Ambivalent Sexism

Image: male and female figures facing questions

Often the “breakdown in communication” that one may experience is the active subtext of sexism present in the interaction. The attitudes and beliefs (often unconscious) that we carry toward our own as well as the opposite sex can have a significant impact on the dynamics of interpersonal interactions and efforts to communicate.

Following are some of the basic sexist assumptions that are socially constructed and reinforced (for us to believe as both normal and the truth) from a very early age.


Hostile sexism (toward women)

  • Women seek to gain power by getting control over men
  • Women exaggerate problems they have at work
  • When women lose to men in a fair competition, they typically complain about being discriminated against
  • Feminists are making unreasonable demands of men
  • Many women get a kick out of teasing men by seeming sexually available and then refusing male advances
  • Once a woman gets a man to commit to her, she usually tries to put him on a tight leash

Benevolent sexism (toward women)

  • Many women have a quality of purity that few men possess
  • Women should be cherished and protected by men
  • Every man ought to have a woman whom he adores
  • Men are incomplete without women
  • Women, compared to men, have a superior moral sensibility
  • Men should be willing to sacrifice their own well-being in order to provide financially for the women in their lives

Hostile sexism (toward men)

  • Men will always fight to have greater control in society than women
  • Even men who claim to be sensitive to women’s rights really want a traditional relationship at home with the woman performing most of the housekeeping and child care
  • Most men sexually harass women, even if only in subtle ways, once they’re in a position of power over them
  • When men act to “help” women, they’re often trying to prove they’re better than women
  • Men act like babies when they’re sick
  • When it comes down to it, most men are really like children

Benevolent sexism (toward men)

  • Even if both members of a couple work, the woman ought to be more attentive to taking care of her man at home
  • Every woman needs a male partner who’ll cherish her
  • A woman will never be truly fulfilled in life if she doesn’t have a committed, long-term relationship with a man
  • Men are mainly useful to provide financial security for women
  • Men are more willing to put themselves in danger to protect others
  • Men are more willing to take risks than women

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Siler is a psychotherapist with 20 years of experience, who teaches psychology classes at the local branch of Mendocino College. He has lived on the coast for 40 years, and he developed and ran the Mendocino Community High School, an alternative high school, for 20 years. Steve is also a theatrical producer and director.

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