‘Benevolent’ Sexism

Dr Rakhshinda Perveen-More than a few women, irrespective of their qualifications and socio-economic strata, craftily and cannily accept the ‘benefits’ of benevolent sexism, eventually lose their dignity and are ridiculed by men in their tête-à-tête time

Even today, as per the researches, women are paid 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man, are less likely to get promoted blamelessly in the workplace and are pushed to achieve perfect prettiness to fit in a saleable setting.

A singular factor cannot be responsible for this unfairness but sexism is undoubtedly, one of the biggest blocks against gender equality and empowerment. Overlooking, how Ms Hillary Clinton was dissected vividly for her makeup-free face and her husband’s imprudence, may not be possible for many of us in media and other industries. The control and capacity of sexism and realisation of its damages is lamentably limited, even amongst a good number of the established urbanised, modernised and liberal folks; who are consumers and practitioners of a socially appealing and culturally endorsed form of sexism – the benevolent sexism.

Chivalry too is used interchangeably with benevolent sexism. “Chivalry is sexist and it is dead, at least as far as equal rights are concerned”, are one of the many widely circulated views if not conclusions among feminist circles. Is it justifiable to equate a helping hand offered to a woman who is frail, disabled and or pregnant as benevolent sexism? Should women be treated as priority in rescue services or in humanitarian settings? Why should women be allocated special quotas in parliaments when they have to act as male proxies and extensions of male power? These are simultaneously brutal, interesting and relevant questions of our deceitful times. A gender-less courtesy and helping people equitably may be a fair way to deal with this complex scenario.

Various TV screens across the globe, UN, Development and related foras as well as public policies in most of the countries are managing the notion of equality between gender/s, women’s’ rights and empowerment through different mechanisms and means. The self-styled custodians of morality and social gatekeepers in many cultures/sub cultures and societies look at these right-based issues and uphill struggle to address them with skepticism, sarcasm and stigma. The overall resistance against these concepts and conviction is conventional and complicated.

Many psychologists have effectively maintained that women may abide by benevolent sexism as a gentle practice. Social psychologists, Peter Glick and Susan Fiske, who largely developed the framework of Ambivalent Sexism, which theorised that sexism has two sub-components: “hostile sexism” and “benevolent sexism”, established through their research that Hostile Sexism reflects overtly negative evaluations and stereotypes about a gender (eg the ideas that women are incompetent and inferior to men); Benevolent Sexism represents evaluations of gender that may appear subjectively positive (subjective to the person who is evaluating), but are actually damaging to people and gender equality more broadly (e.g., the ideas that women need to be protected by men). Glick and Fiske also asserted that power relationships between men and women foster an ambivalent form of bias towards women.

The convenience concealed in the benevolent sexism, that by no means is an oxymoron, has a price tag for women. The menacing manifestations of benevolent sexism, explored through scientific research embraces loss of women’s own belief in their cognitive capacity, increasingly less ambitious educational and career goals, augmented adherence to the stereotypes, defective and damaged arguments and actions to challenge existing gender inequalities and unsullied enslavement for financial support to a male relation.

Social media is formulating new rules in conversation. What is sexism and what is a snap in a chat may become questionable. However, addressing professional women with inappropriate salutations like ‘darling’ by a male in authority and acceptance, appreciation and endorsement of this salutation by women is sycophantic.



There is neither naivety nor positive reception in it. This is sexism that is always malignant and like all malignancies remains subtle and pain free at the onset. Since benevolent sexism is mistakenly interpreted as benign, people in societies and bureaucracies readily accept these ideas and thus show the way, knowingly or unknowingly of creating and constructing gender gaps in nearly all spheres of human life.

If one looks even casually at the cultural, social and political landscapes of our country one cannot escape to sense overt hostile and covert benevolent sexism resulting in lesser competent women in business and government leadership roles. Additionally, women, who identify, practical and strategic gender needs, gender biases and discrimination and speak up for gender equity, equality and lawful entitlements receive hostility not only from a majority of men but many women as well.

All shapes and forms of sexism are extremely detrimental to personal growth and character of professionals in a society at large. More than a few women, at different geological locations irrespective of their qualifications and socio-economic strata, craftily and cannily accept the ‘benefits’ of benevolent sexism, eventually lose their dignity and are ridiculed by men in their tête-à-tête time.

What I have learnt so far in my capacity as a woman in leadership positions, that while organisations must demonstrate zero tolerance to violence including sexism (blatant and benevolent both), women too, must not be allowed, pressed and encouraged, inwardly and outwardly to seek the concessions of their femaleness, that very often appear desirable to men who mostly occupy all power positions and resources. Remember, there is no such thing as suddenly equal and instantly empowered.

The writer is a gender expert, researcher, activist and a free thinker. She can be reached at dr.r.perveen@gmail.com

 October 26th 2017.