I recently discovered there’s a survey for measuring sexism and — bigger surprise still — it’s survived academic challenge for nearly a quarter century. It’s called the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory and was developed by Peter Glick, a social sciences professor at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, and Susan Fiske, a psychology professor at Princeton. It consists of multiple-choice and demographic questions, and you can take an abbreviated version of it here. It’s not just for men; I encourage women to take it as well.
[This is me tapping my toes, waiting for you to finish the survey and return to this post so you can hear my concerns and how I did compared to you.]
I have two concerns about the survey. The first is its multiple choice character. As so often happens with these tests, none of the choices match my truest feelings. I understand survey makers often do this intentionally, to force survey takers to reveal their inclinations on complex matters, but I still don’t like it.
For instance, the very first statement is “Many women have a quality of purity that few men possess.” What do the survey makers mean by purity? Assuming they want us to supply our own definition, we then get only six choices: strongly, somewhat, or slightly disagree, and strongly, somewhat, or slightly agree. What if, like me, you’re not only stuck on the definition of purity, but believe that whatever the definition is, men and women are equally capable of having it?
My other concern with the survey is what you find out at the end: that it measures not one, but two types of sexism. According to Glick and Fiske, there’s hostile and benevolent sexism. If you download a pdf of their study, which you can do by going here, you find they define hostile sexism as an antipathy toward women based upon faulty and inflexible generalizations. Benevolent sexism, on the other hand, is more complicated, a “set of interrelated attitudes toward women that are sexist in terms of viewing women stereotypically and in restricted roles but that are subjectively positive in feeling tone (for the perceiver) and also tend to elicit behaviors typically categorized as prosocial (e.g., helping) or intimacy seeking (e.g., self-disclosure).” Got that? More simply, benevolent sexism, though well-intended, is bad because its roots “lie in traditional stereotyping and masculine dominance.” That seems like a thought crime rather than actual sexism, where women are discriminated against, discounted, intimidated, assaulted, or otherwise belittled and abused based on those aforementioned faulty and inflexible generalizations.
If my response to benevolent sexism sounds defensive, here’s why: I scored low on hostile sexism (1.33, as opposed to 2.24 for all men and 1.60 for all women) but high on benevolent sexism (3.83, as opposed to 2.30 for all men and 2.00 for all women).
To some degree I blame that on the multiple-choice problem. For the answer to the purity question, I had to choose between slightly agree and slightly disagree, which came closest to my true feelings. I went for slightly agree because men have largely created this society, so collectively speaking, women are less responsible for its corruption than men. I’m guessing all those slightly agree answers correlate with benevolent sexism. Plus I strongly agreed that men should cherish and protect the women in their lives. (Would I truly be less sexist if I only slightly agreed, or disagreed?)
I also blame my benevolent sexism on my upbringing. The father I extolled in my last post insisted I treat women well, which included opening doors for them, carrying their heavy bags when shopping, etc. I can see how that’s sexist — most women can open their own doors and carry their own loads. But I did take the lesson to heart from an early age.
I would be interested in hearing your results — and what you attribute them to.