Day: September 5, 2018

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The Science of How ‘Benevolent Sexism’ Undermines Women: A Summit Q&A with Peter Glick

Peter Glick is a psychologist who studies benevolent sexism — the paternalistic belief that women are pure, fragile flowers in need of men’s protection. Benevolent sexism, unlike hostile sexism, feels positive and well-intentioned. But Glick and his colleagues have found that it actually undermines women’s careers by excluding them from challenging assignments and depriving them of honest, critical feedback. We reached Dr. Glick at his lab at Lawrence University, where he’s the Henry Merritt Wriston Professor in the Social Sciences, to ask him what insights he’ll be bringing to the NeuroLeadership Summit. NLI: At the Summit you’ll be talking about your work on benevolent sexism. Tell me about that work. Peter Glick: It’s collaborative work I started with [Princeton psychologist] Susan Fiske on reconceptualizing sexism. Prior to our work, when you talked about sexism, people immediately thought about hostility toward women. I mean, that’s how we define prejudice. And sexism is a form of prejudice. Right? Historically, and even today, men have more power and status. But they’re intimately interdependent with women, if they’re heterosexual. So this theory is rooted in the idea that heterosexual intimacy is part of it, combined with the power and status difference. I call this the “Central Gender Relations Paradox.” It’s a very weird situation when you start to think about it! You’ve got a group that’s more powerful and has more status. And when groups have more power and status, they like to maintain their privileges and tend to view themselves as superior. But at the same time, this powerful group is intimately interdependent on the subordinated group! NLI: And what’s the effect of that? PG: It creates this ambivalence toward women. On the one hand, men want to maintain control over them and keep women in their place. But at the same time, they want to maintain positive relationships in intimate relationships with women. So how do you resolve this paradox? The power difference creates hostile sexism that demeans women, but the intimate interdependence necessitates “benevolent” sexism, which is this paternalistic, protective attitude toward women. Because men are intimately interdependent on them. It’s basically, “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.” Benevolent sexism is this view that women are wonderful, pure, fragile flowers in need of men’s protection and provision and being cherished and adored. There’s this classic Motown song that goes, “I would kiss the ground she walks on, cause it’s my word, my word she’ll obey.” NLI: “It’s my word she’ll obey”? Wow. PG: We have some fantastic research that documents the many surprising and insidious ways in which benevolent sexism undermines women’s equality and undermines women — sometimes more than hostile sexism. It’s harder to get a handle on too because subjectively it’s really nice. This is not some plot men hatched. It’s just the natural, almost inevitable outcome of this heterosexual interdependence coupled with the power difference. We found that across nations, benevolent sexism and hostile sexism go hand in hand. They tend to go together. They’re not conflicted. Hostile sexism and benevolent sexism go hand-in-hand. It’s the carrot and the stick. Hostile sexism is the stick. If you get out of line, the hammer comes down. But if you stay in line, we’ll take care of you. NLI: Can you give me some examples of beliefs that characterize each? PG: For the hostile sexism scale, there are anti-feminist items like, “Feminists are demanding too much of men,” “Women complain about things at work,” “Women use sex to manipulate men and gain power over men.” So that’s about all the “conniving” ways basically that women “try to gain power over men,” or the idea that women compete with men in ways that aren’t fair. This is the modern version of hostile sexism. If it were 200 years ago, it would have been, “Women are incompetent and stupid.” But things have changed, so hostile sexism now is subtle hostility in an environment where there’s more competition. Whereas with benevolent sexism, you could translate it into Ancient Greek and Homer would have recognized it. It’s stuff like, “Women are more pure and moral than men,” and “Women deserve and need men’s protection.” NLI: You were saying that hostile sexism and benevolent sexism go hand in hand. PG: Right. The hostile sexist nations are also the benevolently sexist nations. But if you compare men’s and women’s scores on benevolent sexism, we don’t find as big a gap. Because benevolent sexism sounds really nice — and it is, by the way, subjectively positive on the part of men who hold these attitudes. They’re not being sneaky. Their mom told them, “Don’t ever hit a girl,” and, “You’ve got to protect women.” Romantic scripts tell them that! Benevolent sexism and romance are very hand-in-glove too. So they’re feeling like, “Hey, I’m treating the ladies like they need to be treated.” It’s a very subjectively positive thing. Yet we find these objectively negative outcomes. NLI: When you say that women score high on benevolent sexism — they’re scoring high on benevolently sexist beliefs about women, not men, right? PG: Right. It’s “Women should be cherished and protected by men, do you agree or disagree?” Women can say, “Oh yeah, men should cherish and protect women, for sure.” “Women are more pure and moral.” “A man needs a woman he can adore.” “He’s not complete without a woman.” Women can endorse that stuff as well. I’m not real militant. In romantic relationships, you’ve got to figure out what you want. But when it comes to work, we’ve found that benevolent sexism is related to things like not giving women challenging assignments — because maybe it will be too stressful for them or too demanding. But challenging assignments are how you get promoted! And how you develop your skills! Women often get softer feedback. It’s, “Oh, you’re so wonderful,” and often that praise is on more feminine dimensions, like “Clients love you because you’re so warm and nurturing.” But then when it comes to promotions

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