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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Hostile and benevolent sexism: The differential roles of human supremacy beliefs, women’s connection to nature, and the dehumanization of women

Salmen, A., & Dhont, K. (2020). 
Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 


Scholars have long argued that sexism is partly rooted in dominance motives over animals and nature, with women being perceived as more animal-like and more closely connected to nature than men. Yet systematic research investigating these associations is currently lacking. Five studies (N = 2,409) consistently show that stronger beliefs in human supremacy over animals and nature were related to heightened hostile and benevolent sexism. Furthermore, perceiving women as more closely connected to nature than men was particularly associated with higher benevolent sexism, whereas subtle dehumanization of women was uniquely associated with higher hostile sexism. Blatant dehumanization predicted both types of sexism. Studies 3 and 4 highlight the roles of social dominance orientation and benevolent beliefs about nature underpinning these associations, while Study 5 demonstrates the implications for individuals’ acceptance of rape myths and policies restricting pregnant women’s freedom. Taken together, our findings reveal the psychological connections between gender relations and human–animal relations.

Implications and Conclusions

Scholars have argued that in order to effectively combat oppression, different forms of prejudice cannot be seen in isolation, but their interdependency needs to be understood (Adams, 1990/2015; 1994/2018; Adams & Gruen, 2014; C. A. MacKinnon, 2004). Based on the present findings, it can be argued that the objectification of women in campaigns to promote animal rights not only expresses sexist messages, but may be ineffective in addressing animal suffering (see also Bongiorno et al., 2013). Indeed, it may reinforce superiority beliefs in both human intergroup and human–animal relations. Along similar lines, our findings raise important questions regarding the frequent use of media images depicting women in an animalistic way or together with images of nature (e.g., Adams, 1990/2015; Plous & Neptune, 1997; Reynolds & Haslam, 2011). Through strengthening the association of women with animals and nature, exposure to these images might increase and maintain benevolent and hostile sexism.

Taken together, by showing that the way people think about animals is associated with exploitative views about women, our findings move beyond traditional psychological theorizing on gender-based bias and provide empirical support for the ideas of feminist scholars that, on a psychological level, systems of oppression and exploitation of women and animals are closely connected.