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Encyclopedia of Human Relationships

Gender Stereotypes

Contributors: Mary E. Kite

Edited by: Harry T. Reis & Susan Sprecher
Book Title: Encyclopedia of Human Relationships
Chapter Title: "Gender Stereotypes"
Pub. Date: 2009
Access Date: February 13, 2018
Publishing Company: SAGE Publications, Inc.
City: Thousand Oaks
Print ISBN: 9781412958462
Online ISBN: 9781412958479
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412958479.n241
Print pages: 758-760
©2009 SAGE Publications, Inc.. All Rights Reserved.
This PDF has been generated from SAGE Knowledge. Please note that the pagination of
the online version will vary from the pagination of the print book.
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Copyright © 2009 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

Gender-associated beliefs influence how people respond to us from the cradle to the grave.
From birth, our parents shape our world based, in part, on their beliefs about what boys and
girls are and should be like. As we develop, we learn how to interact with members of the
same and the other sex, both in groups and as individuals. Friendships, family relationships,
romantic partnerships, and workplace associations are affected by cultural beliefs about the
sexes. This entry focuses on gender stereotypes, defined as organized, consensual beliefs
and opinions about the characteristics of women and men and about the purported qualities
of masculinity and femininity. As will be discussed, people hold gender-associated beliefs
about the basic categories of “woman” and “man,” but usually recognize that men and women
are also simultaneously members of other social groups, and they hold more fine-grained
stereotypes about these subtypes. The extent to which gender stereotypes influence
relationships depends on the social context of the relationship and on the power and status
associated with the male and female gender role.

Gender-Associated Beliefs

Until recently, most research on gender stereotypes focused on the basic category level. Early
work from the late 1960s and early 1970s identified two constellations of traits, one associated
with women and one associated with men. Stereotypes about women are represented by a
communal o r expressive cluster that includes traits such as emotional, kind, and
understanding. Stereotypes about men are represented by an agentic or instrumental cluster
that includes traits such as active, competitive, and self-confident. These characteristics are
the core of two well-known measures of gender stereotyping, the Bem Sex Role Inventory and
the Personal Attributes Questionnaire. These measures are used to assess people's
perceptions about their own traits and their beliefs about others' traits. In an average sense,
women's and men's self-assessments correspond to the gender stereotypes they apply to

More recent work has demonstrated that gender-associated beliefs are multidimensional; to
capture the full picture of gender-based stereotypes, one must consider the roles women and
men occupy, their physical characteristics, their cognitive abilities, and their emotions.
Women's roles, for example, are stereotypically assumed to include cooking the meals and
caregiving, whereas men's roles are assumed to include being the breadwinner and being a
leader. Men are stereotypically described as tall and rugged whereas women are described as
pretty and petite. Women's cognitive skills are believed to include an artistic bent and strong
verbal skills; beliefs about men's cognitive abilities center around their strong mathematical
skills and their ability to reason. Finally, people hold stereo-typic expectations about
appropriate emotions for the sexes. In general, women are seen as both experiencing and
expressing more emotion than men do; emotions associated with women include happiness,
embarrassment, love, fear, and distress. Only two emotions, anger and pride, are stereo-
typically associated with men.

Characteristics of Gender Stereotypes

Gender stereotypes have several characteristics that merit attention. First, as with most
stereotypes, there is both a descriptive component, representing the content of people's
beliefs, and a prescriptive component, representing what people believe others should be like.
In the context of a heterosexual partnership, for example, beliefs about gender roles often
lead to the assumption that women ought to have greater responsibility for the children and

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that men should naturally assume the role of breadwinner. A second characteristic of gender
stereotypes is that they are remarkably stable. Respondents in the United States have beliefs
about gender that are similar to those held by Germans or Koreans; John Williams and
Deborah Best, for example, found that respondents in 30 countries held similar gender
stereotypes. Respondents in the new millennium hold beliefs similar to respondents in 1970,
and older adults hold views similar to younger people. There is an exception to the general
finding that gender stereotypes are stable, however; Amanda Diekman and Alice Eagly found
that today's women are viewed as more agentic than women in the 1950s and that people
expect that women and men will become more similar in agency in the future. Men's agency,
however, is not viewed as changing over time, nor is either women's or men's communion.
Such perceptions are consistent with the power and status women are gaining in a variety of

One question that often arises is whether gender stereotypes are accurate and, at the group
level, they appear to be. Judith Hall and Jason Carter, for example, studied 77 traits and
behaviors and found that people's stereotypic beliefs correspond to women's and men's self-
reported characteristics. This correspondence, however, does not tell us what individual
women and men are like. Although men are generally more aggressive than women, for
example, there are certainly aggressive women. At best, stereotypes provide global cues
about group members' characteristics; that people can readily identify gender stereotypes
does not mean that they should endorse them.

Gender Polarization

Another important characteristic of gender stereotypes is reflected in people's assumption that

gender-associated characteristics are bipolar. That is, people believe that what is masculine is
not feminine and vice versa. This perceived gender polarization leads people to view gender-
associated characteristics as a package: a person with feminine traits, for example, is believed
to occupy feminine roles and to have feminine physical characteristics. Similarly, a person
who occupies a masculine role is believed to also have masculine traits and a masculine
appearance. People also make predictions about a person's sexual orientation, based on their
perceived gender-associated characteristics. Men with feminine characteristics, then, are often
assumed to be gay and, to a lesser extent, women with masculine characteristics are often
assumed to be lesbian. Finally, gender stereotypes are strongly associated with judgments of
power and status; the more powerful, higher status roles are associated with men and
masculinity and the less powerful, lower status roles are associated with women and
femininity. Yet men's greater perceived power does not mean men are preferred; instead,
research suggests women are liked better than men, a finding Alice Eagly and Antonio
Mladinic have dubbed the women are wonderful effect.

Subtypes of Women and Men

The research discussed so far addresses beliefs about the basic social categories of woman
and man. However, research has identified more than 200 gender-associated subtypes.
These subtypes capture the reality that women and men also are of a particular age and
ethnicity and that they occupy many different social roles. These subtypes can be grouped
into major categories including occupations (manager, secretary), family roles (housewife,
family man), ideologies (punk, libber), physical features (jock, athletic woman), and sexuality
(macho man, sexy woman). When classifying others into subtypes, people appear to first
create separate subtypes for women and men. However, people also use a traditional (e.g.,

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housewife) or modern (eternal bachelor) dimension in their groupings and make distinctions
between younger (adolescent, prissy girl) and older (granddad, old maid) gender-based

Susan Fiske and her colleagues have shown that stereotypes can be classified along two
global dimensions: a warmth dimension, related to the communal stereotype associated with
women, and a competence dimension, related to the agentic stereotype associated with men.
These dimensions are applied independently when judging subtypes of women and men.
People may view managers as competent, for example, but also see them as cold. Similarly,
people may see housewives as warm but may not respect them. Echoing the research on
basic social categories, subtypes that are viewed as competent are seen as having higher
status than are subtypes that are viewed as warm.

Influence of Context

People need to process stereotypic information quickly to make sense of their social world;
otherwise, they would be overwhelmed by the amount of information they face. Because of
this, at first pass, people often automatically rely on gender stereotypes. Mahzarin Banaji and
her colleagues, for example, have shown that when people are primed for (or subconsciously
made aware of) gender ste-reotypic traits, they subsequently judge others in gender
stereotypic terms and are faster at making gender-related judgments such as identifying
which names are associated with women or men.

Despite the ubiquity of gender-based stereotyping, however, in actual interactions, perceivers

may eschew these stereotypes, turning instead to a more fine-grained assessment of women
and men. Kay Deaux and Brenda Major have proposed a comprehensive model of how, when,
and why gender influences behavior. In their model, the context sets the stage for the
interaction; if this context is highly gendered, such as a romantic setting, people are more
likely to rely on gender stereotypes. In contrast, during a business meeting, people are likely
to rely on workplace-related cues and, accordingly, may be less likely to use gender-
associated beliefs as a guide. This model also assumes that perceivers and their interaction
partners are not passive players; that is, both parties in an interaction work in tandem and
how their interaction progresses determines the extent to which gender stereotypes influence
that interaction.

Even so, gender-associated beliefs can create a double bind for people who step outside
gender roles. Women who fulfill a traditional male leadership role, for example, can
experience prejudice as a result of stereotypic expectations. Madeline Heilman has proposed
the stereotype-fit hypothesis to explain why women are less likely to occupy the manager role
than are men. Her model postulates that the characteristics associated with effective manager
are similar to the characteristics associated with men (and quite different from the
characteristics associated with women). Hence, people see congruence between “man” and
“manager” and a disconnect between “woman” and “manager.” The perceived fit for men and
the perceived lack of fit for women results in more men being selected as managers. And,
even when women are chosen to be managers, the belief that their characteristics do not fit
the role can result in more negative performance evaluations and, ultimately, can affect their
opportunities for further advancement.

Although the stereotype-fit hypothesis addresses gender stereotyping in the workplace,

research suggests that these processes apply in a variety of settings; men, for example, who
assume primary care for their children often experience negative reactions from family and

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friends, presumably because of the perceived lack of fit between male and caregiver. More
generally, passive men and aggressive women are viewed less favorably than are men and
women who behave consistently with their gender roles. However, individuals who endorse a
blend of gender-associated characteristics are liked more than are those who are one-
dimensional, even if that one dimension is completely gender congruent.

A limitation of the research described here is that researchers, either implicitly or explicitly,
assess stereotypes associated with White women and men from the middle class. The
relatively few studies that have examined stereotypes of other groups show that this presents
an incomplete picture. Gender-related beliefs about Black men and White men are similar, for
example, but Black women and lower-class women are seen as less feminine than are White
and middle-class women. Similarly, research suggests that stereotypes of other social
categories, such as age and sexual orientation, are linked to gender stereotypic beliefs.
Another limitation is that the people who are reporting their stereotypic beliefs are themselves
usually White and middle class; the views of other social groups are largely unrepresented.
Research addressing this shortcoming is long overdue.

gender stereotypes
Alice Eagly

Mary E.Kite
See also

Cognitive Processes in Relationships

Culture and Relationships
Gender Roles in Relationships
Sex-Role Orientation
Workplace Relationships

Further Readings
Bem, S. L.(1993).The lenses of gender: Transforming the debate on sexual inequality. New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Deaux, K., & LaFrance, M.(1998).Gender. In D. T.Gilbert, S. T.Fiske, & G.Lindzey (Eds.),
Handbook of social psychology (
4th ed.
, Vol. 1, pp. 788–827). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Eagly, A. H., Beall, A. E., & Sternberg, R. J. (Eds.). (2004).The psychology of gender (
2nd ed.
). New York: Guilford Press.
Eckes, T., & Trautner, H. M. (Eds.). (2000).The developmental social psychology of gender.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J. C., Glick, P., and Xu, J.A model of (often mixed) stereotype content:
Competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Journal of

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Personality and Social Psychology82(2002). 878–902. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-

Kite, M. E., Deaux, K., & Haines, E. L.(2008).Gender stereotypes. In F. L.Denmark, & M.
A.Paludi (Eds.), Psychology of women: A handbook of issues and theories (pp. 205–236).
Westport, CT: Praeger.
Schneider, D. J.(2004).Psychology of stereotyping. New York: Guilford Press.

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