The Problem When Sexism Just Sounds So Darn Friendly…
By Melanie Tannenbaum
Something can’t actually be sexist if it’s really, really nice, right?
I mean, if someone compliments me on my looks or my cooking, that’s not sexist. That’s awesome! I should be thrilled that I’m being noticed for something positive!
Yet there are many comments that, while seemingly complimentary, somehow still feel wrong. These comments may focus on an author’s appearance rather than the content of her writing, or mention how surprising it is that she’s a woman, being that her field is mostly filled with men. Even though these remarks can sometimes feel good to hear – and no one is denying that this type of comment can feel good, especially in the right context – they can also cause a feeling of unease, particularly when one is in the position of trying to draw attention towards her work rather than personal qualities like her gender or appearance.
In social psychology, these seemingly-positive-yet-still-somewhat-unsettling comments and behaviors have a name: Benevolent Sexism. Although it is tempting to brush this experience off as an overreaction to compliments or a misunderstanding of benign intent, benevolent sexism is both real and insidiously dangerous.
What Is Benevolent Sexism? Why is Benevolent Sexism a Problem?