During the call on Privilege I discuss in another post my attention was drawn to Peter Glick’s Research Symposium: Gender and Work in which he discusses how Benevolent Sexism (BS) creates a double bind which is used to undermine women and justifies a backlash against feminism. An example of BS (yes, it makes me laugh too) is the story, ‘But I was only holding the door open, being a gentleman, I thought that’s what you lot wanted, but then she flew into a rage…can’t win with women’… You know, it’s there in the newspapers if nothing else. Similar to Similar to… ‘I’d like to say Happy Christmas in my local school/hospital/library but you aren’t allowed to because of the foreigners’. Of course none of these are true, but they get us stuck in conversations which don’t allow us to easily move forward, so the fact they aren’t true doesn’t stop them being real problems.
Peter Glick presents evidence to show that Benevolent Sexism (favourable but patronising attitudes) coincide with Violent Sexism and that it is associated with,
‘Benevolent sexism harms women in multiple ways by: (a) justifying and reinforcing hostile sexism, (b) fostering often unrecognized discrimination that limits women’s opportunities and diminishes their performance, (c) eliciting backlash when resisted, and (d) sapping women’s personal ambitions and resistance to inequality.’
He found that employers who treated female employees with Benevolent Sexism were likely to praise their work to their faces but give them lower numerical scores so they had fewer bonuses and chances of promotion and fewer spaces at the top. So when women listen to verbal feedback it is unreliable, whereas men’s verbal and numerical feedback were consistent.
He suggests that knowing a society is an unfavourable place for a woman would make a man feel uncomfortable so this is mitigated on an individual level with offers of assistance and tasks which are easier. The man can see himself then as a protector and a champion of women while she remains unchallenged and without access to power. With less chances to develop skills and fewer opportunities to develop confidence coupled with inconsistent feedback women’s performance at work would not be as strong as men’s. Also knowing that their daughters, wives and mothers are in a community with violent sexism the protective male defends the women important to him in his life but does not need to challenge the source of the violence itself.
Like the ‘Winterfestival’ rather than ‘Christmas’ false problem, the idea of being confused as whether or not to open a door we are told is a new thing that men just trying to get on with their day are trying to deal with. It’s a realist of excessive political correctness, when actually a level playing field has not yet been established and white-male-privilege is in evidence around us. These arguments are in fact old, they go back to a traditional gender roles and insular nation states, a single dominant religion and way of doing things. Patriarchal values have always enjoyed helping the poor relative, the weak woman, making token efforts towards tolerating difference but never wanting to change the status quo. The door being held open is ‘filtered down’ assistance as much as free market capitalism lets the wealth ‘trickle down’ to the poorest. The fact that assistance and power is given in such small amounts keeps women and the economically disadvantaged just away from the breakdown which could set them free.
Women should be grateful for the door being open, they are mad and hysterical to complain, and the poor should be happy with the foodbanks and people from marginal groups delighted they are tolerated. This is a sapping and divide and conquer strategy – the carrot to match the stick of the violent sexism. So, if benevolent and violent sexism are two sides to the same coin, once we begin blaming the person with less power for their problems we can recognise that we are not challenging the root of the problem and we are actually framing the problem in a way that we are less likely to find a real way out of it. So when you find yourself wondering how you lost your power in a situation, or feeling uncomfortable with a dynamic which is being presented as helpful but feels otherwise your intuition is probably right. Take a moment, have a breath, speak your truth and know you aren’t alone. It is worth it because it is real and it does matter and insistence to the contrary doesn’t make that less true.
Instead a pause, maybe offer, ask first and LISTEN to the answer. As a teenager I volunteered in a day centre for adults with learning difficulties because I wanted to know what to do if I met someone I thought was having difficulties, I wanted to help but not be patronising. That was the conclusion I came to now and I find it again. So to the person with more resources I’d like to say, ‘listen to the experiences of people who are or seem to be finding something difficult, follow their cues and not claim that we were helping and got no thanks.’