Frequently Asked Questions: Ambivalent Sexism

This page contains answers to several frequently asked questions about ambivalent sexism. Take the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory.

1. What is ambivalent sexism?

Ambivalent sexism is an ideology composed of both a "hostile" and "benevolent" prejudice toward women. Hostile sexism is an antagonistic attitude toward women, who are often viewed as trying to control men through feminist ideology or sexual seduction. Benevolent sexism is a chivalrous attitude toward women that feels favorable but is actually sexist because it casts women as weak creatures in need of men's protection.

2. How is ambivalent sexism measured?

Ambivalent sexism is measured with a paper-and-pencil or computer-based questionnaire known as the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI). The ASI is composed of two 11-item subscales that measure hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. In the sample items below, agreement with a statement indicates a more sexist response:

Hostile Sexism Items:

  • "Most women fail to appreciate all that men do for them."
  • "Women seek to gain power by getting control over men."
  • "Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist."

Benevolent Sexism Items:

  • "Women should be cherished and protected by men."
  • "Many women have a quality of purity that few men possess."
  • "A good woman ought to be set on a pedestal by her man."
3. Which items of the Ambivalent Sexism Scale measure hostile sexism, and which ones measure benevolent sexism?

The hostile sexism items are numbers 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 18, and 21, and the benevolent sexism items are numbers 1, 3, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 17, 19, 20, and 22. Scores on each subscale are calculated by reversing items 3, 6, 7, 13, 18, 21 (so that an answer of 0 becomes 5, 1 becomes 4, and so on), and then averaging the 11 hostile and 11 benevolent sexism items separately. Scores on each subscale can vary from 0 to 5, and the overall ambivalent sexism score is simply the average of the hostile and benevolent sexism scores.

4. What's sexist about cherishing and protecting someone you care about?

There is nothing sexist about cherishing or protecting another person. Prejudices such as sexism and heterosexism enter the equation when universal or rigid gender prescriptions are endorsed, such as "Every man ought to have a woman whom he adores."

In almost any sexism scale, there will be specific items that do not seem sexist. When all 22 items of the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory are taken together, however, the resulting scores are statistically related to other measures of sexism and gender inequality. For example, cross-cultural research has found that national averages on the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory are related to indices of gender inequality, such as having fewer women in positions of political power.

5. Who developed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory?

The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory was developed by Professor Peter Glick of Lawrence University and Professor Susan T. Fiske of Princeton University. The first published article on ambivalent sexism and the inventory appeared in the March, 1996, issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

6. What causes ambivalent sexism?

According to Professors Glick and Fiske, sexist ambivalence is the result of two basic facts about relations between women and men: male dominance (patriarchy) and interdependence between the sexes.

Male dominance is prevalent across cultures, with men dominating high status roles in business, government, religious institutions, and so forth. Hostile sexism arises in large part because dominant groups tend to create hostile ideologies concerning the inferiority of other groups.

Despite male dominance, however, men are often highly dependent upon women as wives, mothers, and romantic partners. This dependence fosters benevolent sexism, which recognizes women as valuable and attractive (an attitude not generally present in prejudices such as racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia, in which the targets of prejudice are typically shunned or loathed).

7. How are hostile sexism and benevolent sexism related?

Hostile sexism and benevolent sexism are mutually supportive ideologies. In a 19-nation study published in the May, 2000, issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, responses from more than 15,000 people who completed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory showed that countries high in hostile sexism were invariably high in benevolent sexism. Hostile sexism and benevolent sexism are also significantly correlated at the individual level (meaning that a high score on one scale tends to be associated with a high score on the other), though this correlation is not large.

8. Why is benevolent sexism important?

Benevolent sexism may seem harmless, noble, or even "romantic," but its effects can be devastating. Benevolent sexism, like hostile sexism, is an ideology that supports gender inequality, and in some ways benevolent sexism can be even more insidious.

Benevolent justifications for discrimination (e.g., "Women should forego a career because they excel at childcare") are more likely to be accepted than hostile justifications (e.g., "Women should forego a career because they lack ability"). Whereas women are more likely than men to reject hostile sexism, they often endorse benevolent sexism -- especially in countries high in hostile sexism, where male protection is most appealing. Ironically, it may be that high levels of hostile sexism among men lead to high levels of benevolent sexism among women.

9. What about attitudes toward men?

In 1999 Professors Glick and Fiske published a research report on the Ambivalent Toward Men Inventory. To read about it, please see:

Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1999). The Ambivalence Toward Men Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent beliefs about men. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 23(3), 519-536.

10. Where can I learn more about ambivalent sexism?

A large number of studies have been conducted on ambivalent sexism, and a partial bibliography appears below. For a less technical introduction, you may wish to consult the article by Peter Glick and Susan Fiske in Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination.

Begany, J. J., & Milburn, M. A. (2002). Psychological predictors of sexual harassment: Authoritarianism, hostile sexism, and rape myths. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 3, 119-126.

Dell-Amore, C. (2009, February 16). Bikinis make men see women as objects, scans confirm. National Geographic News.

Fiske, S. T., & Glick, P. (1995). Ambivalence and stereotypes cause sexual harassment: A theory with implications for organizational change. Journal of Social Issues, 51, 97-115.

Fiske, S. T., Xu, J., & Cuddy, A. C. (1999). (Dis)respecting versus (dis)liking: Status and interdependence predict ambivalent stereotypes of competence and warmth. Journal of Social Issues, 55, 473-489.

Franzoi, S. L. (2001). Is female body esteem shaped by benevolent sexism? Sex Roles, 44, 177-188.

Glick, P., et al. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 763-775.

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.

Glick, P. & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 491-512.

Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). Ambivalent sexism. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (vol. 33, pp. 115-188), Thousand Oaks, CA: Academic Press.

Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications of gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56, 109-118.

Glick, P., Sakalli-Ugurlu, N., Ferreira, M. C., & Aguiar de Souza, M. (2002). Ambivalent sexism and attitudes toward wife abuse in Turkey and Brazil. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 291-296.

Goodwin, S. A., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). Power and gender: The double-edged sword of ambivanence. In R. K. Unger (Ed.), Handbook of the psychology of women and gender (pp. 358-366). New York: Wiley.

Kilianski, S. E., & Rudman, L. A. (1998). Wanting it both ways: Do women approve of benevolent sexism? Sex Roles, 39, 333-352.

Masser, B., & Abrams, D. (1999). Contemporary sexism: The relationships among hostility, benevolence, and neosexism. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 23, 503-517.

Wiener, R. L., Hurt, L., Russell, B. Mannen, K., & Gasper, C. (1997). Perceptions of sexual harassment: The effects of gender, legal standard, and ambivalent sexism. Law and Human Behavior, 21, 71-93.