Benevolent sexism for dummies

“There should be more female leaders because women are more compassionate and gentle unlike men.”

Welcome to benevolent sexism 101.

Sexism is discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender.

Sexism can affect anyone, but it primarily affects women and girls and has been linked to stereotypes and gender roles. Sexism against women is primarily based on the belief that men are intrinsically superior to women.

Peter Glick and Susan Fiske noted in their 1996 paper, that “sexism is, and probably always has been, a special case of prejudice marked by a deep ambivalence, rather than a uniform antipathy, toward women.”

Meaning that sexism is multidimensional in nature. They noted two distinct types of sexist attitudes and behavior: hostile sexism and benevolent sexism.

Hostile sexism is what most people think about when they picture sexism, angry, explicitly negative attitudes towards women. Like saying cleaning is a woman’s job or women use sex to gain power over men.

However, benevolent sexism on the other hand is more subtle but equally as damaging as hostile sexism.

Benevolent sexism is defined as a set of interrelated attitudes toward women that are sexist in terms of viewing women stereotypically and in restricted roles but that are subjectively positive in feeling/tone (for the perceiver) and also tend to elicit behaviors typically categorized as prosocial.

Think Maggi ad that shows a woman as a boss lady who’s killing it at work and at home.

For the purpose of this lesson, we will be focusing on benevolent sexism and particularly, the ways that benevolent sexism occur around us.

Back to the quote above.

To the unsuspecting eye, the quote above might seem harmless but it is harmful and here’s why:

Its underpinnings lie in traditional gender stereotypes. Women are more emotional, men are naturally harsh and out of touch with their feelings.


It’s the same tired line that’s been used over and over again to justify masculine dominance but now, it’s just got flavors to distract from the problem. It’s like poison wrapped in strawberry. It’s still poison just that it smells and looks nice. And that’s what makes benevolent sexism more troubling that hostile sexism, its subtle nature.

By being subjectively positive in nature, benevolent sexism provides a comfortable rationalization for confining women to domestic roles. For example, the quote above could easily be twisted into women are too compassionate to hold power so let men hold power. It leads back to men holding power, over women. Cue, patriarchy.

The maggi ad that shows a woman as a boss lady, killing it in the home and at work, making great presentations and cooking for the family is actually reinforcing gender roles by feeding into the harmful notion that domestic work is meant for women, that women can do the 9-5 job, cook for the family, clean up after everybody and still be fine. But that’s not true, it’s just a way to mollify women into accepting all that unpaid labor for men so that men can have all the free time to hold positions in power, work at paid labor and hold more money, power, status over women. Cue, patriarchy.

Also, women are tired from doing all that unpaid labor.

In my next article, we will be examining some of the ways that benevolent sexism occurs around us. Until then, let’s talk in the comment section below. Do you think benevolent sexism is actually a thing or I’m just nitpicking? What’s been your experience with benevolent sexism?

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