Hostile sexism is a form of sexism targeted against people, and especially women, who do not conform to traditional gender roles.
What is hostile sexism?
Hostile sexism refers to a form of sexism characterized by negative and hostile attitudes toward individuals who do not conform to traditional gender roles.
One example is women who enter traditionally masculine realms, such as science, technology and engineering. In this sense, it is triggered when women stray from patriarchal norms, which can lead to different forms of harassment.
Hostile sexism can manifest as open hostility, sexual harassment, contempt and violence. It can also result in verbal abuse and derogatory comments.
At its core, hostile sexism maintains traditional gender roles and stereotypes. It can be defined as a common expression of sexism, deeply rooted in prejudice, misogyny, and the devaluation of individuals based on their gender identity.
Hostile sexism definition in relation to benevolent sexism
Hostile sexism coexists with the concept of benevolent sexism as its direct juxtaposition. Both concepts complement each other in cementing stereotypes and biases. Whereas benevolent sexism consists of offering protection to women and rewarding them for conforming to conventional gender roles, hostile sexism punishes women for doing the contrary.
Even though both forms of sexism promulgate gender inequality, women are often more inclined to endorse benevolent forms of sexism. The same way positive stereotypes can hinder progress towards gender equality, benevolent sexism also contributes to reinforcing traditional gender roles.
In this respect, it contributes to the idea that women need to be protected and receive special treatment just because they’re women.
Hostile sexism as a component of ambivalent sexism
Ambivalent sexism is the idea of the duality of sexism: hostile and benevolent. Even though they are different in style and expression, they both contribute to sustaining male dominance.In this sense, sexism (as the overarching concept) is a complex and contradictory set of attitudes toward women, characterized by both benevolent and hostile components. It recognizes that sexism is not always negative, but can include seemingly positive or favorable attitudes that still perpetuate gender inequalities.
Examples of hostile sexism
Here are some common false expressions of hostile sexism:
- Women are incompetent and unintelligent
- Women are overly emotional
- Women are not as capable as men
- Women can be sexually manipulative
- Women have themselves to blame for being sexually harassed
- Women should prioritize their roles as mothers and caregivers over pursuing professional or personal ambitions.
- The practice of ‘mansplaining’, the practice in which men condescendingly explain something to women without considering their expertise or knowledge.
An important aspect of gender inequality
It is common for women to be seen through the double lens of hostile and benevolent sexism. It is also common for both men and women to have ambivalently sexist beliefs about women.
All sexist expressions are fueled by harmful gender stereotypes that contribute to inequality. They reinforce negative biases and discriminatory attitudes against women, belittling their achievements and limiting their access to opportunities in all spheres of life.
Responding to hostile sexism in the workplace
Responding to hostile sexism requires a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach. Here are some key strategies:
- Undermined competence: Hostile sexist beliefs can lead to women’s skills and abilities being underestimated or undervalued. This may result in women being overlooked for promotions and leadership roles, impeding their professional growth.
- Limited career opportunities: Women’s career advancement opportunities are often constrained because of gender biases that exclude them from networking opportunities, mentorship programs and important projects.
- Workplace harassment: Hostile sexism often leads to a working environment where women experience harassment (including sexual harassment) and gender-based discrimination. This causes emotional distress and has a negative impact on women’s self-esteem, affecting their job productivity and engagement.
- Lack of support and advocacy: In workplaces where women face hostile sexism, there is a general lack of support from colleagues, supervisors, and organizational processes. This generally results in negative performance evaluations, biased development opportunities and inadequate access to resources needed for career advancement.
- The Gender Pay Gap: Hostile sexist beliefs are a powerful contributor to the gender pay gap, where women are systematically paid less than men for the same type of work. This disparity in compensation limits women’s financial security, restricts their ability to invest in career development, and perpetuates inequalities in the workplace.