College women tend to report consuming a greater number of alcoholic drinks after being subjected to sexist statements, according to new research published in the scientific journal Sex Roles. The findings shed light on the consequences of so-called “benevolent” sexism, which is often viewed as less harmful than overtly hostile sexism.
“My co-author and I had previously explored whether college students’ alcohol consumption was higher following other types of belonging threat,” said study author Hannah R. Hamilton, a postdoctoral research fellow at UConn Health’s Alcohol Research Center.
“With the gender gap in alcohol consumption decreasing, testing for a link between college women’s experiences with sexism and their alcohol consumption seemed like the next step. I also think it is important to better understand the potential negative outcomes of benevolent sexism (which often seems less negative than hostile sexism because it includes beliefs that women are pure and nurturing).”
In the study, 176 female undergraduates were randomly assigned to read one of three bogus news articles about psychological research.
One article described a survey that found people tended to agree with sexist statements such as “Under the pretense of striving for equality, women try to gain special favors at the expense of men.” Another described a survey that found people tended to agree with benevolently sexist statements such as “A man should strive to provide financial support for his beloved woman.” The third article, which was used as a control condition, described various ways in which men and women were equal.
After reading the assigned article, the participants indicated how much alcohol they planned to drink that night. The next day, the participants reported how much alcohol they had actually consumed the previous night.
The researchers found that exposure to both forms of sexism predicted greater alcohol consumption. Moreover, exposure to hostile sexism was associated with a greater likelihood of engaging in binge drinking, defined as consuming four or more drinks in a row.
“This shows one route through which discrimination negatively impacts those who must cope with it on a daily basis and how important it is that we work to address this issue in society,” Hamilton explained. “People creating interventions to lower college drinking may also wish to target situations that that are related to increased alcohol consumption, such as experiences with discrimination.”
The statements used in the bogus news articles were drawn from the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory, which makes a distinction between hostile and benevolent forms of sexism.
“I think it is important that people understand the concept of benevolent sexism. Hostile sexism refers to the overtly negative treatment of women and I think most people are aware that it is bad. On the other hand, benevolent sexism argues that men should put women on a pedestal and take care of them,” Hamilton told PsyPost.
“This can sound positive and, despite research showing negative effects of benevolent sexism, people do not expect the consequences of benevolent sexism to be as bad as those of hostile sexism. Our study adds to the body of literature arguing that benevolent sexism does have negative consequences for women.”
But the study — like all research — includes some caveats.
“This is only a single study and I would like to conduct further studies to see if these results will replicate,” Hamilton said. “I am also interested in exploring whether experiences with hostile and benevolent sexism have a stronger influence on some women than on others or under certain circumstances.”
The study, “Cheers to Equality! Both Hostile and Benevolent Sexism Predict Increases in College Women’s Alcohol Consumption“, was authored by Hannah R. Hamilton and Tracy DeHart.