Friday, November 30, 2012

Benevolent Sexism

This article is all over the net. "Why is Benevolent Sexism Appealing?" by Connelly and Heesacker. Since all that people cite is the abstract, I thought I should delve a little deeper since I have access to the paper.

"Despite benevolent sexism's negative consequences for women and its perpetuation of gender inequality, women and men alike might be motivated to possess benevolently sexist beliefs because they are associated with increased life satisfaction through diffuse system justification."

Let me see if I can unpack that. I'm a layman in this field (this is from Psychology of Women Quarterly), but if I assume some distant relationship to English I can guess at the jargon.

  • "diffuse system justification" ≈ something is indirectly suggesting that the world is running more or less OK ("In general you find society to be fair")
  • "increased life satisfaction" ≈ people feel good about themselves and their lives
    In terms of validity, the authors found that the Satisfaction with Life scale was positively correlated with happiness and positive affect and inversely correlated with negative affect. In addition, Lucas, Diener, and Suh (1996) found that the scale was positively related to other measures of well-being, including self-esteem and optimism, among students.
  • "benevolent sexism" you have to read the article, and a few others apparently, to figure out. It is held up in opposition to "hostile sexism" ("Women seek to gain power by getting control over men" was the given example) Their definitions come from Glick and Fiske, whose abstract has to be seen to be believed.
    Abstract: The authors present a theory of sexism formulated as ambivalence toward women and validate a corresponding measure, the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI). The ASI taps 2 positively correlated components of sexism that nevertheless represent opposite evaluative orientations toward women: sexist antipathy or Hostile Sexism (HS) and a subjectively positive (for sexist men) orientation toward women, Benevolent Sexism (BS). HS and BS are hypothesized to encompass 3 sources of male ambivalence: Paternalism, Gender Differentiation, and Heterosexuality. Six ASI studies on 2,250 respondents established convergent, discriminant, and predictive validity Overall ASI scores predict ambivalent attitudes toward women, the HS scale correlates with negative attitudes toward and stereotypes about women, and the BS scale (for nonstudent men only) correlates with positive attitudes toward and stereotypes about women. A copy of the ASI is provided, with scoring instructions, as a tool for further explorations of sexist ambivalence.

    Perhaps I'm missing something, but it looks as though the Glick and Fiske dislike "Paternalism", differences between sexes, and reproduction. Paging Darwin on line 2.

  • "gender inequality" ≈ the sexes are not equal, or the sexes are not identical in all roles. Both concepts appear and blur together.
  • "negative consequences" refers to alleged ill effects "such as heightened feelings of incompetence and self-doubt", which would certainly be an ill effect if the finding was justified. I cannot access the full report, but I'm skeptical, since it contradicts my own observations. But read their abstract yourself:
    Four experiments found benevolent sexism to be worse than hostile sexism for women's cognitive performance. ... Experiment 4 showed that impaired performance due to benevolent sexism was fully mediated by the mental intrusions women experienced about their sense of competence. Additionally, Experiment 4 showed that gender identification protected against hostile but not benevolent sexism. Despite the apparently positive and inoffensive tone of benevolent sexism, our research emphasizes its insidious dangers.
    I added the highlighting. They seem to be concluding that holding the door for a woman is worse for her job performance than accusing her of being manipulative.

The first five sentences of the famous paper are:

In 2010, Blayne Bennett, president of the Network of Enlightened Women (NeW) at Arizona State University (ASU), appeared on the local morning news show, Good Morning! Arizona. Bennett promoted her chapter's Second Annual Gentleman's Showcase, an event honoring the 10 most chivalrous men at ASU. A "gentlemanly act" ranged from opening a door for a woman to lending a "damsel in distress" money for printing. "I get to read the nominations people submit, and I get a huge grin on my face the whole time," Bennett told the program's host (Beardsley, 2010).

When asked what might be contributing to a lack of chivalry on campus, Bennett responded, "The radical feminist movement has really kind of put us in a Catch-22. . . . Men are told that if they're chivalrous, it could be demeaning to women. . . and women are told we need to be really independent and self-sufficient. . . . But when we asked the campus, we got a different answer. Women want to be treated like ladies."

Connelly and Heesacker's view of the world is much grimmer than Bennett's: "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." and "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."

However, this reasoning does not imply that benevolent sexism is beneficial overall or should remain unchallenged. Fischer and Good (2004, p. 439) argue that the anger and distress caused by awakening feminist consciousness are inherent in "the longer term, growthful process of developing a healthy resistance to injustice." Although questioning sexist attitudes and behaviors may detract from some aspects of subjective satisfaction, only by challenging such prejudices can we hope to create an egalitarian society free of intolerance and its many harmful consequences.

Happiness must be secondary to living a good life, in other words. Oddly enough, I agree with that sentiment, but I object to their implicit definitions of a good life, which has no reference whatever to virtue.

Let me grab a famous razor and guess that kindnesses that make everybody happier are probably good things. Since I'm skeptical of the alleged ill effects, and I noticed that happier men and women seem to reproduce, no matter whether you study the matter from the point of Christian chivalry or "survival of the fittest", this pair wrote rubbish, to describe it kindly.


kyp Belligerent said...

I'll have to read the full text at work, but I do somewhat agree with them. Patronizing or benevolent sexism is very demoralizing because it seems so ingrained that it cannot be excised; the perpetrators aren't even aware that their actions are insulting. I have to try not to be rude back for the sake of social propriety while thinking, "this is all they think I'm capable of." Active, overt, deliberate sexism is infuriating, and I certainly react more strongly and angrily to it. But in those cases you can just write off that person as a jerk and be done with it; in the first case, you think "why would this nice person assume I'm not capable of this?" It's harder to outright reject the misguided beliefs of well-intentioned people.

Courtesy, I'd like to add, is not sexist. I hold doors for people and have doors held for me. It's a way of being gracious to strangers. If a man sees me refilling power sleeting fluid on the side of the road and asks is I need any help, it's neighborly. Of course, if he then ignores my response or dismisses my reassurances on account of my gender, then that's sexist. That's the line, really; if you would treat any neighbor this way versus only men or only women.

james said...

So you reject the conclusion of Dardenne, Dumont, and Bollier that hostile isn't as bad as benevolent? It seemed crazy to me also.

I see the possibility of miscommunication here. Benevolence doesn't necessarily mean "you're incapable." It can and often does mean something more along the lines of "because of who you are, I wish to render this service."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I am thoroughly skeptical of all claims which say "Action X depresses (or increases) the test scores" or other measurables of any group. It has long been taught that telling blacks they aren't good at something causes them to do worse, but replicated studies have not shown up for this. I have the same suspicion about women's achievements unless someone can show me good data. That some academics believe that it just all makes sense and adds up is insufficient.

When did the myth reverse, and by what mechanism? It used to be thought that telling someone they couldn't succeed was a spur to their working harder and conquering. I don't know that that myth was true either. Data, please.

kyp Belligerent said...

And, clearly, it depends on the person. I tend to be encouraged by disparaging remarks; taking them as a dare, but I have a friend who would buckle and cower at the smallest criticism. Saying "all women are x or think x" is, to me, a sexist remark. The sample might, in this case, be very enlightening.

Obviously (to those who know me, i.e. the author), I dislike being treated differently because of my gender. Obviously, I see this as an insult to my humanity and my gender expression: I'm clearly not a damsel in distress or even a young lady. Obviously, I've spent more time acutely away of my gender than perhaps most. But this generalization isn't really helping much. Just saying "a lot of women view different or special treatment as condescending" is probably sufficient, without making broad and counter-intuitive claims about half the population.