Benevolent Sexism: Not So Benevolent

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The battle for gender equality has come a long way. From the feminist movements to claiming social rights for women, the revolution encompasses a myriad range of domains. However, the journey is a long and tiring one. While talking about gender-inequality, sexism is often a grave issue. Hostile sexism gets a lot of attention, however, benevolent sexism is relatively less talked about.

Hostile sexism usually reflects misogyny and overtly negative evaluations about women. Some examples of stereotypes against women include portraying women as emotionally manipulative, dependent, incompetent, and unintelligent. While hostile sexism is mostly directed towards negative pre-conceived notions, benevolent sexism differs. It is subjectively positive in orientation. However, it serves to justify women’s status lower to men. Thus, it becomes equally imperative to address this seemingly-positive form of sexism.

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It comes across in various forms. For example, women are more nurturing, more organized than men. Women are like a ‘delicate flower‘ who need to be looked after and protected. We often hear statements like women have a ‘special gift‘ of being more caring and kind than their male counterparts. ‘Women are just more beautiful.”

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Benevolent sexism is equally oppressive as hostile sexism. It aims to attach these stereotypical attributes to women. However, they seem positive and hence are ignored most of the time. But, this directs the women to behave in a particular manner to conform to the societal norms.  Thus, men are considered more magnetic while women are thought of to be communal, which again is a stereotypical belief.

Another way through which benevolent sexism boosts gender-inequality is through system justification. Over time, women have convinced themselves of the existing( unequal) system they are a part of. It is easier for women to justify this form of sexism. Since it is disguised with positive stereotypes, women often do not find it difficult to accept this form of status-quo. In addition, it comes with seemingly personal benefits to women (protection and idealization by men). Hence, women tend to endorse such sexist beliefs themselves.

Consider this situation- A male manager in a company doesn’t promote a female employee because she has recently given birth to a child and hence, the child needs her care. This might come across as being affectionate or thoughtful to some. However, it widens the existing gap. It is often a mother’s responsibility to raise children. But, the male counterparts (father) should be held equally responsible. By not promoting the female employee, the manager portrayed benevolent sexism.

Thus, this form of sexism is present widely and deeply. More importantly, it is disguised as positive. It is important for us to know and understand its various forms. Not only knowing but spreading awareness about the same is equally crucial. We should counter and call out such behaviour as and when seen. It might be quite a controversial discussion for some, including women. But ladies, while we are fighting for a cause, we cannot be selective in terms of what seems to be beneficial to us. When we are fighting for equality, we have to have a holistic approach to claim the ultimate objective.

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