In 2015, women hold an increasing number of top leadership positions. The number of women in Congress is at an all-time high. They generally seem to have the same chances as men in all areas of society. So is there still any problem with sexism at all? I argue: Yes, sexist attitudes and behavior is still very present these days and more dangerous than ever.
Sexism doesn’t come across as open hostility towards women, but is more subtle and hidden nowadays, often acted out under the guise of chivalry.
Objective indicators, such as the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) or the Gender Inequality Index (GII), reveal that in none of the over 150 evaluated countries, gender equality has been achieved. Although there are cross-country differences, women in all countries researched are underrepresented in positions connected to power and status, and generally have a lower quality of life. Also, I argue that there is no such thing as the one and only sexism, but instead there are different forms of sexist behaviors and attitudes differing in their underlying beliefs. Illustrations by Ricardo Prager.
Modern Sexism / Neosexism
Is marked by the denial that any form of discrimination against women still exists and therefore rejects measures aiming to reduce gender inequality. Modern Sexism and Neosexism try to ideologically justify existing inequality as the result of fair odds.
“I don’t see a problem with that!”
There is a conflict between egalitarian values and negative emotions towards women, which manifests itself in three main components:
- Denial of ongoing discrimination.
- Resistance against perceived privileging of women.
- Rejection of demands for equality.
Expresses itself in openly negative views on women. Among others, it is marked by the belief that men deserve a higher status than women as well as by a fear of losing job opportunities etc.
“Career women?! Don’t like ’em.”
Hostile sexists believe that women aim to have power and control over men, either through feminist ideology and/or by using erotic capital. Therefore, Hostile Sexism is directed mostly towards non-traditional types of women such as feminists and/or career women.
“I’m just trying to help!”
Is a subtle form of sexism that comes in the disguise of chivalry. From the subjective point of view of the benevolent sexist, his behavior is the outcome of a positive attitude towards women. It suggests being able to compensate the negative consequences that come with Hostile Sexism by creating the illusion that there is no gender inequality at all, and that the relations between men and women can be seen as fair and just. It promotes gender-specific roles, dictating clear codes of conduct for men and women.
Three main facets of Benevolent Sexism can be distinguished:
- Protective paternalism: the conviction that men need to protect women and need to support them financially.
- Complementary gender-specific distinction: the belief that women are “the better sex”; marked by positive, but gender-conformal attributions. Women are described as more caring, loving and diplomatic than men.
- Heterosexual intimacy: comprises a romantically transfigured image of a woman as a partner without whom no man can lead a fulfilling life. This concept idealizes heterosexual relationships and makes them seem as the most desirable aim while at the same time often putting women in the position of an accessory a successful man needs to have in order to lead a fulfilling life.
“The perfect girl.”
At first glance the three components don’t seem to be problematic: generally, to offer someone assistance and protection are positive gestures which don’t necessarily need to be motivated by sexism. But benevolent behavior becomes sexist if it is directed towards one gender only and/or if the same kind of paternalistic behavior is not wanted if it comes from women.
Similarly, positive attributions and compliments become questionable if they are one-sided and directed towards women only. Research shows that those who cling to stereotypically female character attributions (emotional, soft, warm) exclude women from having character traits that are stereotypically characterized as masculine (logical thinking, rationality), thus leading to the fact that although women are characterized as wonderful, they are at the same time seen as weak and in need of protection.
Is the combination of both Hostile as well as Benevolent Sexism and bases on the interdependence between structural power (which is mostly held by men and describes the control over the distribution of economic and social resources), and dyadic power (which is held by men and women alike and describes the control over the need for intimacy, sexuality and closeness). Ambivalent Sexism is the result of the internalization of sexist attitudes and is practiced by both men and women. It leads to the “gratification” of gender-conformal behavior with Benevolent Sexism and the sanctioning of non-conformal behavior with Hostile Sexism. The result is the stabilization of patriarchal structures as well as the fostering of gender inequality.
Briefly, it can be said that although the conditions for women in terms of a shift towards chances for greater equality considerably improved over the last decades, women nowadays are still structurally disadvantaged and victims of everyday discrimination. One possibility to uphold structural discrimination and to protect the privileges of a distinct group (men) is to spread legitimizing ideologies and prejudices about a second, structurally disadvantaged group (women). Sexism now expresses itself differently: instead of having to face openly hostile attitudes, women now have to deal with hidden forms of discrimination which are often hard to criticize as they come across with subtlety.
Becker, Julia. (2014). Subtile Erscheinungsformen von Sexismus. http://www.bpb.de/apuz/178674/subtile-erscheinungsformen-von-sexismus?p=all
Eckes, Thomas/Six-Materna, Iris. Leugnung von Diskriminierung: Eine Skala zur Erfassung des Modernen Sexismus, in: Zeitschrift für Sozialpsychologie, 29 (1998), 224–238.
Gender Inequality Index. http://data.un.org/DocumentData.aspx?q=HDI+&id=332
Glick, Peter/Fiske, Susan T. The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating Hostile and Benevolent Sexism, in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70 (1996), S. 491–512.
Guttentag, Marcia/Secord, Paul F. (1983). Too Many Women?
Swim, Janet K. et al. Sexism and Racism: Old-fashioned and Modern Prejudices, in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68 (1995), 199–214.