1. What is Prejudice?

When a person is described as being ‘prejudice’ it means they hold a certain set of attitudes, assumptions or mental set towards some target, that their views have become fixed in such a way that the person is reluctant to change them (Hayes, 1994). Prejudice literally means ‘pre-judgement’ (Hogg & Vaugham, 1995). A prejudice is developed on the basis of a pre-judgement of a person or a situation, where a person has already made assumptions or beliefs on an issue and is generally not interested in any other possibilities or explanations.

Prejudice can be both positive and negative. When the prejudice is positive, it may be that a person is favoured and therefore everything that the person does is interpreted as being good. In general when the term prejudice is used, it is usually in the negative form. Prejudice often refers to a negative affective or emotional response to a particular group of people resulting from intolerant, unfair or unfavourable attitudes towards that certain group (Brewer & Kramer, 1985).

2. Discrimination

Discrimination refers to specific behaviours toward members of a group that are unfair in comparison with behaviour towards members of another group (Hopkins 1996).

3. Sexism

Sexism refers to prejudice and discrimination against a person because of their gender (Deaux, Dane & Wrightsman (1993). Sexism incorporates attitudes and actions that treat one group as subordinate to the other. In general sexism is more prominent by males with prejudices towards women. In the past there has been a widespread belief that men are more competent and independent than women, whilst women are often seen as warmer and more expressive compared to men. Certain occupations often become labelled as ‘women’s work’ and as a result are valued less. Secretaries, nurses and childcare workers are all examples of female dominated occupations.

Women are underrepresented in nearly all professional and prestige occupations. Once employed women also face many obstacles for promotion. Many women also face work environments that impede their advancements in the form of sexual harassment, ranging from outright sexual advances to sexually suggestive calendars displayed in the workplace (Cecil & Wiggins, 1991). Many beliefs about women’s opportunities are linked to general values and ideologies (Kluegel & Smith, 1986). It is thought that gender role traditionalism plays a major part, together with the dominant ideology that links effort and reward (Eagly 1987).

4. Sex Discrimination Act

In 1975, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act were implemented. The aim was to remove educational, employment and inequality differences between the sexes. Equal opportunities were guaranteed for all. Since the Equal pay Act was implemented, the full-time pay gap has closed considerably. However a women currently working full-time is currently paid, on average, eighty seven percent of men’s hourly pay (Office National Statistics, 2004).

Theories of sexism

5. Stereotypes

Gender based discrimination can begin very early on in a persons life (Lytton & Romney, 1991). From an early age many children are keen to identify themselves as a boy or a girl and they learn ways of relating to the world by observing how people act and interact in a certain society. Even before birth, expectations based on gender may affect how a child is perceived by its parents. Many parents encourage gender-typed activities for their children and are likely to perceive their children in stereotypic ways. Many parents are keen for their children to exhibit acceptable gender behaviours. Fathers, in particular are anxious that their sons should conform to stereotyped behaviour and will take steps to limit non-conventional behaviour. Similarly, stereotypical beliefs often underpin a parent’s perception of their child’s academic abilities.

An element of gender stereotyping still remains in many schools today. In 1994, secondary school pupils were able to study under the General National Vocational scheme (GNVQ), but gender stereotyping is still apparent here. There is strong evidence that suggests that as soon as a young person is free to make choices about the subjects they wish to take, gender stereotyping re-establishes itself (Equal Opportunities Commission, 1997), with many choices being made along gender stereotypes lines.

For girls these barriers are particularly significant as they hinder types of paid work which is regarded and financially rewarded as ‘skilled’ (Pilcher, 1999). Although schools have tried to make the options of subjects equal for both sexes, there are a multitude of other contributing factors that influence a girl’s own immediate gender concept. The ways in which both boys and girls, and men and women are viewed in a certain society, the roles they are expected to play, the attitudes and behaviour they are expected to portray, will all affect a child’s knowledge and understanding of what is acceptable gender behaviour. Such discrimination creates gender differences in personality development through adolescence (Cohn, 1991) and perpetuates gender-role stereotypes (Eagly 1987).

One of the most powerful forces in the transmission and maintenance of traditional sex stereotyping is the media (Hogg & Vaughan, 1995). Women are often seen as the home makers, advertising many household appliances and products, whereas men advertise more outdoor, active products. Women are often used for decorative purposes in the media, sending out the impression that all there is to many women is beauty but no brain.

6. Prejudice as conformity

Prejudice as conformity is one of the social theories of prejudice. It is believed that a person conforms to a group for two reasons. The first reason is because a person is uncertain as to the correct response, therefore they follow the majority (Sherif). The second reason why a person may conform to a group is that even though they know the correct response they still chose to go along with the majority (Asch). Minard (1952) found that black and white coal miners in West Virginia followed a pattern of almost complete integration below ground but almost complete segregation above ground. This can be viewed in terms of conformity to the norms in different situations. Therefore it could be concluded that context and situations determine the degree of prejudice.

7. Scapegoating

It is also believed that prejudice can also be used as an outlet of frustration (Deaux, Dane & Wrightsman, 1993). In complex societies many situations occur which can leave a person feeling frustrated. The psychodynamic view sees prejudice as a result of the prejudiced persons own conflicts and maladjustments. Frustration within a person can easily be turned into anger. As a result this anger is then directed at people or objects less powerful than the frustrated individual, instead of the person seeing themselves or their situation as the cause of their frustration. In many societies different groups are used to take the blame for certain failures and frustrations. This is more commonly known as scapegoating.

8. Personality Theories

Many psychological studies of prejudice suggest that prejudice occurs in some people more than others because of their personalities (Gross 1998). One research project conducted on a personality theory is that of Adorno et al (1950), who published a book called ‘The Authoritarian Personality’. Adorno et al began their research on prejudice because of the atrocious treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, and came up with a questionnaire designed to measure a person’s F-scale (fascist). Through interviewing and conducting personality tests to those with a high score on the F-scale, the researchers were able to describe a prejudice personality called ‘The Authoritarian Personality’. Such a person is typically hostile to a person of inferior status, servile to those of higher status, rigid and inflexible, unwilling to introspect feelings, in favour of strict laws and an upholder of conventional values and ways of life.

Adorno et al concluded that the authoritarian personality has its origins in a person’s childhood, where the parents adopted an excessively harsh and disciplined regime in order to enforce emotional dependence and obedience on their child. The child would then develop a love/hate relationship with their parent. The child’s hatred is repressed through fear and guilt and finds an outlet through displacement on others who are weaker. This theory can be criticised on the notion that, once engendered in childhood, authoritarianism remains a permanent personality style. However there is evidence to suggest that there can be sudden and dramatic changes in people’s attitudes.

9. Conclusion

Women today are still facing many prejudices and are still being discriminated against because of their sex. Although things have improved for women since the implementation of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act, it takes more than a passive and legal demonstration of this, to counter the strength of many traditional beliefs which are more acceptably reinforced. Self-ideologies rest on deeper sources. Women today have two recognised roles, one at home and the other in the workforce. Due to biological reasons many women will always have these two recognised roles.

Marriage, childbirth and childcare can all reduce a women’s economic activity. With traditional beliefs now changing, particularly for women, many women are no longer happy settling for motherhood and being a housewife. As long as stereotypes are apparent in society, prejudices on the basis of a person’s sex shall always occur. Although most people consider prejudice as being wrong, most people automatically make pre judgements about another person at some point in their lives. Many people also experience prejudice against them at some point of their lives as well. Although prejudice in many societies is considered as socially unaccepted sadly it is a part of life.