Gender stereotypes and cultural norms maintain gender and sexual inequalities in society. Differential treatment on the basis of gender is also referred to gender discrimination or sexism and is an inevitable consequence of gender stereotypes. Sexism varies in its level of severity. In parts of the world where women are strongly undervalued, young girls may not be given the same access to nutrition, health care, and education as boys. Further, they will grow up believing that they deserve to be treated differently from boys (Thorne, 1993; UNICEF, 2007). Gender stereotypes typically maintain gender inequalities in society. The concept of ambivalent sexism recognizes the complex nature of gender attitudes, in which women are often associated with positive and negative qualities (Glick & Fiske, 2001). It has two components. First, hostile sexism refers to the negative attitudes of women as inferior and incompetent relative to men. Second, benevolent sexism refers to the perception that women need to be protected, supported, and adored by men. There has been considerable empirical support for benevolent sexism, possibly because it is seen as more socially acceptable than hostile sexism.
With regard to sexuality, there is a substantial body of evidence showing that homosexuals and bisexuals are treated differently than heterosexuals in schools, the workplace, and the military. Much of this discrimination is based on stereotypes, misinformation, and homophobia — an extreme or irrational aversion to homosexuals. In the United States, major policies to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation have not been enacted until recently and are largely the result of local changes rather than national or federal policy.