A Warning to All the Entitled Ladies: Your Sexism Might Be Showing


A recent study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science examines the motivations that women have for buying into paternalistic garbage stereotypes about women. Specifically, researchers at the University of Auckland have elucidated a connection between a feeling of entitlement in women and internalized “benevolent sexism.”

Benevolent sexism not only a very good potential ironic name for your riot grrrl band; it’s also a term that was coined in 1996 by psychologists Peter Glick and Susan T Fiske in a paper titled The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating Between Hostile and Benevolent Sexism. Ambivalent sexism refers to the way in which gender discrimination doesn’t always operate as blatant prejudice: men and women both internalize hostile sexism, which is pretty self explanatory (i.e., the belief that women are inferior to men in all the typical shitty ways [PERIODS]) and benevolent sexism, which seems to be a positive valuation of women but actually just serves to contribute to damaging stereotypes:

We define benevolent sexism as a set of interrelated attitudes toward women that are sexist in terms of viewing women stereotypically and in restricted roles but that are subjectively positive in feeling tone (for the perceiver) and also tend to elicit behaviors typically categorized as prosocial (e.g., helping) or intimacy-seeking (e.g., self-disclosure). We do not consider benevolent sexism a good thing, for despite the positive feelings it may indicate for the perceiver, its underpinnings lie in traditional stereotyping and masculine dominance (e.g., the man as the provider and woman as his dependent), and its consequences are often damaging. Benevolent sexism is not necessarily experienced as benevolent by the recipient.

Ambivalent sexism refers to the way in which all the sweet lil’ dupes of patriarchy who have internalized sexist values (you, me, and every patriarchal dupe we know) simultaneously hold negative and seemingly positive feelings towards women. Don’t let the word “ambivalent” throw you: these valuations don’t contradict each other at all, because they’re both extensions of sexist ideology.

[S]exist ambivalence may generally take the form of dividing women into favored in-groups — consisting of women (e.g., homemakers ) who embrace traditional roles that fulfill the paternalistic, gender identified, and sexual motives of traditional men — versus disliked out-groups — consisting of women (e.g., feminists) who challenge or threaten these needs and desires… Ambivalent sexism may be most evident in polarized views of these different types (e.g., the notion of women as “saints” or “sluts”).

Why would any woman want to contribute to her own oppression? Well, obviously, there’s a lot to be gained from lumping oneself in with a favored in-group and neglecting the needs of marginalized out-groups (which has even been a problem in feminism, an out-group itself, since time immemorial). Once you’ve wormed your way in to one of them, people will protect you and tell you you’re pretty and cute and let you have some degree of Woman-Success (your own Lean In circle!), which is not the same thing as actual success (men only).

The University of Auckland study very much backs this up: after asking over 2,700 women and 1,600 men to complete psychological evaluations about 1) their sense of entitlement and 2) their adherence to sexism twice over a year-long span, the researchers found that “women who believed they deserved more out of life were more likely to endorse benevolent sexist beliefs and adherence to these beliefs increased over time.” The association between entitlement in men and benevolent sexism, conversely, was weak and did not increase over time.

As lead researcher Matthew Hammond puts it:

Even though both men and women have these kind of ‘entitled’ tendencies to be reward-oriented and status-focused, the ‘cherish and protect’ attitudes of benevolent sexism seem to take advantage of these qualities in women only. This is an example of how benevolent sexism is an insidious set of ideas which appear to exploit ‘niceness’ to encourage women to hold more sexist beliefs.

These findings are pretty much completely unsurprising, but they’re very telling nonetheless. Because male privilege is a system that basically every society in existence encourages and supports, male entitlement can happen in a vacuum of sorts. A (white) man feels that he deserves special treatment because special treatment is built into the way he perceives the world. When a woman feels that she deserves special treatment, though, it’s through the filter of her woman-ness. The way that we tend to conceptualize “specialness” for a woman is inherently more tenuous and less guaranteed than for a man. This explains why the protection of masculinity is a often conduit to female power and entitlement — be it through acting like a man, feeling the overwhelming need to gain the respect of men in order to gain legitimacy, or proclaiming oneself unlike other women.

And even when you’re ostensibly trying to be pro-woman, the “in-group” logic is difficult to escape and really damaging. Because we have so few examples of women who succeed sans a bit of benevolent sexism (i.e., Marissa Mayer lounging vulnerably in Vogue, because being pretty is totes always a complement no matter what the scenario) or distancing oneself from the woman as a category — and because entitlement is far more likely to be valued positively in a man — we’re stuck rehashing this faux-positive narrative of “feminine success” as somehow less legitimate than “masculine success” or something that benefits only the woman who has earned it.

“Self-entitled women are more likely to endorse benevolent sexism” [PsyPost]
Image via Getty.

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