This is the second part of the article I started here on benevolent sexism. If you haven’t read it, read it here.
If sexism is poison, benevolent sexism is poison with cream toppings so you don’t notice the poison if you’re not looking. But I’m looking so let’s examine some examples of benevolent sexism (bs).
1. Men should protect women
This is patronizing as well as harmful as it stems from the notion that women are weak and men are strong which directly feeds into the argument that women are unfit to hold certain positions or work in certain areas. It also feeds into the argument that men are fit for leadership while women are not. Basically, this is just another way to restrict women’s freedom while conveniently allowing men hold power over women. Cue, patriarchy.
Historically, men as a group do not protect women as a group. If anything, they harm women. Studies show that one in three females worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
As many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner. http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women
If you really want to protect women, here are some ways to do that:
• Ensure there are laws in place to protect women’s agency
• Participate in movements for women’s rights
• Listen to women, without mansplaining
• Educate yourself on gender inequality and make a commitment to do your part to make a more equal world
• Take allegations of harmful behaviors against women seriously
• Make paid paternity leave compulsory so that men can also take care of their family and take some of the domestic labor of women.
• Teach boys to respect women as human beings
• Call out sexist behaviors wherever you see it.
• Do some of the domestic work at home so the women in your life can have time and rest to climb up the career ladder and earn more money.
• Canvass for increased participation of women in politics and decision making generally
2. Women are compassionate and gentle, unlike men.
Okay, this one is cute but kindness is not a gendered attribute. And this is harmful to both men and women.
Viewing women as more compassionate can have negative consequences for women who are assertive, leading people to deem them as bossy or harsh and this can in turn have damning consequences for women especially in the workplace.
Also, this is bad for men in that we naturally expect men to be hardhearted and harsh, we distance them from their capacity for compassion thereby reducing their humanity.
3. Women are our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters. And caretakers.
This rhetoric is reductive; it centers women’s whole existence on men. Cue, patriarchy
What’s especially harmful about is that it views women as addendum to someone (usually male) and prevents us from seeing women as full human beings who exist in their own right, with the same rights to this space as men.
Women are human. Fully, wholly, irrevocably human. Capable of good and evil, human. Not just your mother, or sister or daughter, HUMAN.
4. Women are better behaved than men.
Actually, no. Men are largely badly behaved because they’ve have been allowed to get away with a lot of misbehavior over the years (think boys must be boys) and women have always been held to stricter standards, at home, at work, in public offices, literally everywhere.
This rhetoric is harmful to women because it places women on a higher moral pedestal and hence face greater backlash over atypical behavior than men. Which in turn makes it more difficult for women to revolt against harmful practices.
It also allows men get away with bad behavior and sometimes, even turn around and blame women for men’s bad behavior. For instance, a woman who has been raped by a man is often asked questions such as: what were you doing there?
Why did you wear such skimpy clothing?
As if her clothing is more of a sin than the man’s sexual assault.
5. Women are more beautiful.
Really this is not true.
This belief is used to justify a status quo where women are objectified and rated based on definitions of beauty that usually only refer to women who are: slender, curvy, able-bodied which unsurprisingly is not every woman.
Besides, this is just circular argument. We’ve been taught to think that women are more beautiful, regardless of gender or sexuality, because images of women are so eroticized which hasn’t always been the case. When ancient Greek artists popularized nude art, they usually depicted men. Read more about that here>>
6. Women are neater than men
When did cleaning up after yourself taking become a gendered thing?
I don’t even know where this is coming from because whether male or female, it’s important to keep your environment clean, for your own wellbeing.
This belief is used to justify a status quo where girls are raised to do domestic chores like cleaning and boys are not taught how to clean up after themselves and later when they are all grown, say women are neater than men.
Talk about self-fulfilling behaviors.
7. Women are more sensitive and intuitive
I know, this is supposed to be a good thing but it is harmful because this has been used to promote the notion that women are less likely to be rational or logical and hence are not fit for leadership.
It is also harmful to men because it feeds into the men don’t cry stereotype where the only acceptable emotion for men is anger and/or pride. Any other type of emotional expression by men is seen as a sign of weakness and that’s wrong really. Emotions are a normal part of human beings and it’s healthy to experience and express the full range of emotions over time.
Here’s a theory I’ve been considering for some time now, if women are actually more sensitive and intuitive than men, does that not make us more fit for leadership than men? I mean a sensitive leader would be more perceptive, empathetic, emotionally intelligent, good with people, etc. so if women are more sensitive and intuitive than men, does that not make us more fit for leadership?
8. Women are better at picking beans
No, seriously, I’ve actually heard this one. The guy said,
ladies are better at picking beans, they will even be gisting over it.
I hate to break it to you but there is no serious art to picking beans. Basically, put the beans in a dry tray, and pick out whatever looks like beans to you. At the end, you should have all the other stuff that’s not beans in the tray. It’s that simple! As for the gisting part, you can just talk to yourself while picking.
Benevolent sexism is more sinister and subtle than hostile sexism but equally as destructive. Now that you know some of the ways benevolent sexism occurs, make sure to be on the lookout for benevolent sexism and speak up against it anywhere you see it.
Have you encountered benevolent sexism before? How did you react? Were you on the giving side or the receiving side? Let’s talk in the comments below.