In case you’ve been hiding under a rock lately — or watching the soon-to-canceled TV show Playboy Club — so-called benevolent sexism is doing or saying nice things for sexist reasons. Killing them with kindness, as it were. For example, holding open a door for a woman (when you don’t do it for men), or offering to install a female co-worker’s computer (again, when you wouldn’t offer the same help to a man). It’s “subjective affection as a form of prejudice,” according to researchers Peter Glick and Susan T. Fiske, who first came up with the term benevolent sexism. So sexism is not always hostile — does that mean that the kinder, gentler version is a good thing? Or, at least, not a bad thing?
The funny part is — or, perhaps, the utterly depressing part — that this debate has been going on for, um, twenty years. Yes, twenty years ago Glick and Fiske developed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI), which measures both Hostile Sexism and Benevolent Sexism. Since then, thousands of people in dozens of countries have taken the survey. And the results are still in: benevolent sexism sucks. It sucks like sexism. It is sexism. Because in every country where this survey was administered, hostile and benevolent sexism are in a co-dependent relationship. You can’t have one without the other. The only difference is, with hostile (or obvious) sexism you are punished for not behaving appropriately and with benevolent (or old-school or stealth) sexism you are rewarded for behaving appropriately.