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  • Sexism is the set of attitudes directed towards people by reason of their belonging to a biological sex, that foment inequality between women and men. Current conceptions recognize that in sexism there may coexist elements of rejection of women that are more evident (hostile sexism), with other more subtle forms (benevolent sexism).
  • Hostile sexism corresponds to the negative conception in which women are the object of prejudicial attitudes or discriminatory behaviour based on their supposed inferiority given their natural feminine characteristics.
  • Benevolent sexism, more subtle, has a positive tone, and is based on the attribution to women of positive characteristics and aptitudes, but these are centred on their role as wives, mothers, and romantic objects. This ultimately perpetuates the idea that they are fragile and there are many things they cannot do for themselves, so they need the protection of men.
  • Boys/men usually show higher levels of hostile sexism, while results are inconsistent when studying the benevolent component.
  • In general terms, high levels of sexism are still found in adolescents nowadays.
  • Sexism is related to lower academic performance and lower level of education. Sexist social and familiar environment make girls less likely than boys to enrol in higher education, and more likely to take on traditional roles.
  • Sexism is associated with attitudes towards violence, not only gender-based violence, but other ways of violence too, like bullying at school.
  • Sexist attitudes are also associated with greater sex risk behaviours, more attraction to sexist partners and greater emotional dependence inside of the couple.
  • Some uses of language contribute to the cultural transmission of sexism.


Sexism is defined as the discriminatory attitude based on belonging to a biological sex, for which specific characteristics are attributed (Garaigordobil & Aliri, 2011). In theory, any assessment made of a person in reference to their biological sex category can be labelled of sexist, so it can affect any gender. Nevertheless, sexism towards women is the most frequent, and it’s based on the supposed inferiority of women as a group.

Sexism is a structuring element of social relations between men and women. It produces and maintains inequalities, since it grants certain privileges to men just because they are men (their work is better paid, they continue to occupy positions of power in high political, economic, and educational spheres), while women continue to be underestimated, their activities are perceived as lacking value, their desires and expectations remain in second place and their contributions to the history of humanity remain unrecognized in textbooks.

The presence of sexism and its forms may vary from one culture to another, but it is a reality in most societies. Although there is a growing concern to overcome sexism and, in many ways, it has been mitigated in the interest of achieving equality and acknowledgement work between men and women, in its more subtle aspects it persists, in many cases without us even being aware of it.


Glick and Fiske (2001) have proposed the “Ambivalent Sexism Theory”. As can be seen in the Figure 12, they propose two components in sexism that can coexist: the hostile and the benevolent, so sexist contempt can coexist with positive feelings towards women, hence its ambivalence. Hostile sexism attitudes are structured in three categories:

Diagrama Descripción generada automáticamente

Figure 12. Ambivalent Sexism Theory
  1. Dominant paternalism, which is the belief that women are weak or inferior and should be controlled and directed by men.
  2. Competitive gender differentiation, which refers to the belief that women are different and do not have the characteristics necessary to be part of the public sphere and should therefore be limited to the private domain.
  3. Heterosexual hostility, which is based on the belief that women have sexual-reproductive power which they could use to manipulate men.

Benevolent sexism, on the other hand, attributes women with seemingly positive attributes like compassion, tenderness, gentleness, etc., which make them good wives and mothers, and so they are still relegated to traditional roles. Benevolent sexism includes the following aspects:

  1. Protective paternalism, founded on the idea that men are the caregivers and protectors of women. Women should explicitly or implicitly recognize their fragility and inferiority in front of men and accept male domination.
  2. Complementary gender differentiation: women have positive characteristics that complement men (related to home and family).
  3. Heterosexual intimacy, based on the belief that heterosexual romantic relationships are essential for men and women to be truly happy.

In summary, ambivalent sexism implies the existence of explicit and subtle prejudices, that can be combined with each other, making sexism relatively invisible. Some authors argue that benevolent sexism is much more pernicious than hostile sexism because it masks its true essence. In fact, women are more likely to reject hostile sexism, which is more evident, thus contributing to its overcoming.

Various factors influence levels of sexism, such as cultural context, gender, age, level of education, etc. Many studies have explored differences in sexism between men and women and have reported consistent differences in hostile sexism (i.e., men show higher levels of hostile sexism than women) but inconsistent results for benevolent sexism.

Regarding age, different studies have found elevated levels of sexism in adolescents, higher than those found in older adults, although high levels of sexism have also been reported in people over 60 (Garaigordobil, 2015). It has been postulated that sexism decreases with age, as individuals become more aware of the injustice of sexism. The periods where socio-educational intervention is most necessary and effective are those of transition, like adolescence. In these stages there is greater flexibility for the assimilation of new concepts and greater openness to influences before attitudes are consolidated.

Various authors have found that some religious communities may also perpetuate sexism, so that the higher the level of participation in some religious communities was found to be related to higher level of sexism (Rodríguez & Lameiras, 2002).

Concerning the interaction between education and sexism, in recent decades the traditional female disadvantage has been disappearing, with girls showing similar or even higher levels of performance and expectations than boys (Díaz-Aguado, 2003). However, this continues to come up against a “glass ceiling” that prevents women from gaining equal access to positions of power. This is related to the difficulty of reconciling the public and private spheres, which some adolescent girls anticipate, expressing their anxiety in this regard (Arnold & Noble, 1996). It could also be a consequence of the lack of representative female (and other genders) figures that are in these positions of power, which makes it harder for women to imagine themselves in those roles.

It is a fact that lower academic performance and lower level of education are related to higher rates of sexism. Adolescents whose parents have higher levels of education, are more likely to show rejection towards sexist attitudes (Sáinz, Martínez & Meneses, 2020). There is also an association between sexism and poor perceived academic achievement, both in boys and girls. When it comes to real achievement (not only perception), this association mainly affects girls (Dardenne, Dumont & Bollier, 2007). When girls have a sexist social and familiar environment, they are less likely than boys to enrol in higher education courses that are highly specialized and qualified. These types of environments affect girls’ expectations about their career prospects and make them more likely to take on traditional roles (Vidal, 2018). They have lower intentions to study careers in sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics, lower academic self-efficacy, and worse cognitive performance in general.

This has been explained from the self-fulfilling prophecy model. This model postulates that a perceiver’s expectation about a target may initiate a sequence of events that causes the target to exhibit expectancy-consistent behaviour, thereby making the initially false expectation true. From a very young age, the sexist representation of the world conveys to boys and girls what qualities, values, and problems they should identify with, and in which activities they should and should not participate. In the matter at hand, girls would perceive themselves as incapable of accessing or completing certain types of studies (or that they are not appropriate for them), which would lead them to behave in such a way that this belief would eventually become a reality. Sexism and violence

In a study conducted in 52 countries (Archer, 2006), a correlation was found between sexism and the normalization of gender-based violence. Studies conducted specifically in adolescents, also have found that sexist attitudes are associated with attitudes towards violence. Teenagers who present more sexist attitudes have also more positive attitudes towards intimate partner violence, greater sexual risk behaviours, more attraction to sexist partners, greater support for the idealized myth of love and love-abuse bonding, greater emotional sexual risk behaviours, greater attraction to sexist partners, greater emotional dependence in the couple, and poorer quality of relationships (Ramiro-Sánchez, Ramiro, Bermúdez & Buela-Casal, 2018). Johnson et al. (2015) observed that the perpetration of intimate partner violence and victimization increased from adolescence through young adulthood, while Lohman et al. (2013) found that intimate partner violence showed stability during early adulthood. These results highlight the importance of working on sexist attitudes and beliefs during adolescence, to limit the strong repercussions they could have later in life.

During adolescence teenagers develop their gender identity. If it is constructed in a sexist way, adolescents could identify themselves with the problems traditionally associated with male (control, toughness) and female stereotypes (passivity, dependence, and submission), making men more likely to use violence, and women more likely to be victims of violence.

But sexism is not only associated with violence in the context of couple or romantic relationships; it has also been found that is related to bullying at school (Ovejero, Yubero, Larrañaga & Navarro, 2013). Sexism and language

Some uses of language contribute to the cultural transmission of sexism, designating the world exclusively in masculine and hiding women on the stage of words. Thus, for example, in the Spanish language, the masculine is often used to refer indistinctly to both sexes, and there is a certain resistance to the use of the feminine in the designation of occupations and qualifications. In English, some job titles link the job to a single sex when either sex can perform the job (fireman instead of firefighter), and many people still use a pronoun that denotes a single sex when the information being conveyed pertains equally to either or both sexes (“everyone should collect his belongings”). In both languages, identical words can have different meanings, depending on whether you use the feminine or masculine form (positive or neutral on the masculine form, and pejorative in the feminine form). There are also negative adjectives that only exists for naming women: for example, in English there is a word for an unmarried older woman, “spinster”, but there is no equivalent for a man. There is the word “bachelor”, but it does not carry the negative connotations. This does not only happen in these two languages: it has been studied in Korean, Hindi, German, etc.

There is good evidence that changing language does change people’s perceptions. Studies show that when you use an inclusive form to name occupations when talking or presenting information to children, they will be more likely to say women can be successful or that the job is suitable for them.

By naming the world both in masculine and in feminine we act with greater equity, but also with greater accuracy and correctness. Often, those who oppose these arguments do so by claiming that the use of both masculine and feminine verbs undermines spontaneity and expressive economy. Economy in the use of language will make sense depending on the intentions, the communication channel, or the context (an informal conversation is not the same as an official document, although both of them carry the power of changing perception). When we use nouns that name both sexes (fathers and mothers, for example), we are simply naming two elements of reality, we are not doubling the language. In many cases, it is also possible to use generic or gender-neutral terms that include both sexes.


  • A teenage girl who is asked questions such as ”when will you have children?”, ”how many would you like to have?”, ”are you ever going to get married?”, ”will you quit your job after you have children?”. Young boys are rarely asked these types of questions.
  • A girl who spends playtime at school playing soccer with the boys is criticized by a group of girls, who consider her a “tomboy”. A boy being criticized by others for preferring to play with the girls rather than play a sport with the other boys.
  • A boy opens the door for a girl but refuses to let her open it for him.
  • School uniforms: skirts for girls and pants for boys.
  • A boy who tells his teenage girlfriend that she can’t keep secrets from him, that she shouldn’t wear certain clothes, that she can’t be alone with her friends, etc. A girl who accepts all these kinds of impositions from her male partner.
  • A girl who receives positive comments and compliments from her environment based on her physical appearance, while her brother receives them based on his academic or sports performance.
  • That parents enrol their son in a sport as an extracurricular activity and their daughter in an artistic activity.
  • To tell a boy that he “cries like a girl”.


  • Watch a movie with your teenage children with the issue of violence against women. A film that adequately reflects this theme is “Take my eyes” (Bollaín, 2003) or ” Flowers from another world”, by the same director.
  • Avoid the use of the generic masculine and use language that makes female students and women in general more visible.
  • Be an example: share the household chores equally, avoid sexist remarks that disparage any individual based on sex.
  • Remember that all activities are suitable for everyone, and it is something that only depends on the tastes and vocation of each person. The same applies for toys and games.
  • Foster critical thinking. In everyday life there are a lot of elements that can be used to talk to our children and show them that reality is much more complex.


Archer, J. (2006). Cross-cultural differences in physical aggression between partners: a social-role analysis. Pers Soc Psychol Rev, 10(2):133-153. doi: 10.1207/s15327957pspr1002_3. PMID: 16768651.

Arnold, K., Noble, K., et al. (1996). Remarkable women: Perspectives on female talent development. Perspectives on creativity. Cresskill: Hampton Press.

Dardenne, B., Dumont, M., & Bollier, T. (2007). Insidious dangers of benevolent sexism: Consequences for women’sperformance.J. Pers. Soc. Psychol, 93, 764–779.

Díaz-Aguado, M. J. (2003). Adolescencia, sexismo y violencia de género. Papeles del Psicólogo, 84, 35-44

Garaigordobil, M. (2015). Sexismo y Expresión de la Ira: Diferencias de género, cambios con la edad y correlaciones entre ambos constructos. Revista Argentina de Clínica Psicológica, 24, 35-42

Garaigordobil, M., & Aliri, J. (2011). Sexismo hostil y benevolente: relaciones con el autoconcepto, el racismo y la sensibilidad intercultural. Revista de Psicodidáctica, 16(2), 331-35. http://doi.org/10.1387 / RevPsicodidact.998

Glick, P., & Fiske, S. (2001). Ambivalent sexism. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 33,115-188. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.56.2.109

Johnson, W. L., Giordano, P. C., Manning, W. D. et al (2015). The Age–IPV Curve: Changes in the Perpetration of Intimate Partner Violence During Adolescence and Young Adulthood. J Youth Adolescence 44, 708–726.. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0158-z

Lohman, B. J., Neppl, T. K., Senia, J. M., & Schofield, T. J. (2013). Understanding adolescent and family influences on intimate partner psychological violence during emerging adulthood and adulthood. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 42(4), 500-517. doi: 10.1007/s10964-013-9923-7

Ovejero, A., Yubero, S., Larrañaga, E., & Navarro, R. (2013). Sexismo y comportamiento de acoso escolar en adolescentes [Sexism and school bullying behaviour in adolescents]. Psicol. Conduct, 21, 157–171.

Ramiro-Sánchez, T., Ramiro, M. T., Bermúdez, M. P., & Buela-Casal, G. (2018). Sexism in adolescent relationships: A systematic review. Psychosocial Intervention, 27, 123-132. https://doi.org/10.5093/pi2018a1

Rodríguez, Y., & Lameiras, M. (2002). International Journal of Social Psychology. Revista de Psicología Social, 17 (2), 119-128.

Vidal, M., Llorca, E., Tur, A., Samper, A.M., Mestre, P., & Vicenta, M. (2018). Sexism and Aggression in Adolescence. How Do They Relate to Perceived Academic Achievement? Sustainability, 10, 9 3017.

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