Shades of sexism

You interact with members of the opposite sex every day but although we have come a long way in terms of equality is there a hint of sexism in every inter-sex interaction? This is what was studied in a new piece of research and the researchers concluded that in the case of men there can be shades to their sexism and that some sexism can even come from sound motives. Going further the researchers found that you can tell what sort of sexism a man feels by his word choice and body language.

The study involved the researchers examining social interactions between mixed sex pairs of American undergraduates. Arising from their study the researchers identified two distinct types of sexism; hostile sexism and benevolent sexism.

Hostile sexism is defined as an antipathy towards women that seeks to justify men’s power in society through dominance and derogation of women. It is rooted in fear of women attempting to overthrow men’s power through feminism or sexuality. Benevolent sexism on the other hand is based in a “chivalrous” and more positive view of women wherein women are portrayed as pure and warm yet helpless and incompetent beings who require cherished protection from men. Although a kinder expression, benevolent sexism is still based on the assumption that men are more competent than women and that women should be pampered or protected by men. However, a benevolently sexist man may genuinely not see himself as sexist at all in the traditional sense.

Having established who held hostile sexist attitudes and who held benevolent sexist attitudes the researchers found from observation that the nature of a man’s sexist attitude could be revealed through certain cues.

They found for instance, that hostile sexist men used less positive and friendly words in their speech and were less inclined to smile. The benevolently sexist men however were warmer, more approachable, used more positive words and were much more likely to smile.

That’s all interesting and revealing but the screaming question not addressed by the research is how do we recognise men (and women) who hold no sexist attitudes at all? Yes, there is a long way to go in achieving true equality but a lot has been accomplished in past decades and surely there are many people of both sexes who hold attitudes that are not sexist at all but instead are, dare we say, humanist. Perhaps the next study should be aimed at looking at what makes these people tick but therein lies the future.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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