Student Award Winners

Benevolent sexism's manifestation and expression in conservative Christianity: Measurement issues and religious correlates

The study examines the adequacy of the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory in measuring sexism in an evangelical Christian population and explores the religious correlates of sexism within this population.

By Kristen Davis Eliason, MA, M. Elizabeth Lewis Hall, PhD, and Tamara L. Anderson, PhD

Although for many years sexism was conceptualized in terms of hostile beliefs and behaviors and the enforcement of traditional gender roles, Glick and Fiske's (1996) theory of ambivalent sexism incorporated benevolent attitudes and actions toward women that are used to disempower women and support traditional gender roles. Research since has turned to investigating correlates of hostile and benevolent sexism in specific populations in addition to assessing the measurement of ambivalent sexism, suggesting that the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI) may not adequately assess benevolent sexism in certain ethnic groups (Hayes & Swim, 2013). Examining religion as another cultural factor that may influence the measurement of sexism, the present study seeks to examine the adequacy of the ASI in measuring sexism in an Evangelical Christian population in addition to exploring the religious correlates of sexism within this population.

This research is warranted in light of studies that have linked beliefs about gender to religion (Davidman, 1991; Hawley, 1994; Yadgar, 2006). Furthermore, benevolent sexism is of particular salience in Evangelical Christian populations due to their high levels of conservatism (Brinkerhoff & MacKie, 1985; Christopher & Mull, 2006; Jensen & Jensen, 1993; Lehrer, 1995; Morgan, 1987), which influence patriarchal gender roles (Rose, 1999; Smith, 1999). Finally, gender roles hold a central place in evangelicalism, as this religious movement within Christianity arose during the feminist movement, and was shaped by an anti-feminist sentiment.

Although past studies have indicated a relationship between religiosity and sexism, each of these studies has failed to consider how religion may serve as a cultural factor influencing ASI (Glick & Fiske, 1996) scores. This is an oversight considering the somewhat homogenous demographics of the initial standardization population and recent research that has suggested the influence of cultural factors such as ethnicity on ASI scores (Hayes & Swim, 2013). While culture does not necessarily include religion, it is often, in combination with descent, language, territory, and/or common history, a defining part of ethnic groups (Kivisto, 2007; Saraglou & Cohen, 2011). Specifically, if religion is found to be a cultural factor influencing the measurement of sexism, a reinterpretation of the findings of previous research is necessitated. The intent of the current study was to investigate the generalizability of the ASI's construct validity by exploring measurement issues and religious correlates of benevolent sexism in a conservative Christian population.

Two hundred and twenty-four students from a private Evangelical university on the west coast were recruited for this study. Participants were administered measures of sexism including the ASI and the measures originally used to establish the ASI's construct validity in addition to measures of religiosity. A factor analysis was run on the ASI to examine its internal structure. Additionally, correlations between the ASI and the measures initially used to establish its construct validity were run to examine the construct validity of the measure. Finally, correlations were run between the benevolent sexism subscale of the ASI and religious measures. Results indicated that benevolent sexism was not the same construct in a Christian population compared to a non-Christian population. Specifically, a new factor structure for the ASI emerged including four new factors labeled Hostile Sexism, Idealization of Women, Protecting the Vulnerable, and Familism. The necessity of a new factor structure for a Christian population was further supported by examining the construct validity of the ASI in a Christian population which revealed lower correlations compared to the original standardized population.

Regarding the relationship between the benevolent sexism subscale of the ASI and religious measures (intrinsic/extrinsic religiosity, Christian orthodoxy, religious fundamentalism), only some of the measures were positively correlated with benevolent sexism while others were not. These results were surprising in light of past studies which showed a clear link between these variables and benevolent sexism. However, upon examination of the new factor structure, it was discovered that the three factors encompassing items from the original benevolent subscale varied in the significance and direction of their correlation with Christian Orthodoxy and intrinsic religiosity. Thus it appears that the new factor structure may help to more accurately explain the relationship between Christian Orthodoxy, intrinsic/extrinsic religiosity, and benevolent sexism. Overall, the findings from this study nuance the results found in previous studies by demonstrating that the relationship between sexism and religiosity is more complex than initially suggested.



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Kristen Davis EliasonKristen Davis Eliason received her Master of Arts from Rosemead School of Psychology where she continues her studies as a PhD candidate in the Clinical Psychology program. Her research focuses on gender issues and spirituality, specifically on the intersection of sexism and gender roles with spiritual variables.