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The Female Stereotype

Sarah Ogilvie

Current research into the evaluative content of gender stereotypes reveals that women are evaluated more favourably than men (Eagly & Mladinic, 1993). However, the characteristics typically ascribed to women, such as; nice, nurturant, communal and passive suggest that the favourable perception of women is couched in terms of attributes related to the woman's traditional domestic role (Eagly & Mladinic, 1993). Contemporary research also suggests that subtypes of women are spontaneously activated when people are asked to indicate their conceptions of women (Haddock & Zanna, 1994; Eckes, 1994). In a recent study conducted by Glick, Diebold, Bailey-Werner and Zhu (1997) it was found that when men were asked to generate subgroups of women, and to describe the features pertaining to women in these categories, participants generated clearly different subtypes: a traditional housewife and a modern career woman subtype. It was also evident that compared to the modern subtype, there was a high degree of consensus about the content of the traditional subtype. The study also employed a measure of attitudes toward women and found that sexist men favourably evaluated women who were more traditional, whereas women who were more modern or tramp-like were negatively evaluated. This finding corroborated Eagly and Mladinic's assertion (1993) that favourable attitudes toward women often depend upon her similarity to the traditional housewife subtype.

It is also apparent that prevailing attitudes toward women are related to the way in which they are perceived with respect to competency (Biernat Kobrynowicz, 1997; Foddy, 1997; Glick et al., 1997). In this, the more traditional subtype has been found to attract competence-related attributes such as dependent and excitable in a crisis (Foddy, 1997). As research suggests that traits pertaining to the traditional subtype most closely parallel those of the overall female stereotype, it may, in fact, be the case that women in general are perceived as being incompetent (Balkwell and Berger, 1996; Eckes, 1994; Glick et al., 1997; Haddock & Zanna, 1994). Moreover, as expectations based on attitudes concerning women's competency have been found to impact upon behaviour in certain settings, an understanding of the processes involved may help to explain the pervasive gender inequalities that persist within society (Foschi, 1998; Ridgeway, 1993; Ridgeway & Diekema, 1997). It is this issue of the impact attitudes have upon behaviour to which we now turn.

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