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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1977). Attitude-behavior relations: A theoretical analysis and review of empirical research. Psychological Bulletin, 84(5), 888–918. https://doi.org/10.1037//0033-2909.84.5.888.
Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (2000). Attitudes and the attitude-behavior relation: Reasoned and automatic processes. European Review of Social Psychology, 11(1), 1–33. https://doi.org/10.1080/14792779943000116.
Barreto, M., & Ellemers, N. (2005). The burden of benevolent sexism: How it contributes to the maintenance of gender inequalities. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 633–642. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.270.
Becker, J., & Wright, S. (2011). Yet another dark side of chivalry: Benevolent sexism undermines and hostile sexism motivates collective action for social change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(1), 62–77. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022615.
Biernat, M. (2003). Toward a broader view of social stereotyping. American Psychologist, 58(12), 1019–1027. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.58.12.1019.
Biernat, M., & Fuegen, K. (2001). Shifting standards and the evaluation of competence: Complexity in gender-based judgment and decision-making. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 707–724. https://doi.org/10.1111/0022-4537.00237.
Biernat, M., & Kobrynowicz, D. (1997). Gender- and race-based standards of competence: Lower minimum standards but higher ability standards for devalued groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(3), 544–557. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.114.
Biernat, M., & Manis, M. (1994). Shifting standards and stereotype-based judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(1), 5–20. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3518.104.22.168.
Biernat, M., Manis, M., & Nelson, T. (1991). Stereotypes and standards of judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(4), 485–499. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3522.214.171.1245.
Bock, J., Byrd-Craven, J., & Burkley, M. (2017). The role of sexism in voting in the 2016 presidential election. Personality and Individual Differences, 119, 189–193. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2017.07.026.
Bracic, A., Israel-Trummel, M., & Shortle, A. (2018). Is sexism for white people? Gender stereotypes, race, and the 2016 presidential election. Political Behavior, 1–27. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-018-9446-8.
Brinkman, L., Todorov, A., & Dotsch, R. (2017). Visualizing mental representations: A primer on noise-based reverse correelation in social psychology. European Review of Social Psychology, 28(1), 333–361. https://doi.org/10.1080/10463283.2017.1381469.
Broverman, I., Vogel, R., Broverman, D., Clarkson, T., & Rosenkrantz, P. (1972). Sex-role stereotypes: A current appraisal. Journal of Social Issues, 28, 59–78. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.1972.tb00018.x.
Bryk, A., & Raudenbush, S. (1992). Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.
Carlin, D., & Winfrey, K. (2009). Have you come a long way, baby? Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and sexism in the 2008 campaign coverage. Communication Studies, 60, 326–343. https://doi.org/10.1080/10510970903109904.
Cassidy, B., & Gutchess, A. (2015). Neural responses to appearance-behavior congruity. Social Cognition, 43(3), 211–226. https://doi.org/10.1521/soco.2015.33.3.1.
Catalyst. (2013). 2013 Catalyst census: Financial post 500 women board directors. New York: Author.
Choma, B., & Hanoch, Y. (2017). Cognitive ability and authoritarianism: Understanding support for trump and Clinton. Personality and Individual Differences, 106, 287–291. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.10.054.
Darweesh, A., & Abdullah, N. (2016). A critical discourse analysis of Donald Trump’s sexist ideology. Journal of Education and Practice, 7(30), 87–95. https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.6n.5p.1.
Dotsch, R., & Todorov, A. (2012). Reverse correlating social face perception. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(5), 562–571. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550611430272.
Dotsch, R., Wigboldus, D., Langner, O., & van Knippenberg, A. (2008). Ethnic out-group faces are biased in the prejudiced mind. Psychological Science, 19(10), 978–980. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02186.x.
Dovidio, J., & Gaertner, S. (1998). On the nature of contemporary prejudice: The causes, consequences, and challenges of aversive racism. In S. Fiske & J. Eberhardt (Eds.), Racism: The problem and the response (pp. 3–32). Newbury Park: Sage.
Eagly, A., & Karau, S. (2002). Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders. Psychological Review, 109(3), 573–598. https://doi.org/10.1037//0033-295x.109.3.573.
Faul, F., Erdfelder, E., Lang, A., & Buchner, A. (2007). G*Power 3: A flexible statistical power analysis program for the social, behavioral, and biomedical sciences. Behavior Research Methods, 39(2), 175–191.
Fiske, S., Cuddy, A., & Glick, P. (2007). Universal dimensions of social cognition: Warmth and competence. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(2), 77–83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2006.11.005.
Gaffney, A., & Blaylock, D. (2010). Hillary Clinton's race: Did she match the presidential prototype. Advancing Women in Leadership, 30(6), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.18738/awl.v30i0.294.
Gervais, S., & Hillard, A. (2011). A role congruity perspective on prejudice toward Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 11(1), 221–240. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01263.x.
Glick, P., & Fiske, S. (1996). The ambivalent sexism inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(3), 491–512. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-35126.96.36.1991.
Glick, P., & Fiske, S. (1997). Hostile and benevolent sexism: Measuring ambivalent sexist attitudes toward women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 1997(21), 119–135. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00104.x.
Glick, P., & Fiske, S. (2001). An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56(2), 109–118. https://doi.org/10.1017/cbo9781139022736.005.
Glick, P., Fiske, S., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J., Abrams, D., Masser, B., ... Lopez, W. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(5), 763–775. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-35188.8.131.523
Hayes, A. (2009). Beyond Baron and Kenny: Statistical mediation analysis in the new millennium. Communication Monographs, 76(4), 408–420. https://doi.org/10.1080/03637750903310360.
Hayes, A. (2012). PROCESS: A versatile computational tool for observed variable mediation, moderation, and conditional process modeling. Retrieved from http://www.afhayes.com/public/process2012.pdf.
Hehman, E., Flake, J., & Freeman, J. (2015). Static and dynamic facial cues differentially affect the consistency of social evaluations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(8), 1123–1134. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167215591495.
Heilman, M., Wallen, A., Fuchs, D., & Tamkins, M. (2004). Penalties for success: Reactions to women who succeed at male gender-typed tasks. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(3), 416–427. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.89.3.416.
Hideg, I., & Ferris, D. (2016). The compassionate sexist? How benevolent sexism promotes and undermines gender equality in the workplace. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(5), 706–727. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000072.
Huddy, L., & Terkildsen, N. (1993). Gender stereotypes and the perception of male and female candidates. American Journal of Political Science, 37(1), 119–147. https://doi.org/10.2307/2111526.
Husnu, S. (2016). The role of ambivalent sexism and religiosity in predicting attitudes toward childlessness in Muslim undergraduate students. Sex Roles, 75(11–12), 573–582.
Jost, J., & Kay, A. (2005). Exposure to benevolent sexism and complementary gender stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(3), 498–509. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.386981.
King, E., Botsford, W., Hebl, M., Kasama, S., Dawson, J., & Perkins, A. (2012). Benevolent sexism at work: Gender differences in the distribution of challenging developmental experiences. Journal of Management, 38(6), 1835–1866. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206310365902.
Krendl, A., & Freeman, J. (2017). Are mental illnesses stigmatized for the same reasons? Identifying the stigma-related beliefs underlying common mental illnesses. Journal of Mental Health, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1080/09638237.2017.1385734.
Lawless, J. (2009). Sexism and gender bias in election 2008: A more complex path for women in politics. Politics & Gender, 5(1), 70–80. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1743923x09000051.
Lepore, L., & Brown, R. (1997). Category and stereotype activation: Is prejudice inevitable? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(2), 275–287. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-35184.108.40.2065.
Mangini, M., & Biederman, I. (2004). Making the ineffable explicit: Estimating the information employed for face classifications. Cognitive Science, 28, 209–226. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15516709cog2802_4.
Meeks, L. (2013). All the gender that's fit to print: How the New York times covered Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in 2008. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 90(3), 520–539. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077699013493791.
Mende-Siedlecki, P., Baron, S., & Todorov, A. (2013). Diagnostic value underlies asymmetric updating of impressions in the morality and ability domains. The Journal of Neuroscience, 33(50), 19406–19415. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.2334-13.2013.
Paul, D., & Smith, J. (2008). Subtle sexism? Examining vote preferences when women run against men for the presidency. Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy, 29(4), 451–476. https://doi.org/10.1080/15544770802092576.
Phelan, J., Moss-Racusin, C., & Rudman, L. (2008). Competent yet out in the cold: Shifting criteria for hiring reflect backlash toward agentic women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32, 406–413. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.2008.00454.x.
Prentice, D., & Carranza, E. (2002). What women should be, shouldn't be, are allowed to be, and don't have to be: The contents of prescriptive gender stereotypes. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 269–281. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-6402.t01-1-00066.
Ratliff, K., Redford, L., Conway, J., & Smith, C. (2017). Engendering support: Hostile sexism predicts voting for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/1368430217741203.
Ratner, K., Dotsch, R., Wigboldus, D., van Knippenberg, A., & Amodio, D. (2014). Visualizing minimal ingroup and outgroup faces: Implications for impressions, attitudes, and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(6), 897–911. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036498.
Rosenwasser, S., & Dean, N. (1989). Gender role and political office: Effects of perceived masculinity/femininity of candidate and political office. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 13(1), 77–85. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1989.tb00986.x.
Rudman, L., Moss-Racusin, C., Phelan, J., & Nauts, S. (2012). Status incongruity and backlash effects: Defending the gender hierarchy motivates prejudice against female leaders. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 165–179. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2011.10.008.
Smith, J., Paul, D., & Paul, R. (2007). No place for a woman: Evidence for gender bias in evaluations of presidential candidates. Basic & Applied Social Psychology, 29(3), 225–233. https://doi.org/10.1080/01973530701503069.
Thoroughgood, C., Sawyer, K., & Hunter, S. (2013). Real men don't make mistakes: Investigating the effects of leader gender, error type, and the occupational context on leader error perceptions. Journal of Business and Psychology, 28(1), 31–48. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-012-9263-8.
Todorov, A., Mandisodza, A., Goren, A., & Hall, C. (2005). Inferences of competence from faces predict election outcomes. Science, 308(5728), 1623–1626. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1110589.
Visser, B., Book, A., & Volk, A. (2017). Is Hillary dishonest and Donald narcissistic? A HEXACO analysis of the presidential candidates' public personas. Personality and Individual Differences, 106, 281–286. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.10.053.
Wittenbrink, B., Judd, C., & Park, B. (1997). Evidence for racial prejudice at the implicit level and its relationship with questionnaire measures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(2), 262–274. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-35220.127.116.112.
Wright, J., & Tomlinson, M. (2018). Personality profiles of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: Fooled by your own politics. Personality and Individual Differences, 128, 21–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2018.02.019.
Young, A., Ratner, K., & Fazio, R. (2014). Political attitudes bias the mental representation of a presidential candidate's face. Psychological Science, 25(2), 503–510. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797613510717.
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.
All participants in this work provided informed consent.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Electronic supplementary material
About this article
Cite this article
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
- Shifting standards