Spending time with women doesn’t make men less sexist, according to researchers

Between Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault and the gendered slurs thrown at Hillary Clinton, men’s excuses for sexism are all over the news. You’ve heard them before.”I can’t be sexist because I have a wife/daughter/sister/mother/female colleague who doesn’t hate me.” But research is not on their side: studies show being around women doesn’t make men less sexist.

This is based on a theory, developed by psychology researchers Peter Glick and Susan Fiske, that there are two kinds of sexism: hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. Hostile sexism is openly aggressive, even violent, and portrays women as enemies of men. When a woman is labeled as a bitch for asserting herself, when seeking gender equality is mistaken for hating men, or when so-called Men’s Rights Activists say anything ever, that’s hostile sexism at work. Since this is the more obvious form of sexism, it gives men who are capable of showing affection to women an easy out. They’re not perpetually angry at the world’s female population, so they can’t be sexist, right?

WRONG. Benevolent sexism, which Glick delightfully abbreviates as “BS,” says caring about women doesn’t absolve you from being a massive sexist. In benevolent sexism, men view women as always needing male guardians because we’re more emotional, compassionate, and overall weaker. It’s less aggressive, but it retains the fundamental inequality that underlies more hostile forms of sexism and can thus do a hell of a lot of damage.

Anti-Trump protests - women
CREDIT: Pacific Press/Getty Images

If you’ve heard of those super creepy “purity balls” where daughters pledge their virginity (until marriage) to their dads, that’s benevolent sexism in action. Why can’t girls just hang on to their virginity themselves until they’re ready to have sex? Why do their dads need it? Because anyone who’s female needs a man to supervise them in all things, that’s why.

However, most manifestations of benevolent sexism aren’t so gross, which is why they’re so prevalent. According to Glick, benevolent sexism allows men to have it both ways. They can have sexual, romantic, domestic, and other positive types of relationships with women without having to reevaluate the perks they enjoy as part of an unequal gender hierarchy. And if they speak over us, it’s OK; their main aim is our protection, since we’re weak and female, so they still get to pretend they have our best interests at heart.

As for the men who fall back on the “wife and daughter” defense after committing heinous acts of hostile sexism, turns out both kinds of sexism often go together. Women close to these men get the benevolent version, while other women receive the hostile treatment. That’s why sexism won’t necessarily be fixed by spending time with women: some men are just determined to keep the patriarchy going no matter what.

Tags: gender, sexism