Recently, I have seen indications that even today benevolent sexism factors into our thinking
Two things caught my attention last week. One came from a post on LinkedIn from my friend and colleague Sonal Bahl, Careeer Coach, who talked with a client about the lack of women in the C-Suite in her company. The client spoke of one internal female candidate:
“we know she has two small kids, this role requires lots of traveling. We’ve really done her a favour by not accepting her candidature.”
That is benevolent sexism.
The second was concern expressed for Lizz Truss the now very ex-U.K. Prime Minister, for her mental well-being, her family, and how tough things must be for her as the U.K. slides into political chaos in real-time in front of our eyes. An article in the Times said she “should never have put yourself forward for leadership, but it’s not entirely your fault.”
Unstated … poor woman …was duped by her backers who should “have known better or who were blinded by their own desire for power.”
No SHE should have known better.
That is benevolent sexism.
Definition of benevolent sexism
Benevolent sexism is defined as “a subtler form of sexism and is expressed in a seemingly positive way. It is expressed by emphasizing men’s role to protect and provide for women by putting them on a pedestal in a chivalrous way. This protection and love is granted in exchange for women’s compliance to traditional gender roles.”
Benevolent sexism is entry-level sexism. It is a gateway behaviour on the sexism spectrum. It casts women in roles which require her to be taken care of and protected – by a system (in this case the workplace) or by others – frequently men.
In so doing it denies the woman empowerment and makes assumptions about how she should behave and limits her goals and expectations into gender stereotypes.
The process deprives women of agency, autonomy and also accountability when they make mistakes.
Assumptions and Glass Cliffs
In the case of the internal candidate, it cast her in the gender role as primary care giver. Maybe she has a nanny or her mother lives with them or heaven forbid a stay-at-home partner. Maybe she can’t wait to get away from home. I know many women who think going to work and travelling is easier than dealing with things domestic. Staying in hotels, eating in restaurant – how bad is that? If it was great being at home don’t you think men would be keener to do it?
In the case of Liz Truss, she campaigned hard for the role of Prime Minister. She went for it knowing what was involved and failed because of a spectacular lack of competence. She is desperately ambitious and has flip flopped throughout her career to do what is best for her personal agenda. Liberal to Conservative Remainer, to hard-core right-wing Libertarian, financed by fossil fuel lobbyists.
Worth a read: The gender data gap. Why women don’t see everyday sexism
The real measure is #FlipItToTestIt.
If a male political leader had resigned under similar circumstances, having tanked the economy and certainly bringing hardship to millions of citizens, would people have expressed the same concern? Would they have asked the same questions and wanted to protect him from criticism and scrutiny with a metaphorical group hug from afar? Did they do that for David Cameron?
I’ve also seen a lot of posts about whether this was a glass cliff situation for Liz Truss. After mulling it over, I feel it’s more of a bad leadership issue than a gender issue. Some would say she made won the Tory vote because the U.K. wasn’t ready for a brown P.M at that point. Now they have one, but based on a very small electorate. In the Conservative party where the average age is 72, was there an unconscious assumption that somehow a woman would take care of them better than a man? Even though they were very wrong on that score, that is still benevolent sexism.
“When an organization is in crisis, women are often seen as being able to come in and take care of a problem.” Catalyst
For male executives how many companies factor in that men have kids when they are promoted?