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April 30, 2018 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

The “F” Word

When most of us think about sexism, we bring to mind the overt, grab-her-by-the-pussy rhetoric of figures like Donald Trump. This is understandable given that these examples have significant “shock value”, made more salient by prolific media coverage. However, we need to realise that subtler sexism occurs every day closer to home.

Benevolent sexism refers to sexist behaviours and attitudes which appear positive but, overall, harm the cause of gender equality and sometimes the individual towards whom they’re directed. Some simple examples are the age-old adage “ladies first”; the social convention that a woman shouldn’t have to pay on a date; and societal privileging of motherhood and child-rearing.

These examples may appear entirely benign, or even positive. That is entirely the point.

However, despite less aversive packaging, benevolent sexism is built on the same gender stereotypes that underlie the more familiar “hostile sexism” – that women should be provided for, patronized, and viewed as decorative objects.

Hence, benevolent sexism actually reinforces and perpetuates the same stereotypes and traditional gender roles that inspire ongoing gender inequality. It is the friendly crutch propping up more sinister phenomena like rape culture, victim-blaming, and the gender pay gap.

As women, it can be tempting to see benevolent sexism as harmless or our “due” in return for all the other shit we have to swallow. But if we really want to make gender equality a reality, we have to let go of the perceived “benefits” of benevolent sexism in order to stamp out the harms of misogyny overall.

It’s not an easy task. Especially as the subtlety of benevolent sexism makes it much harder to identify. But these entrenched ideas and practices won’t shift if we go on accepting them.

You don’t have to rock the world right up front. Start small – split the bill.


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