“Women are wonderful” effect

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The “women are wonderful” effect is the gender stereotypes found in psychology and sociology which suggests that people's stereotypes of women were more positive than their stereotypes of men, although both sexes were viewed as positive. This bias is referred to as benevolent sexism[1] and was dubbed by Eagly & Mladinic (1994) after research suggested that it is no longer politically acceptable to be derogative towards women.[2] (Lower class and minority women are still viewed negatively, as class and race biases overwhelms the "women are wonderful" effect).[3] Studies found the “Women are wonderful” works when women follow traditional gender roles such as child nurturing and stay at home housewife.[4] In fact, in 2002 Eagly and Karau stated that the “women are wonderful” effect might be better phrased as “women are wonderful when” effect, with the "when" meaning when women are not in charge.[5]

Empirical support[edit]

In a review conducted by Eagly, Mladinic & Otto (1991), evidence was found to indicate that women were evaluated positively as a social category and more favorably than men. In the experiment, over 300 college students (both men and women) evaluated the social categories of men and women, relating the traits and expectations of each gender through interviews, emotion-associations and free-response measures. Supporting this effect, words perceived as positive, like “happy” and “good”, were more quickly assigned to women than men. The "women are wonderful" effect does not mean that all women are evaluated positively. The effect disappears when women do not adhere to traditional gender roles.[4]

In contemporary research, attitudes toward women appear to be more positive than those toward men. While this research on competence judgments has not shown a pervasive tendency to devalue a women's traditional gendered work, it has demonstrated prejudice against those women in masculine domains (e.g. male-dominated jobs, male-stereotypic behavior). This targeted form of prejudice towards women is derived primarily from the ascription that women's traits include "nice", "nurturant", "communal characteristics", which the public attributes to individuals that qualify for domestic role aka those low-status, low-paying female-dominated jobs. These findings confirm women's experiences of gender discrimination and the backlash against women into traditionally masculine arenas, especially with women's efforts to gain access to high-status, high-paying male-dominated jobs, which are thought to require characteristics stereotypically ascribed to men.[6]

While, superficially, the “women are wonderful” effect may be viewed as beneficial, this stereotype is not a descriptive one, but a highly prescriptive stereotype. A descriptive gender stereotype reflects beliefs about the way men and women are perceived to be, whereas a prescriptive gender stereotype delineates how men and women ought to behave according to their individual gender. Because of this stereotype about female communality, people not only believe that women are nicer than men, it becomes a requirement for women to be nicer or else be penalized for violating the prescriptive social norms.[7] Prescriptive gendered stereotype violations can cause the withholding of job opportunities, and the willful sabotaging of women’s work.[8] One study shows that women are judged more harshly in business roles, "especially when she worked in an industry incongruent with her gender role[9] and that men are more likely than women to endorse traditional gender roles.[10] Research indicates men showing greater resistance to a women’s leadership than women,[9] and that men are more likely than women to endorse traditional gender roles.[10]

In-group bias[edit]

Rudman & Goodwin (2004) conducted research on gender bias that measured gender preferences without directly asking the participants. Subjects at Purdue and Rutgers participated in computerized tasks that measured automatic attitudes based on how quickly a person categorizes pleasant and unpleasant attributes with each gender. Such a task was done to discover whether people associate pleasant words (good, happy, and sunshine) with women, and unpleasant words (bad, trouble, and pain) with men.[11] Research has shown that while both women and men have more favorable views of women, women's in-group biases were stronger than those of men.[12]

Other experiments in this study found people showed automatic preference for their mothers over their fathers, or associated the male gender with violence or aggression. Rudman and Goodwin's found that maternal bonding and male intimidation influences gender attitudes. Another experiment found adults' attitudes were measured based on their reactions to categories associated with sexual relations. It revealed that among men who engaged more in sexual activity, the more positive their attitude towards sex, the larger their bias towards women.[disputed ] A greater interest in and liking of sex may promote automatic preference for the out-group of women among men, although both women and men with sexual experience expressed greater liking for the opposite gender.[11]

See also[edit]


  • Anderson, Kristin J., Modern Misogyny: Anti-Feminism in a Post-Feminist Era : (Oxford University Press, 2014). ISBN 978-0-199328-178
  • Eagly, Alice H.; Steffen, V. J. (1984), "Gender stereotypes stem from the distribution of women and men into social roles", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 46 (4): 735–754, doi:10.1037/0022-3514.46.4.735 
  • Eagly, Alice H.; Mladinic, Antonio; Otto, Stacey (1991), "Are women evaluated more favorably than men? An analysis of attitudes, beliefs and emotions", Psychology of Women Quarterly 15 (2): 203–16, doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1991.tb00792.x 
  • Eagly, Alice H.; Mladinic, Antonio (1994), "Are people prejudiced against women? Some answers from research on attitudes, gender stereotypes, and judgments of competence", European Review of Social Psychology 5: 1–35, doi:10.1080/14792779543000002 
  • Garcia-Retamero, Rocio; López-Zafra, Esther (2006), "Prejudice against Women in male-congenial environments: Perceptions of gender role congruity in leadership", Sex Roles 55 (1/2): 51–61, doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9068-1 
  • Rudman, Laurie A.; Goodwin, Stephanie A. (2004), "Gender differences in automatic in-group bias: Why do women like women more than they like men?", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 87 (4): 494–509, doi:10.1037/0022-3514.87.4.494, PMID 15491274 
  • Whitley, Bernard E.; Kite, Mary E. (2010), The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination, Belmont, California, USA: Wadsworth, ISBN 978-0-495-81128-2