Gender stereotypes are distinct from virtually all other stereotypes in that they often are prescriptive rather than merely descriptive. In other words, they indicate what many people in a given culture believe men and women should be like, not merely what peo- ple think they actually are like. Few people, for example, think that gays should be artistic and sensitive or that old people should be forgetful and conservative, but many think that women should be nurturing and that men should be unemo- tional. Therefore, women who exhibit traits that are valued in society but that defy gender stereotypes, such as by being ambitious or assertive, are often viewed in especially harsh terms, contributing to the double standards that are a hallmark of sexism.
Another way that sexism is unique concerns the degree to which the ingroup and outgroup members interact. Men and women are intimately familiar with each other. Girls and boys often grow up together, and women and men often live together. In contrast to the effects of contact in reducing many other intergroup biases, however, all this contact between women and men often does little to reduce sexist beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.