Project Title

Is sexism taking on new forms in movies? An ambivalent sexism perspective

Project Abstract

Keywords: sexism, ambivalent sexism, gender roles, pop culture, film


Traditional ideas of sexism include overtly hostile views or treatment of women, such as direct and antagonistic attitudes toward women, demeaning comments about a woman’s clothing or name-calling. However, the theory of ambivalent sexism describes a mixture of hostile sexism with benevolent sexism (Glick & Fisk, 1996). Benevolent sexism is subtle and reinforces female gender roles that include the need for protection. It results from stereotyping women as sensitive, subordinate, and in need of masculine dominance which ultimately restricts women’s roles, such as using unwanted pet names or encouraging women to take on a caregiving role, and punishing women for taking on non-gender specific roles. Culture adherence to gender roles is often reflected in the media. Movies, in particular, can be useful in analyzing social conditions at the time of production, and to see changes in how sexism may present itself through the decades (Nicholson, 1997).


An archival observational study used trained raters to observe potential ambivalent sexism in popular movies by keeping a count of instances of hostile and benevolent sexism that occurred both in and out of the workplace, according to a prepared rubric. The top 10 producing movies across 7 decades were watched by two raters each. Preliminary analysis of 34 movies across various genres (e.g., action, romance, family) were performed to determine frequencies of ambivalent sexism, and whether those instances differ by genre or time. More data is still being entered for final analysis.


Preliminary analysis indicates that benevolent sexism (M=10.82, SD=9.57; range 0-37) is more prevalent than hostile sexism (M=5.67, SD=7.38; range 0-35), popular film,t(32)=3.40, p=0.002. Additionally, a one-way ANOVA showed differences between genres including action (M=18.8, SD=13.19), drama (M=15.71,SD=11.79), family/comedy (M=31.14, SD=15.95), and sci-fi/fantasy (M=9.00,SD=4.97) on instances of benevolent sexism, F(3,29)=2.97, MSE=167.96, p=0.04. Posthoc comparisons using the Tukey HSD test indicate that these differences occur most between family/comedy movies and sci-fi/fantasy movies. Importantly, there was no difference in number of sexist acts across time (ps > .05)

Conclusions and Implications

Acts aligning with benevolent sexism are more prevalent in movies than hostile sexism on average across decades and genres, though some genres have higher instances of benevolent sexism than others. Movies falling under the sci-fi or fantasy genres have significantly fewer counts of benevolent sexism than family or comedy films, and no genre proved to have great differences in instances of hostile sexism. Implications will be discussed.


Annual Meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association

April 23-25, 2020

Psi Chi

Funding Type

Travel Grant

Academic College

College of Humanities and Fine Arts




Bachelor of Science

Graduation Expected

May 2021




Dr. Jana Hackathorn

Academic College

College of Humanities and Fine Arts

Beginning date of project


End date of project


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