Confusion Corner: Shining a light on casual sexism

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With the endless pit of knowledge that college may bring, sometimes the most beneficial information hits when it’s least expected. As I was driving to Richmond, listening to podcasts, I came about a term that I had never heard before, yet affects multiple aspects of my life: benevolent sexism. The podcast was the first to introduce to me such a term, but benevolent sexism in no way is ‘new.’ Rather, it is absent from most dialogue on campus and beyond. So let us explore this term together, shall we?

In order to create neutral understanding of such a packed concept, benevolent sexism is, by definition, “evaluations of gender that may appear subjectively positive but are actually damaging to people and gender equality.” Examples of this are broad; it trickles down to prescribing certain qualities to another human being based on their identified gender and the traditional role that gender encompasses, further solidifying the power dynamic that equality movements are trying to fight against. The toxic nature of this act hides behind good intentions and thus often goes unnoticed. However, by simply allowing these statements to crawl into our brain, our submission to them is fueled. Submission results in expectation, which results in pressure to fit into a certain role. Overall, it’s all just plain unhealthy.

Research conducted by numerous reputable studies as part of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology as well as the Public Library of Science, determined that small words and actions that mean well actually create environments that further support hostile sexism (normally referred to as plain ‘sexism’). Normalizing blanket statements surrounding certain gender communities establishes a separation — an ‘otherness’ — between people. This separation then makes benevolent sexism all the more present in our daily lives.

What is perhaps most frightening of all is that, through my study of the term, I have found that I too am guilty of falling under benevolent sexism’s ugly grasp. I am not alone either, for we are all guilty of making assumptions and seemingly careless judgments based on a particular gender, closing people into a box of traits.

Now, how do we fight this? Well, the first step is recognizing that this term and the behaviors surrounding it exist. After awareness comes actively fighting against its use and not letting the little things slide — whether that be from your own mouth or from others. Treating each other as equals in the gender-sphere is not saying ‘I love *insert gender community*.’ Instead, it is living that belief in your heart and throwing away the need to separate yourself from others. At the end of the day, we are all individuals capable of holding qualities that are uniquely ours and do not belong to gender.

Ellie Moonan is a Confusion Corner columnist who wants you to fight sexism, benevolent or otherwise.