In Search of a Silver Bullet

What do you say to someone who’s being sexist? That’s my big question here, and it’s not an easy one. When you want to speak up, when you think it will be well received, or you need to protect yourself from encroaching assumptions, or you just can’t stand to be silent, what do you say?

I have not found a lot of information about this. I have read a lot of stories about sexual harassment and sexist interactions, but those stories don’t include saying anything back. I don’t know if that’s because people don’t typically say something, or if they’re just not mentioning it. I wish I could find more examples because I don’t know what to say, myself. I will share my thoughts with you, though, and maybe you will have some opinions and some experiences to share as well.

Part of what makes the question of what to say so difficult is its complexity. There are so many variables. Let’s see… places where you could encounter sexism? At work, home, out running errands, school, at a party, at a family gathering, the doctor’s office or on the bus. People who might be sexist to you? Your parents, friends, coworkers, boss, strangers, a teacher, a kid you know… the list could go on and on. Basically anyone you interact with could be sexist to you. So how do you decide how to react, with so many different situations and so many different relationships? Continue reading “In Search of a Silver Bullet”


Benevolent Sexism

Hostile sexism is easy to spot, and is what you probably think of when you think about sexist comments. In hostile sexism, women are portrayed as conniving and controlling, irrational, out to ruin things for men. They are sexualized objects to be used, not people. (Glick & Fiske 2011, p. 533) In my post Why Sexist Comments Are Harmful, I mentioned another contrasting type of sexism, benevolent sexism. What is benevolent sexism? The term was coined by Glick and Fiske in their 1996 paper, The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating Hostile and Benevolent Sexism. They explain it like this:

“We anticipate that some readers might view the neologism benevolent sexism as oxymoronic. Although benevolent does not capture the underlying dominance inherent in this form of sexism, we were unable to discover a word that successfully combines connotations of dominance and the subjectively positive origins of this form of sexism (the term paternalism does so, but as the reader will see, we view paternalistic feelings as but one component of benevolent sexism). We hope that benevolent sexism, like the term benevolent dictator, successfully conveys the combination we intend.” (p. 491)

Benevolent sexism promotes positive-sounding but still-harmful ideas about women, such as the idea that women are nicer, more nurturing, or in need of protection. Continue reading “Benevolent Sexism”