to a report of armed robbery by a female perpetrator ended up shooting the suspect when she appeared to be reaching for a weapon. The study found that participants in a survey who indicated a high level of benevolent sexism thought the suspect was more feminine, but this association was only present when the suspect was White, as opposed to Black.

The authors told PsyPost, an independently-owned psychology and neuroscience news website dedicated to reporting the latest research on human behavior, cognition, and society that “benevolent sexism involves perceiving women as nurturing, caregivers, and fragile. Although this type of sexism can lead to many negative outcomes for women, such as the punishment of career women who are perceived as not fitting this mold, this type of sexism may also afford physical protection to some women. Because Black women are not perceived to be the prototypical target of sexism, those who hold benevolently sexist beliefs may afford less protection to Black (vs. White) women.”

The full study, “Race, Ambivalent Sexism, and Perceptions of Situations When Police Shoot Black Women,” was published on the website of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. It may be accessed here.


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