Benevolent sexism poses a harmful threat

by Rosie Brown

On April 11 a screening of “Miss Representation,” a documentary that addresses issues such as the impact of the media on perception of women, was shown to Whitworth students in the Hixson Union Building. While I have considered Whitworth, a liberal arts university, to be quite receptive to advocating gender equality, watching “Miss Representation” opened my eyes to a stark reality. Sexism wears many hats, and quite a few of these various forms can be found on campus. So, I would like to take the time to identify them.

Benevolent sexism is perhaps the most common form of unintentional sexism on campus. Believing that men are doing women a favor in keeping them from the workforce is one example. Another example I have heard is the belief that women should stay out of church leadership, unless it’s in children’s ministry. I don’t want you to think that the only ones who exhibit this particular type of sexism are men. Contrary to popular belief, benevolent sexism is encouraged by both genders.

any women will say things such as, “I shouldn’t have to do [insert task here]; that’s the man’s job.” While chivalry at its best is not a bad thing, unintended harm can be done. And it’s hidden in our vocabulary, such as “Chivalrous men work so that women ‘don’t have to.’”

I appreciate the gesture, but the assumption unintentionally places women in a position of inferiority. Imagine a woman who pursues a full-time career and her husband stays at home with the children. If she were to say, “I’m the one who works so that my husband ‘doesn’t have to,’ rather than admiration for her sacrifice, society would generally deem her selfish or condescending. Meanwhile, the stay-at-home dad would either be put down for his “feminine” job or pitied for his “overbearing” spouse. On the other hand, however, stay-at-home moms are generally more socially accepted, and there is an assumption that women often prefer to be domestic.

Another shape of sexism seen on campus has been the self-objectification of women. I know that a lot of you readers are saying, “No way! Whitworth women, of all people, are strong, independent, intelligent, etc.” I’ll agree with you on that, but I have to say that this self-objectification that we women tend to do is perhaps the most subtle, most deceptive form of sexism. One of the undeniable problems on campus is the pressure to find a significant other. I no longer want to say the pressure is to obtain a “ring by spring,” since I am unsure if people feel pressured to get married. But there is certainly a pressure to at least find someone who may possibly propose later down the road. While this pressure follows women all throughout life, even several years after college when “biological clocks start ticking,” as the saying goes, it is incredible that this is a main issue for the average female college student.

For goodness sake, we spend way too much on tuition here to allow our college years to become about the “MRS” degree. Men and women of Whitworth, you are far more valuable than just marriage material. We hear the word “vocation” thrown around like a beach ball at a summer rock concert; that’s because Whitworth as an institution wants us to find our calling. Whether that calling is grounded in marriage and family, graduate school, entrepreneurship, non-profit organizations or world travel, discover what your unique calling is. Don’t allow yourself to become another object in the world of matchmaking.

I am positive that, for most of you, the word “feminism” leaves a terrible taste in your mouths. Feminism has been associated with the worst connotations, from bra-burnings and anti-men protests, to “masculine” women and female-God.

However, here is what feminism means to me and why I think Whitworth needs it. Feminism supports gender equality and equal opportunities, treatment and respect. Without equal respect between genders (both intentional and unintentional), how can we as a community breed college graduates who can honestly take Whitworth’s mission of serving humanity? Feminism does not seek to say that women are better than men, or that women should replace men in roles of power and authority. Rather, feminism calls for justice; feminism desires to give women their dignity back and to tell them they are more capable than society has allowed them to think. Feminism tells women that their worth is not solely in how they look, dress, or in their abilities to find a husband.

Feminism says that a woman’s perspective is just as powerful and essential as a man’s, and that having both perspectives enrich the overall wisdom of a community. With this definition of feminism in mind, who at Whitworth can say, “I don’t want or need feminism?” I hope the answer is, “No one.” Whitworth, we need feminism. We can’t reject it or laugh it off or say “Dear God, not again.” Rather, we should ask thoughtful questions such as, “What’s wrong with traveling the world before getting married?” or “Well, why can’t a woman be president?” Most of all, I’d like to hear Whitworth students, men and women alike, say, “I’m proud to be a feminist.”

Brown is a senior majoring in international business. Comments can be sent to rbrown13@my.whitworth.edu.

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2 Replies to “Benevolent sexism poses a harmful threat”

  1. Truth is women are typically pressured to commit and settle down compared to men and if a woman cannot do so, she gets labeled as a whore, spinster, or lesbian and is subject to rape or being sold as a prostitute, especially in some countries like Nepal and India, for example.

    1. If this is the case, what is our role to empower women?
      In countries such as Nepal and India, how can we empower women within a given culture?

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