Gender bias: explanatory theories

Gender bias: explanatory theories

In 2005, in Spain, the Organic Law on Comprehensive Protection Measures against Gender Violence came into force to try to intervene in social problems such as gender violence, domestic violence or domestic terrorism.

Article 1.1 of the Act states that violence occurs as a manifestation of discrimination, inequality and power relations of men over women.

Despite the fact that many believe that such inequality or “marginalization” towards the female sex is being exaggerated or that, directly, it does not exist, shows that such problem is due to clearly psychosocial factors. This is why studies have been carried out from Social Psychology. In order to solve a problem, it is necessary to understand it, to know how it operates and which factors reproduce it.

Background on the study of women’s status

Janet Taylor Spence created the Attitudes towards Women Scale in the 1970s, which proved to be very useful and continues to be so today. It measures beliefs about men’s and women’s rights and roles that assess different treatment between the two sexes, emphasizing that women do not perform certain tasks as well as men.

Fortunately, the results of applying this scale have varied over the years, and although today women are still more equal than men, the latter’s score has increased. In our country the Gender Identity Scale has been created. The results conclude that men with a lower level of education and older men score on more prejudiced attitudes towards the female sex .

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Theory of ambivalent sexism

The ambivalence referred to in the name of this theory of sexism refers to the coexistence of two types of sexism that complement each other: hostile sexism and benevolent sexism.

Hostile sexism

By which women are considered as an inferior group that should be subordinated to the control of men. How can we justify its existence?

By the dominant paternalism, according to which lies the belief that men should have more power than women, so they are afraid that they can usurp that dominant status. For example, in the private sphere within a heterosexual relationship it is the man who must make the important decisions. For a hostile sexist, the prototypical characteristics of women (such as their greater sensitivity) make them less likely to take on higher status roles.

Within heterosexual relationships, hostility includes the belief that women are manipulative towards men and that, in addition, they exercise power over men through sexual satisfaction. With the paradox that despite the fact that they consider them subordinate, they depend on them sexually.

Benevolent sexism

In this second one, a “positive” connotation is adopted towards women but subject to certain functions . This kind of sexism is explained by the protective paternalism, according to which women depend on men and men must protect them. For example, caring for women before men in case of emergency. The complementary sex differentiation for the benevolent sexist is that female characteristics complement them, yet their roles will always be of lesser status than those they can or should exercise.

Finally, in this sexism heterosexual intimacy is also based on cooperation, however, physical and psychological aggression towards their partner has been a way of controlling them to maintain inequality.

How does a man react to ambivalent conflict?

To resolve the unpleasant psychological conflict that arises in the face of a man who is ambivalent towards the opposite sex, one can choose to react in two ways.

First, you can divide the woman into sub-parts by evaluating each one differently . This way they can, for example, love some women (for example, their daughters) and hate others (for example, those who defend gender equality). The problem with this way of resolving conflict is that such subdivision of women may lead to not all women fitting into one of these categories.

Secondly, sexists can evaluate powerful women negatively but respect them for being competent in their professional life . Or the other way around, feeling affection towards subordinate women but perceiving them as incompetent. What sexists should bear in mind is that, in real life, they do not interact with stereotypes, but with real women who can fall into many categories (housewife, mother, worker in positions of responsibility, etc.) for whom they will have ambivalent feelings, especially if they have some kind of social or emotional bond with her.

Concluding

Theories that address the issue of gender bias must understand the problem as part of a psychosocial dynamic . On the one hand, it should study the styles of thought linked to sexism, and on the other hand, it should study the way in which individuals interact among themselves and with the environment. In this way it is possible to understand a phenomenon as complex as this.

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