Sexism is the prejudice or discrimination against one based on their sex or gender. Usually, this is directed towards women. We all had to go through hostile sexism at one point or another in our lives and we are equipped to recognise this social evil. But then there is one kind of sexism that is not easy to detect – Benevolent Sexism.
Benevolent Sexism is a subtle kind of sexism that outwardly sounds positive towards women. Like if someone is giving a compliment for your looks instead of your work or giving a compliment because you achieved something despite being a woman… then that is benevolent sexism. But what is the issue here? We are getting a compliment, right? And that is a good thing. Is it? In both cases, your work is not getting the credit it deserves.
In benevolent sexism, a woman is considered to be very precious and delicate. She should be protected by men. In this way, they establish that women are inferior to men. All this time, they would not be outwardly degrading to women. They put women on a pedestal and worship them. At the same time, disable them from having their own agency and free will. Anything she achieves would be considered great only because she achieved it despite being a woman.
According to this line of thought, a woman is an all-rounder who will take care of her family, housework and professional life altogether. She will always keep her husband happy. She is a caregiver, an angel, someone who should be a virgin till marriage and faithful to her husband. Furthermore, she should always wear clothing that is considered modest in that culture and be protected by her husband or any man in her family. She should always be dependent and docile. Assuming that women are good at cooking, always organised, always taking notes and are filled with maternal instinct are a few other examples of benevolent sexism. In Benevolent sexism, women are always encouraged to follow their traditional gender roles. By this they take away the freedom of the women and put them into the regressive caricature they have in mind.
Popular media also propagates this ideal caricature of women. In most movies, but especially in TV serials, the female lead would be the epitome of sacrifice and wears the most modest of clothes and behaves in ways that are socially accepted as the best behaviour for women. Whereas the vamps or the antagonists would usually be in modern clothing and behave selfishly. These shows continue to propagate this wrong image of the ideal woman in their female leads. We have yet to see any popular Indian TV show where this stereotype is broken.
Sometimes over chivalry could be considered benevolent sexism. A man opening a door for a woman, or drawing the chair for her may be enjoyed by many women. But these subtle things hint again at the ‘preciousness’ of a woman and the disability for her to do those things on her own.
Most women fail to see these mild forms of benevolent sexism. When they strive to achieve this glorified version of a perfect woman, they fail to have their own individual expression and freedom. There should come a day when we can come down from the pedestals they have put us on and be real and raw humans instead of the complete angel that is a woman.
- Written By Poorna Krishnan
Poorna is from Trivandrum, Kerala, and likes to write novels and poems. She is a graduate of ‘The Film and Television Institute of India’, Pune.