Subtle Sexism

Sexism isn’t always as blatant as you may think.

In fact, it’s something deeply imbedded in our society that isn’t always recognizable.

Do you ever hear someone say something nice and it still gives you the creeps? If you’re a woman in our society I’m willing to bet you’ve encountered the nice, yet somehow strangely icky too nice guy (or girl), AKA the benevolent sexist. Understanding benevolent sexism can help men and women understand some of the embedded sexism that exists in our patriarchal society and what we can do to avoid it. Differing from its more overt counterpart, benevolent sexism is not the same as hostile sexism, which is more aggressive and more openly angry at women. Benevolent sexism is actually the opposite—harder to point out, more passive, and places women on a pedestal. Here are a few examples of benevolent sexism you may have heard before and why they’re problematic:

  1. “Women are so motherly! Women are just more compassionate than men!” Stating that women are different than men, even as a compliment is perpetuating a patriarchal society. Societies that consider women dainty, compassionate, and more loving than men are often the same societies that have less women leaders and higher rates of domestic abuse, according to an article by the Harvard Business Journal. This phrase is hurtful to men too, enforcing the stereotype that men cannot be good fathers or cannot be compassionate, kind, and thoughtful.
  2. “Nice guys finish last!” This one is a little more obvious and we’ve ALL heard or been labeled/labeled someone the “nice guy.” I don’t like to use the word “nice” to describe myself because it is not a character trait, but rather an action you can decide to demonstrate. For example, I’m nice to people all the time for various reasons that are not always genuine but still benefit me. For example, getting along with an annoying coworker for the sake of my job and the other coworkers. The person you’re dating or want to date is a human who wants to be challenged and bases whether they are attracted to you on qualities other than, “How many favors has this person done for me?” This goes for women, too. Even if we do everything right and wait on them hand and food, that doesn’t entitle us to a relationship. Everybody plays the fooooool.
  3. “I talked to some girls on the bus on my way home.” What does this phrase tell you about the age of the girls or women on the bus? Pretty much nothing considering we call most women “girls.” We all do it. I mean, one of my favorite shows is called “GIRLS” and they’re like 25+. But in our culture, “woman” has a negative connotation because that implies that the woman is of a particular age. Aging as a woman is considered wrong and we should try to look as young as possible for as long as possible. Women are strong, old, and bossy. Girls are cute, young, and dumb. We can’t win. But, by owning our womanhood we can start to change the negative undertone of the word.
  4. “You need to act like a lady!” I heard someone say that to their female DOG one time. This is such a typical benevolent sexist thing to say because it SEEMS like a compliment. But, like I mentioned, societies that pedestalize women have a positive correlation with abusive and oppressive behaviors. The stereotype that women are more attractive, smell better naturally, and have better manners than men actually reduce us down to less-than-human and plastic.
  5. “Behind every great man is a great woman!” I think this quote comes directly from the era our Deporter in Chief refers to as “great.” I’m not just being nit-picky, sure, this is an attempt at giving women credit but, also enforces the notion that men are successful and in the spotlight, while women are behind the scenes helping, whilst their own accomplishments take the backseat.
  6. “I have daughters/a wife/a mother!” I hear men say this all the time, especially on the news, when something unfathomable happens to women. The problem is that men shouldn’t have to relate a situation to them to realize that it’s a bad situation. The truth is, you don’t have to personally close to understand injustice to another human being.

Growing up in a patriarchal society and hearing these phrases along with a ton of others, kind of makes us ignorant to the harm they can cause. Sorry, but I don’t know a woman out there, no matter how motherly and kind, that doesn’t pick up on benevolent sexism, even if they don’t know if has a name. So just be weary and treat everyone like the human being that they are.


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