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Anales de Psicología

On-line version ISSN 1695-2294Print version ISSN 0212-9728

Anal. Psicol. vol.30 n.3 Murcia Oct. 2014

http://dx.doi.org/10.6018/analesps.30.2.138981 

 

Analysis of current gender stereotypes

Análisis de los estereotipos de género actuales

 

 

Rosario Castillo-Mayén1 and Beatriz Montes-Berges2

1University College Dublin (Ireland)
2University of Jaén (Spain)

Correspondence

 

 


ABSTRACT

Gender stereotypes are beliefs about attributes associated to women and men that reveal gender discrimination. In order to identify changes of gender discrimination, the study of the stereotypes that prevail nowadays is essential. With this in mind, a scale consisting of 258 stereotypic characteristics was elaborated. This scale comprised two versions, one for female and one for male, which permits the understanding of how each gender is perceived currently. Both versions were filled out by 164 undergraduates (50% women). Taking into account those stereotypes that are still differentially assigned to each gender, this study identifies current gender stereotypes that are independent of sociodemographic characteristics, such as age or sex. In addition, new gender stereotypes emerged recently were gathered, and important changes of stereotypes were emphasized, especially those of feminine stereotypes. According to social role theory, these changes are the consequence of social roles changes. Conclusions highlight that, although part of the results involve progress on the achievement of equality, traditional stereotypic characteristics are still referred to each gender, which perpetuate discrimination.

Key words: gender stereotypes; gender discrimination; dynamic of stereotypes; social roles.


RESUMEN

Los estereotipos de género son creencias sobre las características asociadas a mujeres y hombres que mantienen la discriminación de género. El estudio de los estereotipos que prevalecen en nuestros días se torna indispensable para conocer los cambios que se van produciendo en relación a este fenómeno. Con este objetivo, se construyó una escala que contenía 258 características estereotípicas con dos versiones que permitieran conocer por separado cómo se percibe actualmente a cada género. Una muestra de 164 estudiantes de universidad (50% mujeres) completaron ambas versiones. Los resultados de este estudio permiten identificar los estereotipos de género vigentes señalando aquéllos que en la actualidad aún se asignan diferencialmente a cada género e independientemente de características sociodemográficas como la edad o el sexo. Además, se recogen los estereotipos de género que han surgido nuevos. Destacamos los importantes cambios que se han producido en este tipo de creencias, especialmente en los estereotipos femeninos. Según la teoría del rol social, tales cambios serían una consecuencia del cambio producido en los roles sociales. Las conclusiones subrayan que, si bien parte de los resultados suponen un avance en el logro de la igualdad, aún se atribuyen características estereotípicas tradicionales a cada género que perpetúan la discriminación.

Palabras clave: estereotipos de género; discriminación de género; dinámica de los estereotipos; roles sociales.


 

Introduction

There is a broad agreement in considering the stereotypes in general as the cognitive aspect of the prejudice (Dovidio, Evans, & Tyler, 1986). Stereotypes are an influence in information processing about social groups (Dovidio et al., 1986), as well as about our behaviour and that of others (i.e., Heilman, 2001; Steele, 1997). Focusing on gender stereotypes, these are one of the types of beliefs that, along with gender identity and gender ideology, underlie discriminatory behaviours based upon a person's categorization as a female or male (Barbera, 1998; Moya & Puertas, 2003). Gender stereotypes are considered as a structured set of shared beliefs within a culture or a group about the attributes or characteristics that each gender has (Moya, 2003). According to the social role theory (Eagly, 1987; Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000; Eagly, Wood, & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2004), stereotypical beliefs about gender groups emerge because the observation of each gender group performing different social roles leads to infer the existence of different inner dispositions. These beliefs, the socialization process and individual processes favour the appearance of differentiated behaviour in women and men, and the maintenance of these stereotypes as a consequence. Additionally, gender stereotypes entail important negative consequences, given that they restrict the comprehensive development of the person, affecting her preferences, skills development, aspirations, emotions, physical health, performance, etc. Without any doubt, these consequences have a higher impact on women, which in addition favours their vulnerability as victims of violence against them. Given the significance of gender stereotypes in the discriminatory processes, it becomes essential to know whether the content of these stereotypes remains stable or whether any change has occurred. In the present study, we aim to identify the gender stereotypes that currently stay prevailing, that is, we seek to show those characteristics that are assigned differentially to each gender group.

The content of gender stereotypes is multifaceted. However, their study is performed mainly on the basis of personality traits, in which the fundamental dimensions of instrumentality and expressiveness (i.e., Bem, 1974; Lopez-Saez & Morales, 1995; Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1974) or agency and communality (i.e., Eagly, 1987; Glick y Fiske, 2001) are distinguished. Generally, both the hetero-perception and self-perception of these traits coincides with that instrumental or agency attributes (i.e., independent, assertive, self-efficient, achievement-oriented) are more associated to men, while the expressive or communal ones (affectionate, warm, kind, others-oriented) are more associated to women. Additionally, gender stereotypes have both a descriptive (describing how gender groups are) and prescriptive (pointing out how these groups should be) nature, this last at a higher rate than other social groups (i.e., Burgess & Borgida, 1999; Eagly, 1987; Fiske & Stevens, 1993). The prescriptive rules about gender groups cause serious consequences on their acceptance and any possibility to change (i.e., Lopez-Saez & Lisbona, 2009). Thus, a differentiation between men and women based on stereotypes entail significant consequences for the maintenance of the gender-based system (Jackman, 1994). On the one hand, this favours the naturalization of the differences, treating each group as it actually was more appropriate for occupying the roles required by society (Hoffman & Hurst, 1990; Jost & Hamilton, 2005). On the other hand, the apparently positive aspect of women stereotypes along with the positive assessment of society about some roles related to women (e.g., family care), makes it more difficult for women to refuse that system.

Even though the content of gender stereotypes is broadly shared by different cultures (i.e., Williams & Best, 1982, 1990) and that their prescriptive aspect facilitates their maintenance, several studies have analyzed their dynamic and reported their evolution across the time as well as the influence of several social and cultural variables on their stability (i.e., Castillo-Mayén & Montes-Berges, 2007; Diekman & Eagly, 2000; Diekman, Eagly, Mladinic, & Ferreira 2005; López-Sáez, Morales, & Lisbona, 2008; López-Zafra, Gar-cía-Retamero, Diekman, & Eagly, 2008; Montes-Berges, 2002; Moya & Pérez, 1990; Spence & Buckner, 2000). According to the social role theory (Eagly, 1987; Eagly et al., 2000; Eagly et al., 2004), a change on women and men stereotypes is expected when a change in social roles occurs. At least partially, most of studies on this area confirm the postulates of this theory, showing a higher dynamic of the feminine stereotype (i.e., Diekman & Eagly, 2000; García-Retamero, Müller, & López-Zafra, 2009; López-Sáez et al., 2008). This higher change on stereotypes assigned to women is caused by a higher change in women's social roles in comparison to men (Sczesny, Bosak, Diekman, & Twenge, 2008).

The studies that have recently analyzed the specific influence of sociocultural and sociodemographic variables (i.e., Castillo-Mayén & Montes-Berges, 2007; Diekman & Eagly, 2000; Diekman et al., 2005; García-Retamero et al., 2009; López-Sáez & Lisbona, 2009; Rocha-Sánchez & Díaz-Loving, 2005; Wilde & Diekman, 2005), have shown, for example, that the population size has an impact on the application of traditional stereotypes (García-Retamero et al., 2009), and that variables such as gender, sex or educational level influence on the prevalence of the prescriptive dimension of gender stereotypes but not on the descriptive (López-Sáez & Lisbona, 2009).

The usual method of most of studies that analyze gender stereotypes stability is to present a list of stereotypes assigned traditionally to either gender group. However, this method might prevent to know whether the evolution of gender stereotypes has lead to the inclusion of other characteristics not conceived as stereotypes until now. Given that this study aims to identify the appearance of new stereotypes, we used a wide list of adjectives consisting of both traditional gender stereotypes and stereotypes commonly associated to men or women but usually not included in research (i.e., "determined" and "braggart" for men, or "solidary" and "superficial" for women). The identification of new stereotypes would allow enhancing results obtained until now in this research area. Moreover, taking into account the results from research on the dynamic of gender stereotypes, in which the influence of several factors on their current validity is shown, this study aims to identify those stereotypes assigned differentially at present to each gender group, and whose perception as valid is not due to the effect of any sociodemographic characteristic. In order to do so, some of the sociodemographic variables analyzed in previous studies, such as sex, age, marital status, political orientation and religiousness will be considered. Thus, this study will allow us to know the stereotypes currently considered as more characteristics of each gender group, independently of the sociodemographic characteristics of the individuals.

Specifically, first of all, we prepared a wide scale of adjectives which contained both traditional gender stereotypes from the most relevant literature on this topic and other characteristics also normally used to describe the gender groups. Two versions of this scale were created which were jointly and counterbalanced provided to participants. One was to indicate to what extent such stereotypes were considered characteristic of women, and the other to indicate to what extent those were considered as characteristics of men. In order to favour a response about gender groups considered as a whole, and to prevent social desirability and social rules effect (which would lead to a non-stereotypical response), it was assessed the assignment of each adjective to men and women in general, according to current society. Once the maintenance of a differential assignment of each stereotype was tested, the global effect of the sociodemo-graphic variables on considering each stereotype as more or less characteristic of each gender group was analyzed. Finally, current gender stereotypes were pointed out, that is, those that are still assigned differentially at present and are considered characteristic of each gender group, independently of the sex, marital status or political orientation of the participants.

Objectives and hypothesis

The specific aims of this study were, firstly, to verify the validity of the traditional gender stereotypes, and secondly, to know whether other gender stereotypes have currently emerged. A gender stereotype was considered current in our society if a) it was assigned differentially to only one of the gender groups, and b) any global effect of the variables of interest was found on considering the stereotype as more or less characteristic of one gender group. That is, the stereotype was considered valid if it was possible to affirm that this was maintained equally by all the participants independently of their sociodemographic variables, such as the marital status, the political orientation or the religiousness.

Based on the postulates of the social role theory about the changes in gender stereotypes, it was expected that the higher current presence of women in contexts traditionally assumed as masculine leads to a modification in the characteristics mainly associated to this gender group. Nevertheless, it was also expected that the presence of a gender-based hierarchy in our society (as it is reflected, for instance, in violence against women or the dissemination of sexist information) favours the maintenance of some traditional gender stereotypes. In addition, according to previous research, it was expected the influence of some sociodemo-graphic characteristics on considering a stereotype as more or less characteristic of the gender groups. Specifically, the exploratory hypotheses of this study were as follow:

- Hypothesis 1: Some traditional gender stereotypes will not be assigned to the gender groups differentially at present, and they will be considered not valid.

- Hypothesis 2: Some sociodemographic variables, such as the sex or the political orientation of the participants, will have a global effect in considering some stereotypes as more or less characteristic of men or women. So, if the estimation of a stereotype as characteristic of a specific gender group was due to the effect of any sociodemographic variable, this stereotype would not be considered valid given that it would not be possible to affirm that its estimation would be held by all individuals independently of these variables.

- Hypothesis 3: Some new stereotypes which are assigned differentially to women and men would emerge, and these would be maintained independently of sociodemographic characteristics. This could be due either to a reverse assignation of some gender stereotypes, so that they are assigned to the contrary gender group currently, or to a significant differential assignation of some characteristics used to define women and men which have not been analyzed yet in previous studies. These stereotypes would be new and valid at present.

- Hypothesis 4: Aside from the previous expected changes regarding the validity of gender stereotypes, and taking into account the presence of a gender-based hierarchy in our society, it would also be expected that some traditional stereotypes were still valid currently.

 

Method

Participants

A total of 164 individuals participated voluntarily and anonymously in this study, in exchange for credits. Regarding the sex of the participants, the sample was balanced, in a way that 82 were women (50%) and 82 were men. Participants were aged between 18 and 29 years old (M = 20.68 years; SD = 2.20). All the participants were undergraduates of the University of Jaén, Spain, who belonged to the Schools of Law and Social Sciences (35.3%), Humanities and Educational Sciences (8.5%), Health Sciences (11%), Social Work (0.6%) and Higher Polytechnic (4.9%). Given the aims of this study, there were no participants from the Degree in Psychology, since their knowledge might distort their responses. Concerning other sociodemographic data of interest, the sample was distributed as follow: with regards to their sexual orientation, 96.9% indicated to be heterosexual, 2.5% homosexual and 0.6% bisexual. As to their marital status, most of participants were single (53.7%) or single with a partner (44.5%), while the remaining were living with their partner (1.2%) or were married (0.6%). Regarding their political orientation, the 33.5% stated to be left-wing, the 13.4% centrist, and the 17.1% right-wing, while a 36% stated not holding any orientation. As to their religiousness, 54.9% were believer, 23.8% agnostic, and 21.3% atheistic. The sample was selected by means of an accidental and snowball non-probability sampling in order to reach the same rate of women and men.

Instruments

The instruments used were as follow:

- Sociodemographic Questionnaire: this questionnaire gathered the information of the participants about their age, sex (women/men), sexual orientation (heterosexual/homosexual/bisexual), marital status (single/single with a partner/married/separated/divorced/widower-widow/other), degree and course (open-ended questions), political orientation (left-wing/centrist/right-wing/none), degree of political orientation (assessed by a 7 points Likert-type scale ranged from "nothing" to "very much"), religiousness (believer/agnostic/atheistic), degree of religiousness (assessed by a 7 points Likert-type scale ranged from "nothing" to "very much"), and religion (open-ended question to indicate the religion practiced in the case).

- Stereotypical Characteristics Scale: the original version of the scale consisted of 258 adjectives. The process used to elaborate this scale will be explained in the procedure section. These adjectives included traditional gender stereotypes and other characteristics normally used to describe the gender groups. Two versions were created from the original scale so that they allow knowing separately the stereotypes associated to women (women version, Appendix 1) and to the men (men version). For this purpose, convenient changes were done on the instructions and on the end of the adjectives according to the assessed gender (as it is needed in Spanish). Thus, the full scale consisted of 516 adjectives. The instructions given to the participants were to indicate the degree of agreement with each adjective, which defined women (men) in general, according to current society. To do this, a 7 points Likert-type scale was used, ranged from 1 "completely disagree" to 7 "completely agree". For each version, the reliability was α = .95.

The independent variables of the study were the following sociodemographic characteristics2: sex, age, marital status, political orientation and religiousness. The dependent variables were the adjectives which composed the full scale.

Procedure

As regards to the process for creating the scale of adjectives, we first started from the scale created by Castillo-Mayén and Montes-Berges (2007) which consisted of 242 adjectives. To create that scale, gender stereotypes used in previous studies from Spain and other countries were included (Garrido Lora, 2007; Langford & MacKinnon, 2000; Velasco Sacristán, 2003; Williams & Best, 1982), as well as adjectives used to describe commonly the gender groups. In the current study, that scale was revised and compared with other stereotypes used in other relevant references (i.e., Eagly & Mladinic, 1989, 1993; López-Sáez, 2008; Montes-Berges, 2002; Morales & López-Sáez, 1993; Williams & Best, 1990) to include those not listed at first. This revision led to removing some adjectives from the original list due to the fact that they have caused misunderstanding in that study (i.e., flattering) or because of their content (i.e., dry, miserable).

Once the informed consent was obtained, the sociodemographic questionnaire described above was presented to the participants, followed by general instructions for completing the scale. Then, the participants completed both versions of the scale of adjectives. They were presented counterbalanced, so that women were valued firstly than men (48.2%) and men firstly than women (51.8%) half the time each. There were different groups of participants completing the scale at a time.

Design and data analysis

The design used during the study and the data analysis performed were as follow. First of all, a within-subjects design was used to complete both versions of the Stereotypical Characteristic Scale (counterbalanced presented). Thus, in order to know the differential assignment of each characteristic to both gender groups, a Repeated Measures Analysis was performed, where the dependent variables were the 258 pairs of adjectives. Next, after removing those adjectives not assigned differentially to the gender groups, Multivariate Analyses of Variance were performed with the 192 remaining adjectives for each version of the scale and with each independent variable. The independent variables were sex, with two levels (women/men), age, with seven levels (18/19/20/21/22/23/24 or older), marital status (single/single with a partner), political orientation (left-wing/centrist/right-wing/none), and religiousness (believer/agnostic/atheistic). After that, between-subject contrast were performed, and finally, results obtained in the first and last analyses were joined, which led to the final list of adjectives.

 

Results3

The following analyses were performed to know the validity of gender stereotypes. First, a Repeated Measures Analysis was carried out to verify the differential assignment of the adjectives to each gender group. A total of 66 adjectives did not show significant differences in their assignment, and they were removed from the original list (all Fs < 3.86, ps > .051). Thus, each version of the scale was composed of 192 adjectives at this stage. Some of the traditional gender stereotypes which were not assigned differentially to any gender group were self-efficient, autonomous, dependent, docile, willing, with low-status, assertive and dominant.

Secondly, with the target of identifying the possible global effect of the independent variables on the adjectives which had shown a differential assignment to women and men, a Multivariate Analysis of Variance was carried out. Results from the multivariate contrasts were only significant when considering the effect of the marital status on the adjectives used to define women, Pillai's Trace = 1.00, F(1, 58) = 12241.87, p = .007, η2p = 1.00. Considering the results of the tests of within-subject effects, we show, as an example and to summarize the results, some of the adjectives which an effect of those variables was found4. Given that the adjustment for multiple comparisons was not performed, their implications will be considered in the discussion section.

In relation to the variable sex, there was a global effect in 35 adjectives when these were used to define women in general. However, when the adjectives were used to define men, the global effect of the variable sex was found in 13 adjectives. Considering the results of this variable in both versions of the scale, it shows that the global effect of the sex was found in more adjectives used to define women than when used to define men (35 versus 13, respectively). Only the adjective "carefree" showed significant differences in both versions of the scale. Given the specific relevance of the variable sex in the analysis of gender stereotypes, which tells us about the current vision of the endogroup and the exogroup, the next figures show a graphic representation of the differences between women and men when describing women (Figure 1) and when describing men (Figure 2).

Regarding the variable age, a total of 7 levels were considered after grouping in one level to participants aged 24 years or more. That was done in order to balance the size of the levels of this variable, since its frequency from 24 years on varied between one and four participants. The variable age produced a global effect on 14 adjectives when these were used to define women, as in delicate, F(6, 54) = 3.96, p= .002, η2p = .306, and humble, F(6, 54) = 3.41, p = .006, η2p = .275. The global effect of the variable age was found in 10 adjectives when these were used to define men, as in sexually active, F(6, 54) = 2.54,p = .03, rfp = .220, and unfaithful, F(6, 54) = 4.10, p = .002, η2p= .313.

With regard to the marital status, only the levels "single" and "single with a partner" were considered, since the other levels indicated by the participants ("living with my partner" and "married") was composed of only three individuals. The global effect of the marital status was found in 10 adjectives when these were used to define women, as in truthful, F(1, 58) = 10.60, p = .002, η2p= .155, and polite, F(1, 58) = 6.54, p = .036, η2p = .074, and in 13 adjectives when used to define men, as in unpredictable, F(1, 58) = 4.63, p = .036, η2p = .074, and sensible, F(1, 58) = 5.03, p = .029, η2p = .08. The effect in the adjectives "romantic", "dangerous" and "aggressive" was found in both versions of the scale.

As regards political orientation, the global effect of this variable when the adjectives were used to define women was found in 18 adjectives, as in vain, F(3, 57) = 3.14, p = .032, η2p = .142, and family lover, F(3, 57) = 7.74, p < .001, η2p = .289. However, the global effect of political orientation when the adjectives were used to define men was found in 3 adjectives, two of which were attentive, F(3, 57) = 3.59, p = .019, η2p = .159, and oppressed, F(3, 57) = 3.77, p = .015, η2p = .166.

When considering the results of this variable in both versions of the scale, we can see that the political orientation caused a global effect on more adjectives when these were used to define women (18) than when these were used to define men (3). None of the adjectives coincided in both versions.

In relation to religiousness, this variable caused a global effect on 22 adjectives when these were used to define women, as in frivolous, F(2, 58) = 4.68, p = .013, η2p= .139, and good-natured, F(2, 58) = 7.86, p = .001, η2p= .213. When the adjectives were used to define men, the global effect of the variable religiousness was found in 7 adjectives, as in pure, F(2, 58) = 5.06, p = .009, η2p = .149, and reckless, F(2, 58) = 3.85, p = .027, η2p = .117.

Once again, the results in relation to this variable revealed a global effect in more adjectives when these were used to define women (22) than when used to define men (7). None of the adjectives were found in both versions of the scale.

With respect to the statistical power of the tests used, an a posteriori calculus of the minimum detectable difference was performed based on a t test of the two smaller sampling subgroups (centrist political orientation, 13.4%, n = 22, and right-wing political orientation, 17.1%, n = 28). This calculus showed 93% power to detect a 1 point difference (assuming a standard deviation = 1), with a type I error rate of .05.

Once all the analyses were performed, the adjective was removed from the final list if the effect had been found in any or in both versions of the scale. Finally, the results from the Repeated Measures Analysis and from the Multivariate Analysis of Variance were integrated in order to collect the current gender stereotypes. Thus, a total of 93 adjectives that were differentially assigned to the gender groups and for which no independent variables had exerted a global effect were identified. Table 1 shows the list of adjectives that were assigned differentially to women, which made up a total of 58. It indicates the mean and the standard deviation of the adjective in each version of the scale. On Table 2, it shows the mean and standard deviation, in each version of the scale, of the adjectives that were assigned differentially to men. These adjectives formed a total of 35. In both tables, the column "number" indicates the order of appearance of the adjective on the scale.

In order to highlight the most relevant adjectives assigned differentially to each gender group, following there is a graphic representation of the 10 stereotypical characteristics assigned to women that showed a higher mean difference with regards to their assignation to men (Figure 3) and the 10 stereotypical characteristics assigned to men that showed a higher mean difference with regards to their assignation to women (Figure 4).

 

Discussion

This study was aimed to know the current validity of the gender stereotypes and to point out the emergence of other new stereotypes. For this purpose, the differential assignation of the stereotypical characteristics to each gender group as well as the possible global effect of the sociodemographic variables of interest when considering each stereotype as more or less characteristic of each group has been tested. In general, the results obtained allow supporting the hypotheses established. In relation to the first hypothesis, in which it was expected to find that some of the traditional gender stereotypes would not be assigned differentially to any gender group at present, results showed that, indeed, traditional feminine stereotypes such as dependent, docile, willing or destined to the reproduction, and traditional masculine stereotypes, such as self-efficient, competent, triumphant or active, were not assigned differentially to men or women in this study. Thus, we may affirm that these stereotypes are no longer valid currently. These results are in line with the predictions of the social role theory (Eagly, 1987; Eagly et al., 2000; Eagly et al., 2004), which states that the changes occurred in the social roles produce a change in the gender stereotypes. According to this theory, the division of work is one of the causes of the behavioural differences observed between men and women, and this contributes in the assignation of stereotypical characteristics to each gender group. In this way, taking into account the higher presence nowadays of women in contexts traditionally considered as masculine, a change on those characteristics would be anticipated, as it is shown in this study.

The results also supported the second hypothesis established, which expected to find the global effect of the socio-demographic variables on some stereotypes. The independent variables which produced a global effect on a higher number of adjectives were, in this order, the sex and the religiousness, followed by the age, the marital status and the political orientation. It can be deduced from these results that, according to some sociodemographic variables as the ones taken into account in this study, there are differences when considering the stereotypes as more or less characteristic of the gender groups. In addition, except for the marital status, it was seen that the effect of these variables was higher on the adjectives used to define women in general. It is also worthy to point out that more than one variable coincided in showing this effect on several traditional feminine stereotypes when their adequacy to define women was asked. For example, significant differences were found in the adjective family-oriented when analyzing the variables sex, age, political orientation and religiousness, in the adjectives close and weak when analyzing the variables sex and age, and in sensitive when analyzing sex and religiousness. The fact that the soci-odemographic characteristics lead to more differences when the adjectives are used to define women than when these are used to define men, highlights the appropriateness of taking into account such variables for analysing the dynamic of stereotypes in depth. Nonetheless, in spite of the usefulness of these results, it should be noted that if a Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons would had been performed, only the adjectives frivolous and humble in the analysis of the variable sex, and family lover in the analysis of the political orientation (all in the women version of the scale), would had been significant (p < .001). However, this correction may be excessively strict, and then, the interpretation of all the tests performed has been shown to consider the implications they may have in this area of study.

Additionally, the higher variability found in the stereotypes used to define women is related to conclusions from previous studies, in which a higher dynamic of the feminine stereotype was observed (i.e., Diekman & Eagly, 2000; Diekman et al., 2005; García-Retamero et al., 2009; López-Sáez et al., 2008; López-Zafra et al., 2008). Social role theory also explains this result, as well, given that the feminine social roles are the ones which have experienced a higher change across the last decades. In this way, nowadays, traditional roles associated to women (e.g., caring for others, housework) are still linked to them at a higher rate than to men, while traditional roles associated to men (e.g., working outside the family home, occupying directive positions) are still linked to them but also to women increasingly often. Thus, since social roles occupied by men have experienced little changes across the last years (Sánchez-Herrero Arbide, Sánchez-López, & Dresch, 2009), it is understandable to find a higher stability in masculine stereotypes, and then, that a wider agreement exists in these stereotypes independently from the sociodemographic characteristics of the individuals who perceive them. However, since social roles occupied by women have been diversified, these generate a greater change in the feminine stereotypes, which explains that their assignation is more affected by such sociodemographic characteristics.

The third hypothesis established was also supported by the results, given that some gender stereotypes that may be considered as new were found. Specifically, results showed that traditional masculine stereotypes such as intelligent or rational are assigned to women currently, whereas traditional feminine stereotypes such as incomplete or passive are assigned to men. That is, nowadays, some traditional stereotypes are assigned to the contrary gender, result which was also found in previous studies (i.e., Moya & Pérez, 1990). In addition, it was observed that some of the characteristics typically used to describe women that do not normally appear in the literature of the topic are assigned differentially to this group (e.g., talkative, calculating, nervous, hard-working, naïve or solidary), which contributes to a greater knowledge about current gender stereotypes.

Nonetheless, in spite of the changes described so far about the dynamic of stereotypes, this study has also demonstrated that many traditional gender stereotypes are maintained nowadays (Hypothesis 4). Specifically, characteristics like selfish, physically strong, insensitive or brave are still seen as more typical of men, while characteristics like submissive, sweet, emotional or understanding are more typical of women. This result is expected since a gender-based hierarchy system does exist in our society, as it may be observed, for instance, in the persistent violence against women, the gender wage gap, the lower number of women as leaders, or in the perpetuation of gender stereotypes and roles in a markedly sexist publicity. Furthermore, we should not forget that maintaining such hierarchical structure also entails negative consequences for men, given that this involves behavioural expectations and specific roles for this gender group too. This conclusion is deduced, for example, from Figure 4. Thus, as we outlined at the beginning of the paper, it is essential to take into account that the maintenance of gender stereotypes affect negatively both women and men, although their consequences are much more serious for the first group.

An additional contribution of this study is the elaboration of instruments that would be used in future research and that would benefit other areas of study. For instance, the full list of adjectives would be used to identify the stereotypes associated to social groups which can be categorized according to their gender and another category, such as the immigration (ex., immigrant women/non-immigrant women), the disability, (ex., women with disability/women without disability), the leadership (ex., leader women/leader men), the homosexuality (ex., homosexual women/homosexual men), etc. In this sense, the full list of adjectives has been recently used to identify the stereotypes with which battered women are described (Montilla, Aranda, & Montes-Berges, 2010), and to compare the stereotypes assigned to men and women when both carry out social roles (in)congruent to the gender group, specifically in the nursing health system (Montes-Berges, 2010).

With regard to the limitations of the study, these are mainly concerned with the generalization of the results obtained. In this way, these results may not be seen as a complete picture of the dynamic of stereotypes in our society if we consider the sample used. However, results allow us to affirm that these variations in the assignation of gender stereotypes are happening, at least, in young undergraduates. Therefore, it would be convenient that further research would replicate this study using a more heterogeneous sample with regards to the age, the occupation, the level of qualifications, the place of origin, the marital status and the sexual orientation, amongst other variables of interest, keeping the balance on the distribution according to the participants' sex. In the same vein, the replication of this study in other countries would allow additionally a comparison of the dynamic of gender stereotypes and of the underlying processes in different cultural contexts.

 

Conclusions

Based on the results obtained in this study, we can point out some conclusions about the dynamic of gender stereotypes in our society at present, and then, about gender discrimination. Current gender stereotypes have been identified in this study, observing both some significant changes on the differential assignation of stereotypical characteristics to the gender groups and the maintenance of traditional stereotypes to describe women and men. Additionally, taking into account the global effect of the sociodemographic variables has allowed to establish the stereotypes which are perceived as characteristic of each gender group to the same extent for all the individuals, independently of aspects such as the participants' sex, age, marital status, political orientation or religiousness. In general, the results derived from this research are in line with the social role theory, according to which a change on gender stereotypes is expected as a consequence of the changes occurred in the occupation of the social roles.

Specifically, it was pointed out first that some traditional gender stereotypes were no longer valid currently. This conclusion is obtained, on the one hand, after demonstrating that some stereotypes were not assigned differentially to any gender group (ex., docile, willing, independent, active). On the other hand, it was observed that the sociodemographic characteristics exerted a global effect on the consideration of some stereotypes as more or less characteristic of one or another gender (ex., affectionate, sociable, carefree, powerful). Secondly, some gender stereotypes, that can be regarded as new, have been indicated, either because these had been traditionally associated to the contrary gender (for example, in this study, the adjective passive has been linked to men and intelligent to women), or because these had not been analyzed yet in previous studies (ex., solidary or solitary).

It is important to note that the global effect observed of the sociodemographic characteristics on the gender stereotypes suggests that individuals, according to aspects like their sex, religiousness or marital status, maintain different representation about men and women. In addition, these characteristics produced a global effect on a larger number of adjectives when these were used to define women, which may be due to the greater diversity with which women are defined currently in comparison to men. In this way, we can observe that in our society the social roles considered as feminine are still being occupied mainly by women, while the social roles considered as masculine are mostly occupied by men, but also by women. Thus, in accordance to the postulates of the social role theory, when people perceive that women carry out a wide variety of roles, the stereotypical characteristics assigned to them may be more linked to the differences revealed by individuals according to their socio-demographic characteristics.

Nevertheless, even though many changes in the gender stereotypes have been gathered in this study, the results also revealed the validity of a large number of traditional stereotypes (ex., submissive and insecure for women, selfish and insensitive for men). Considering that stereotypes in general, and gender stereotypes in particular, underlie the discrimination phenomena, the pattern of results obtained is probably reflecting what actually occurs in our society. Even though some processes and circumstances of the intergroup relationships between genders are positively evolving and changing, other aspects are kept deep-rooted and are more resistant to change. Amongst the processes and circumstances that are changing, we can find a less explicit support to sexist attitudes and a higher legal and institutional backing up the equality between women and men, as well as a larger presence of women in higher educational levels and in occupying some leadership positions. However, the persistent transmission of gender stereotypes and roles throughout the mass media and by other agents of socialization contributes to continue impregnate such characteristics in our culture, and they are evident in the diverse circumstances in which women are still in disadvantage, where the violence against them is the maximum exponent.

 

Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank Dr. Ricardo Segurado, from the University College Dublin, Centre for Support and Training in Analysis and Research (CSTAR), for his priceless assistance in correcting some methodological issues suggested by the reviewers, and Ms. Izaskun Urruchi-Perez for her appreciated revision of the English version of this paper. The authors also wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions to improve this manuscript.

 


2 We consider that sexual orientation cuold also provide significant information in this study, but given that most of participants (96,9%) were found in only one of the three levels, analysis of this variable were not relevant.

3 Due to space limits, we may not include all the results in detail given the large number of variables under analysis. These results are available upon contacting the first author.

4 The reason why the degrees of freedom in the denominator for the F statistic suggest the presence of missing values is because the statistical software used for data analysis (SPSS), as in most of software for this purpose, uses the list-wise deletion by default. Thus, all cases which show one or more empty data are removed before performing the Multivariate Analysis of Variance, assuming that data are missing completely at random.

 

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Correspondence:
Rosario Castillo-Mayén
UCD Sutherland School of Law
University College Dublin
Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
E-mail: rosario.castillomayen@gmail.com

Article received: 5-11-2011
Revision received: 24-1-2013
Accepted: 28-10-2013

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