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

Abstract

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.

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Cassidy, B.S., Krendl, A.C. A Crisis of Competence: Benevolent Sexism Affects Evaluations of Women’s Competence. Sex Roles 81, 505–520 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-1011-3

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Keywords

  • Sexism
  • Competence
  • Stereotyping
  • Impressions
  • Shifting standards