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The role of knowledge about mal-intent on judgments of benevolent sexism

Böttcher, L. (2021) The role of knowledge about mal-intent on judgments of benevolent sexism.

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Abstract:Benevolent sexism (BS) is a subtler form of sexism and is characterized by subjectively positive attitudes of its perpetrators towards female targets. This subtleness often leads to BS actions not being perceived as sexist. Generally, knowing about an actor’s intention influences people’s judgments about moral issues such as racism and discrimination. This study extends these previous findings to judgments of sexism and proposes that BS may not be judged as sexist if people do not attribute bad intention or negative mental state (i.e., intent to undermine women) to an actor’s behaviour. Two specific hypotheses were tested. Hypothesis 1 stated that the more negative the actor’s mental state, the higher perceived malintent perceived harm, and perceived sexism. Hypothesis 2 stated that a higher score on feminism relates to a higher score on perceived mal-intent, perceived harm, and perceived sexism. These hypotheses were tested using a cross-sectional design with a between-subject study (N = 262). Participants were randomly assigned to one of the following conditions: one baseline condition with no further information about the actor’s intent, two positive conditions (egalitarian motive and benevolent motive), and two negative conditions (negative stereotype and undermining motive). Two workplace-related scenarios, one concerning helping behaviour and one concerning complimenting attractiveness, in line with BS were used. Besides that, participants were asked to answer the feminist attitude scale by Koyama, McGain, and Hill (2004). The results show that knowledge of an actor’s negative mental state (i.e., a man that behaved in a BS manner while having negative stereotypes or aiming to undermine) led to participants perceiving the actor as having worse intent in comparison to the more positive mental states (i.e., a man that behaved with egalitarian or benevolent motives). However, judgments of the perceived harm were not influenced by participants’ knowledge about an actor’s mental state. Participants perceived both scenarios as harmful and sexist. Moreover, a more negative mental state led participants to judge these scenarios as more sexist compared to an actor with a seemingly more positive mental state. In most cases, higher feminism was related to higher perceived mal-intent, harm, and sexism. These findings emphasize the role of intent to harm on judgments of BS. Moreover, it is suggested that a reason for not labelling BS as sexist is that the mal-intent (i.e., negative mental states) is not recognized by people despite recognizing harm. Thus, this study extends the understanding of why BS may not be judged as sexist, as has been questioned by past research.
Item Type:Essay (Bachelor)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:70 social sciences in general, 77 psychology
Programme:Psychology BSc (56604)
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