Benevolent sexism includes views and behaviors that frame women as:
- caring and nurturing
- fragile and in need of protection
A 2020 study involving participants in the United States and United Kingdom found that people who believed in humanity’s dominance over nature and who saw women as being more closely connected with nature than men were more likely to exhibit benevolent sexism.
In comparison to hostile sexism, benevolent sexism can be less obvious. It is a more socially accepted form and is much more likely to be endorsed by men and women. However, despite its name, this type of sexism is not truly benevolent.
While benevolent sexism applies some positive traits to women and femininity, it still frames one sex or gender as weaker than another. These ideas can lead to policies and behaviors that limit a person’s agency, or the ability of someone to make their own choices.
For example, the 2020 study found that men who endorsed benevolent sexism were more likely to support policies that limit the freedoms of pregnant women. Benevolent sexism also undermines girls’ confidence in themselves and their abilities.
Some examples of benevolent sexism include:
- basing a woman’s value on her role as a mother, wife, or girlfriend
- focusing attention and praise on someone’s appearance rather than their other attributes
- believing that people should not do things for themselves, such as manage money or drive a car, because of their gender
- assuming that a person is a nurse, assistant, or secretary — not a doctor, executive, or manager — based on their gender
- supporting policies that make it difficult for women to work, have independence, or deviate from traditional gender roles