Lawrence University psychologist Peter Glick and his research partner Susan T. Fiske of Princeton University address questions about whether acts of “benevolent sexism” harm women in a new commentary published in the current issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly.

“The truth about sexism seems stranger than fiction,” wrote Glick and Fiske in “Ambivalent Sexism Revisited,” which examines their 20-year investigations into the nature of sexism. Sexist attitudes are not exclusively hostile, but include an “odd…conjunction of what at first seemed inherently incompatible: subjective affection as a form of prejudice,” which they have labeled “benevolent sexism.”

Lawrence University psychologist Peter Glick

Glick, professor of psychology and Henry Merritt Wriston Professor in the Social Sciences at Lawrence, and Fiske have shown the negative consequences of attitudes that idealize women as pure, moral, pedestal-worthy objects of men’s adoration, protection and provision. People who endorse benevolent sexism feel positively toward women, but only when women conform to highly traditional ideals about “how women should be.”

Benevolent sexism motivates chivalrous acts that many women may welcome, such as a man’s offer to lift heavy boxes or install a new computer. While the path to benevolent sexism may be paved with good intentions, it reinforces the assumption that men possess greater competence than women, whom benevolent sexists view as wonderful, but weak and fragile.

Glick and Fiske developed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI), which measures both Hostile Sexism and Benevolent Sexism, nearly 20 years ago. Since its inception, thousands of people in dozens of countries have taken the ASI.

Cross-national comparisons show that hostile and benevolent sexism go hand-in-hand — nations that endorse hostile sexism also endorse benevolent sexism. The beliefs work together because benevolent sexism “rewards” women when they fulfill traditional roles while hostile sexism punishes women who do not toe the line, thereby working together to maintain traditional relations. In other words, act sweet and they’ll pat you on the head; assert yourself and they’ll put you in your place

Numerous studies by various researchers document benevolent sexism’s insidious effects. For example, when led to expect benevolently sexist help in a masculine workplace, women became unsure of themselves, got distracted and consequently performed poorly.

Glick and Fiske discussed their research with Jan D. Yoder, editor of Psychology of Women Quarterly in this podcast.

Psychology of Women Quarterly is a feminist, scientific, peer-reviewed journal that publishes empirical research, critical reviews and theoretical articles that advance inquiry related to the psychology of women and gender, including information about feminist psychology, body image, violence against women, international gender concerns, sexism, sexuality, physical and mental well being, career development, and more. The journal is the official journal of The Society for the Psychology of Women, Division 35 of the American Psychological Association.

Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a world-class conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. Ranked among America’s best colleges, it was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,520 students from 44 states and 56 countries.