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Women's emotional responses to the pervasiveness of gender discrimination
Michael T. Schmitt1, Nyla R. Branscombe1 and Tom Postmes2
1

Received 21 January 2002 Accepted 26 July 2002

University of Kansas, USA; 2University of Exeter, UK

Correspondence to: Nyla R. Branscombe, Department of Psychology, 1415 Jayhawk Blvd, University of Kansas, 66045-7556 USA. E-mail: nyla@ku.edu Publishedonline 12 November 2002 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.147

ABSTRACT In two experiments we found that women exhibited worse psychological well-being in a context in which gender discrimination was pervasive compared to a context in which it was rare. In Study 1, women who read an essay suggesting that sexism is pervasive reported lower self-esteem than womenwho read an essay suggesting that sexism is rare. In Study 2, we examined the effects of the pervasiveness of sexism when women were making an attribution for a single negative outcome. Women who attributed a negative evaluation to pervasive sexism exhibited less positive self-esteem and affect compared to women who could attribute the negative evaluation to an isolated instance of discriminationor to a nonsexist, external cause.

Social psychologists studying the consequences of perceiving the self as a target of discrimination have almost exclusively focused on specific instances in which a single prejudiced individual discriminates against a single stigmatized individual. In that sense, the literature on prejudice from the 'target's perspective' has thus far focused on the localizedimplications of a discriminatory event in which only a few individuals are interacting. However, experiences with discrimination are not simply interpersonal phenomena. As emphasized by social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986), discrimination is an intergroup phenomenon that results from an internalization of group membership and serves to privilege certain social groups while disadvantagingothers. In that sense, experiences with discrimination are not limited to specific situations in which members of a disadvantaged group encounter a prejudiced personality, but can occur in nearly any situation in which a member of a disadvantaged group interacts with a member of a more privileged group. We take an intergroup approach to the phenomenology of encounters with discrimination andconsider targets' understanding of the larger social structural context in which individual instances of discrimination are embedded. In two experimental studies of women's psychological responses to discrimination, we compare the consequences of encountering discrimination when it is pervasive in society compared to when it is rare.

Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 2003. (33), 297-312.

© 2002 John Wiley &Sons, Ltd.

Women's emotional responses to the pervasiveness of gender discrimination

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THE PERVASIVENESS OF DISCRIMINATION We suggest that when members of a disadvantaged social group perceive their ingroup as a target of discrimination, the consequences depend on the pervasiveness of discrimination (Schmitt & Branscombe, 2002b). From the perspective of social identity theory, pervasivediscrimination against one's ingroup implies that one's social identity -the self defined at the group level- is low status and devalued. When discrimination against the ingroup is pervasive, the difference in outcomes and status between the ingroup and more privileged outgroups is clearly greater than when discrimination against the ingroup is thought to be isolated and rare. Group-based, or'collective', self-esteem derives from intergroup social comparisons between the ingroup and relevant outgroups (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Thus, when members of disadvantaged groups perceive discrimination as pervasive, they are more acutely aware of their lower status and lowered collective self-esteem is likely to result. As stressed by social identity theory, group memberships convey important...
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