Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Benevolent sexism Part 2: Who's defining this thing anyway?

Definitions are important.  REALLY important.  I've blogged before about how confusing things can get when researchers choose to define a word in a way most people wouldn't think to, and this topic is no exception.

Benevolent sexism is not a term most people use in their daily lives, and thus we should be especially cautious when approaching this term.  When Charles Murray wrote a recent critique of a study (scratch that, an abstract of a study) on benevolent sexism, he defined it up front as "think gentlemanly behavior".  People in the comments section went on to talk about how great it was to hold doors for people/have people hold doors for them. 

Thus, as my first step, I decided to take a look at what the actual researchers definition of benevolent sexism is.  Not their one sentence summary either, I wanted the assessment test.  After combing through quite few papers, I found that the most common assessment for benevolent sexism appears to be from a 1996 paper* that Google scholar tells me has been cited over 1200 times.  I couldn't find a free version of the paper, but I found the test here.

Basically the test asks 22 questions....11 designed to assess hostile sexism, and 11 designed to assess benevolent sexism (this test was only designed to test sexism against women, btw).  Before going any further, I decided to take it myself.  It's a 0 to 5 scale, and you're scored on the average.  Below 2.5 on either is considered "not sexist".   Here's the cheat sheet of which questions assess benevolent sexism, along with the answer that qualifies you as a non-sexist:

  1. No matter how accomplished he is, a man is not truly complete as a person unless he has the love of a woman. (Disagree)
  2. In a disaster, women ought not necessarily to be rescued before men. (Agree)
  3. People are often truly happy in life without being romantically involved with a member of the other sex. (Agree)
  4. Many women have a quality of purity that few men possess. (Disagree)
  5. Women should be cherished and protected by men. (Disagree)
  6. Every man ought to have a woman whom he adores. (Disagree)
  7. Men are complete without women. (Agree)
  8. A good woman should be set on a pedestal by her man. (Disagree)
  9.  Women, compared to men, tend to have a superior moral sensibility. (Disagree)
  10.  Men should be willing to sacrifice their own well being in order to provide financially for the women in their lives. (Disagree)
  11.  Women, as compared to men, tend to have a more refined sense of culture and good taste. (Disagree)
This actually confused me more than it enlightened me.  I mean, I feel I need some context for these questions before I can actually answer them.  I mean, like number the woman sick?  Is she your wife?  Your daughter?  A cousin?  For #1 and #3....are we excluding gay people on purpose or what? Also, I'm actually pretty cool with single people who are single by choice. And #8, for those of us not alive in the 60's, what's up with the pedestal thing?  For #6....I would kinda hope they at least adore their mom, right?  It would kind of worry me if a man didn't have any women in his life he felt that way about.  To get to Charles Murray's definition though, how many of these really cover "gentlemanly behavior"? I count two (thought you could persuade me as high as 4)....and there's no holding doors thing in there at all.

Anyway, vague questions aside, this test is pretty darn standard when it comes to assessing benevolent sexism for research purposes.   So keep this list in mind, and you'll have a better idea of what's being referenced here.**

*Glick, Peter, and Susan T. Fiske. "The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism." Journal of personality and social psychology 70.3 (1996): 491.
**In my search for this particular assessment I found a really cranky critique of this assessment test over at Psychology Today.  This test confused me more than made me mad, but I thought the critique was kind of funny.


  1. AHAHA I took that test a while ago and came out a high "hostile sexist" why? probably because I put "agree" to statements like "women complain about their job too much"... The test was foolish in so many ways.

    1. That question was so bizarre I didn't even know what to do with it. The exact phrasing was "Women exaggerate problems they have at work". Like in what sense? I mean, I figure almost everyone who gets on a good roll about their job sucking is probably exaggerating to a certain extent....that's just good storytelling.

  2. As Mortimer Adler stated in his book "How To Read a Book"

    "For the communication to be successfully completed, therefore, it is necessary for the two parties to uses words with the same meanings – in short, to come to terms."

    What is true for books must also certainly be true of journal articles, reports and other scientific publications. For more info on Adler's discussion of terms see:

  3. There are those of us who tend to middle answers on 1-5 scales because we can see some exceptions or hidden costs. We tend to answer a 1 or a 5 only if the statement is worded in an extreme way.

    So I think of Saint Paul, but I also think that assuming the role of husband and father is part of development. I'm going to be answering 2-4 on all questions.

    1. I linked to a "who should you vote for" quiz a while back that was my favorite assessment of this sort ever. For every issue it gave a "yes" "no" and then a "give me more options". From there you could answer "yes, because x" or "yes, but y" or "no, because z".

      It actually covered a lot of bases.

      I kept wanting that with this. Like the sacrifice well being to provide for you family thing....yes, I mean, if necessary, shouldn't we all? But if the wife's doing okay, then, I don't know, maybe they can reassess?

      Now I'm reminded of the Simpson's episode where Flanders asks if God is punishing him. The pastor answers "short answer: yes with an if, long answer: no with a but".

      I wanted to answer that to all of these.