Benevolent sexism impacts on women health

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Introduction

In October 2017 a sexual harassment scandal breaks the media worldwide; film producer Harvey Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by more than 50 women. (BBC 2017) This scandal increased awareness of objectification and belittlement of women in the developed societies, following the revelation of other scandals of the same nature. (THE SUN 2017). https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/4780221/westminster-sex-allegations-whatsapp-group-mark-garnier-stephen-crabb/.  There is a known association between sexism and psychological distress, considering sexism as personal, degrading and a direct threat to the self-concept.(Choi et al 2011). While there is an updated concern and awareness regarding hostile sexism and its effect on women well being we can not state the same about the other side of sexism, the so called benevolent one. The view of sexism as a reflection of hostility toward women neglects a significant aspect of it: the subjectively positive feelings toward women that often go hand in hand with sexist antipathy. (Glick and Fiske 1996). Benevolent sexism is a subjectively favorable, chivalrous ideology that offers protection and affection to women who embrace conventional roles. It represent a particular type of sexism that might be disregarded because of its seemingly positive qualities (Glick and Fiske 2001). It portrays women as “pure,” the “better” sex, and as idealized caregivers. Despite its negative implications and consequences, Benevolent Sexism is not recognized as a form of sexist prejudice among many women and men, thus making it more difficult to combat. (Rollero and Fedi 2014).

This essay aim is to contribute to an understanding of the potential health outcomes in women from benevolent sexism based on a literature review. First I shall begin on  explaining the framework of Ambivalent Theory. Second I will discuss about the System Justification Theory and why benevolent sexism is easily endorsed by women. Then I will do a literature review on different health outcomes that benevolent sexism may contribute.

Keywords: Benevolent sexism, Ambivalent sexism, system justification theory.

Ambivalent sexism theory

The Ambivalent Sexism is a theoretical framework that has been largely developed by social psychologist Peter Glick and Susan Fiske. It divides sexism in two sub-components: “hostile sexism” and “benevolent sexism”. For the most part, psychologist have studied hostile forms of sexism. However, theorists using the theoretical framework of ambivalent sexism have found extensive empirical evidence for both varieties.

Hostile sexism reflects the hatred of women by men and is expressed through obvious negative evaluations of women. Examples of hostile sexism include beliefs about women as incompetent, overly emotional, not intelligent, and sexually manipulative.

Contrary to hostile sexism—which clearly communicates hostility towards women and a belief in women’s inferior competence compared to men—Benevolent sexism represents evaluations of gender that appears subjectively positive (subjective to the person who is evaluating). Examples of benevolently sexist attitudes include the appreciation of women as a wife, mother, and child caretaker, the romanticizing of women as objects of heterosexual affection (Glick and Fiske, 1996) . This type of sexism celebrates complementary gender roles involving a delicate, kind female and a strong, protective male. (Connelly and Heesacker, 2012)

System justification theory. Why benevolent sexism is endorsed easily by society?

Benevolent sexism despite being an ideology that propagates gender inequality, is found attractive among females.  Women, consistently reject hostile sexism but often endorse benevolent sexism (especially in the most sexist cultures). (Jost and Hunyady, 2005)

There has been a study by Conelly and Heesacker (2012) to better understand why women and men alike might be motivated to adopt benevolent sexism.  The study aim was to test the system justification theory’s prediction that benevolent sexism might have a positive linkage to life satisfaction through increased diffuse system justification. They used a structural equation modeling (SEM) to conduct the study. Before discussing the result of the study I have to introduce the concept of System justification theory. System Justification Theory argues that there is a general ideological motive to justify the existing social order which is at least partially responsible for the internalization of inferiority among members of disadvantaged groups (Jost et al 2004) This motive is observed at a nonconscious level of awareness and it is sometimes strongest among those who are most harmed by the status quo. Status quo is a latin phrase which refers to the existing social structure and values. (Botterweck 2015)

The study used SEM (structural equation modelling)  to conduct the research and the result showed that benevolent sexism had a positive indirect effect on life satisfaction through increased diffuse system justification for both women and men. In contrast, they found that hostile sexism was not significantly related to diffuse system justification or life satisfaction for either women or men. They also found a positive linkage between benevolent and hostile sexism (Connelly and Heesacker, 2012)

The present study contributes to our understanding of benevolent sexism by suggesting that this ideology might provide some hedonic benefits at the personal level despite its perpetuation of gender inequality at the structural level.(Glick and Fiske, 2001) From a system justification perspective, the belief that every group in society possesses some advantages and some disadvantages should increase the sense that the system as a whole is fair, balanced, and legitimate. Endorsing benevolent sexism may bolster women’s satisfaction by promoting an overall sense of security, reducing the frustration associated with living in an unfair system, and improving self-concept. Similarly, among men, benevolent sexism might promote happiness by bolstering a general sense of stability, reducing guilt, and increasing self-esteem (Jost and Hunyady, 2005)

Benevolent sexism might promote diffuse system justification for both women and men through several different mechanisms. First, benevolent sexism might bolster the sense that society is fair by offering a palatable rationale for gender inequality: It suggests that women are better suited for low-status caretaking roles because they are warm but weak, whereas men are better suited for high-status leadership roles because they are competent but cold (Glick & Fiske, 19962001). Second, benevolent sexism might promote diffuse system justification by offering both women and men positive social identities. It highlights each gender’s unique and positive traits, such as women’s kindness and men’s strength. Given that women live in a hostilely sexist environment, benevolent sexism’s flattery might be particularly effective in coaxing women to accept the status quo (Glick & Fiske, 2001). Third, system justification theory proposes that benevolent sexism might promote diffuse system justification for both women and men by emphasizing the “complementary but equal” (Bem & Bem, 1970, p. 96) nature of gender roles (Jost & Kay, 2005). By highlighting how a warm female nurturer complements a strong male provider, benevolent sexism implies that society is fair and functions as it should in part because of balanced and seemingly well-designed gender roles.

.(Connelly and Heesacker 2012)

The results imply that although benevolent sexism perpetuates inequality at the structural level, it might offer some benefits at the personal level. However the research findings reinforce the dangerous nature of benevolent sexism and emphasize the need for interventions to reduce its prevalence. (Connelly and Heesacker 2012)

Benevolent sexism might promote diffuse system justification for both women and men through several different mechanisms. From a system justification perspective, the belief that every group in society possesses some advantages and some disadvantages should increase the sense that the system as a whole is fair, balanced, and legitimate. It suggests that women are better suited for low-status caretaking roles because they are warm but weak, whereas men are better suited for high-status leadership roles because they are competent but cold. Second, benevolent sexism might promote diffuse system justification by offering both women and men positive social identities. It highlights each gender’s unique and positive traits, such as women’s kindness and men’s strength. Given that women live in a hostilely sexist environment, benevolent sexism’s flattery might be particularly effective in coaxing women to accept the status quo (Glick & Fiske, 2001). Third, system justification theory proposes that benevolent sexism might promote diffuse system justification for both women and men by emphasizing the “complementary but equal” nature of gender roles (Jost & Kay, 2005). By highlighting how a warm female nurturer complements a strong male provider, benevolent sexism implies that society is fair and functions as it should in part because of balanced and seemingly well-designed gender roles. The promise of protection for women who secure a male provider might offer women a sense of security within a hostilely sexist environment.

(Connelly and Heesacker 2012)

“If woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person • . . very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme.” –Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Although benevolent sexism might appear harmless and even desirable to some, it has been associated with a range of negative consequences for women, such as heightened feelings of incompetence and self-doubt and increased self-objectification. (Dardenne, Dumont and Bollier, 2007)

Exposure to benevolent sexist views held by others increases the extent to which women self-define in relational terms, decreases the degree to which they view themselves in task-related terms, and diminishes their leadership aspirations.

 

Benevolent sexism is also a causation of gender inequality.

A 16-nation study involving 8,360 participants (Glick et al., 2004) revealed that hostile and benevolent attitudes, were reliably measured across cultures, positively correlated (for men and women, within samples and across nations) with each other and (c) negatively correlated with gender equality in cross-national comparisons. Benevolence sexism correlated positively to national indices of gender inequality in comparisons across nations (in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Australasia). These results are consistent with the notion that benevolent sexism and hostile sexism are a complementary set of gender-traditional beliefs. Stereotype measures indicated that men were viewed as having less positive but more powerful traits than women. The authors argue that benevolent attitudes toward men reflect and support gender inequality by characterizing men as being designed for dominance. (Glick et al., 2004)

In separate experiments, Dardenne et al. (2007) and Dumont et al (2010)  found that women who read benevolently sexist comments performed worse on a cognitive task and reported increased feelings of incompetence and self-doubt compared to women who read hostilely sexist or neutral comments.

More recently it is found that  found that merely exposing women to benevolent sexism increased self-objectification. (Shepherd et al., 2011)

Similarly, Becker and Wright (2011) found that women who read benevolently sexist statements reported decreased motivation to reduce gender discrimination compared to women who read hostilely sexist or neutral statements.

 

Dark side of chivalry

According to Jost and Hunyady system justification theory suggests that even at the personal level, benevolent sexism can be harmful. Although benevolently sexist beliefs might promote both women’s and men’s subjective life satisfaction, it may detract from women’s well-being by decreasing overall self-esteem, increasing depressive symptomatology, and increasing neuroticism. Despite benevolent sexism’s positive association with subjective life satisfaction, benevolent sexism also causes distress by perpetuating the very inequality it justifies.

Women who endorse benevolent sexism are less likely to have feminist beliefs.

According to Moradi and Subich study, higher levels feminist consciousness are associated with increased self-esteem and increased psychological well-being, whereas lower levels of established feminist consciousness are associated with increased distress and decreased self-esteem.(Moradi and Subich, 2002)

The more college women endorsed the beliefs of established feminism, the higher their reported levels of personal empowerment, egalitarianism, personal growth well-being, and collective member esteem. These beliefs were also favourably linked to autonomy well-being, self-acceptance well-being, sexual refusal, global self-esteem, and collective identity esteem. (Yoder et al 2012)

Women’s agreement with benevolently sexist beliefs involves adopting supportive relationship roles and cultivating interpersonal qualities of warmth rather than competence, which allows men to take on competence-focused roles that have higher societal power and status. Women who endorse benevolent sexism hold less personal ambition for educational or career goals, defer to their male partners when it comes to making career decisions, and believe that the role of women is to assist their partners’ authority and career.(Hammond, Sibley and Overall, 2014)

References

Becker, J. C. and Wright, S. C. (2011) ‘Yet another dark side of chivalry: Benevolent sexism undermines and hostile sexism motivates collective action for social change.’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(1), pp. 62–77. doi: 10.1037/a0022615.

Connelly, K. and Heesacker, M. (2012) ‘Why Is Benevolent Sexism Appealing?’, Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36(4), pp. 432–443. doi: 10.1177/0361684312456369.

Dardenne, B., Dumont, M. and Bollier, T. (2007) ‘Insidious dangers of benevolent sexism: Consequences for women’s performance.’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(5), pp. 764–779. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.93.5.764.

Dumont, M., Sarlet, M. and Dardenne, B. (2010) ‘Be too kind to a woman, she’ll feel incompetent: Benevolent sexism shifts self-construal and autobiographical memories toward incompetence’, Sex Roles, 62(7–8), pp. 545–553. doi: 10.1007/s11199-008-9582-4.

Glick, P. et al. (2004) ‘Bad but Bold: Ambivalent Attitudes Toward Men Predict Gender Inequality in 16 Nations.’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(5), pp. 713–728. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.86.5.713.

Glick, P. and Fiske, S. T. (1996) ‘The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism.’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(3), pp. 491–512. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.70.3.491.

Glick, P. and Fiske, S. T. (2001) ‘An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality.’, American Psychologist, 56(2), pp. 109–118. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.56.2.109.

Hammond, M. D., Sibley, C. G. and Overall, N. C. (2014) ‘The Allure of Sexism Psychological Entitlement Fosters Women’s Endorsement of Benevolent Sexism Over Time’, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(4), pp. 422–429. doi: 10.1177/1948550613506124.

Jost, J. T. and Hunyady, O. (2005) ‘Antecedents and consequences of system-justifying ideologies’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(5), pp. 260–265. doi: 10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00377.x.

Moradi, B. and Subich, L. M. (2002) ‘Perceived Sexist Events and Feminist Identity Development Attitudes: Links to Women’s Psychological Distress’, The Counseling Psychologist, 30(1), pp. 44–65. doi: 10.1177/0011000002301003.

Shepherd, M. et al. (2011) ‘“I’ll Get That for You”: The Relationship Between Benevolent Sexism and Body Self-Perceptions’, Sex Roles, 64(1), pp. 1–8. doi: 10.1007/s11199-010-9859-2.

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