Sex Roles

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A Crisis of Competence: Benevolent Sexism Affects Evaluations of Women’s Competence

  • Brittany S. CassidyEmail author
  • Anne C. Krendl
Original Article


People higher in benevolent sexism often outwardly endorse gender equality, but support men over women for challenging positions and experiences. Reflecting shifting standards (a tendency to evaluate stereotyped group members against within-category judgment standards), people higher in sexism may evaluate prominent women’s competence against a lower competency standard for women (who are stereotyped as less competent than men are), and not against a standard for men. Thus prominent women could be perceived as especially competent (versus other women), yet men might still garner ultimate support. Study 1 tested for this possibility using an ecologically valid example: the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Study 1 showed that benevolent (and not hostile) sexism predicted less opposition to Donald Trump’s candidacy and more positive attitudes toward the election outcome among 57 mostly female U.S. college students. Study 1 also showed that benevolent sexism positively predicted competence perceived in Hillary Clinton. To determine if this positive relationship reflected shifting standards, we manipulated the gender to which a prominent woman would be compared in Study 2 with 189 U.S. adults. Reflecting shifting standards, benevolent sexism related to evaluating women as more competent when they were evaluated against other women versus other men. Shifting standards also mediated a relationship between benevolent sexism and expecting lower female success. Using shifting standards may be one way that people higher in benevolent sexism might evaluate prominent women as especially competent, yet ultimately support men.


Sexism Competence Stereotyping Impressions Shifting standards 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants

All studies in this work were approved by the Indiana University Institutional Review Board.

Informed Consent

All participants in this work provided informed consent.

Supplementary material

11199_2019_1011_MOESM1_ESM.docx (19 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 19 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesIndiana University, BloomingtonBloomingtonUSA

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