It warms my heart when I see male allies doing the work of educating other men about sexism, misogyny, and the ills of patriarchy. You guys are doing so great, and in case no one has told you lately, we really do appreciate your work.
I have a request, though: could you please include soft misogyny (also known as benevolent sexism) in your curriculum?
Soft misogyny refers to sexist attitudes and behaviors toward women that are disguised as protection, care, or admiration. It manifests as beliefs or actions that reinforce traditional gender roles and stereotypes, often portraying women as delicate, dependent, or in need of male guidance. Despite appearing positive on the surface, soft misogyny ultimately perpetuates inequality and restricts women’s autonomy and agency.
I don’t respond to soft misogyny the way I respond to its more malignant form of aggressive misogyny. I accept that it is done in earnest. Men have been raised to believe that they are born leaders that women don’t know what is in their own best interest, and that it is men’s inborn calling to protect and guide them. I can hate the behavior while also understanding that men didn’t ask for this indoctrination any more than I asked for the indoctrination I received as a woman.
But understanding it doesn’t mean I want to put up with it.
To our allies, here’s what we would like for men need to understand about soft misogyny:
It undermines autonomy.
Soft misogyny often reinforces traditional gender roles and stereotypes, portraying women as delicate or dependent. This undermines women’s autonomy and agency, restricting their ability to be seen as strong and capable individuals.
It is condescending.
Benevolent sexism can come across as patronizing or condescending, as it assumes that women need special treatment or protection. This can be frustrating and insulting to women who strive for equality and recognition based on their abilities, rather than their gender.
It perpetuates inequality.
Despite its seemingly positive intentions, benevolent sexism perpetuates inequality by reinforcing gender norms and limiting women’s opportunities. It suggests that women are inherently weaker or less capable than men, which can lead to discrimination and unequal treatment in various aspects of life.
It masks deeper forms of discrimination.
Benevolent sexism can mask more insidious forms of discrimination, making it harder to recognize and address. By presenting itself as caring or protective, it may deflect attention away from the underlying sexism and hinder efforts to achieve gender equality.
It feels incredibly invalidating.
Soft misogyny feels like being parented. Most grown women do not want to feel parented by a man they don’t know (or with whom they have little connection) unless they have asked for advice or guidance. Giving unsolicited advice, offering paternalistic suggestions that weren’t asked or, and trying to lead a woman who isn’t interested in following, all feel incredibly invalidating. In women’s fight for equality with men, and equal regard from men, being parented by a man without asking for such treatment just feels wrong.
It depicts men as women’s heroes, instead of women as their own heroes
Women are ready to be the heroes of their own story. We are not interested in playing damsels in distress, waiting for a knight in shining armor to rescue us. Unless we have specifically asked for help, we are probably busy with our own work of saving ourselves. And women complaining or worrying over their problems isn’t automatically an invitation for men to try to fix them.
Overall, women may dislike soft misogyny because it perpetuates harmful stereotypes, restricts their autonomy, and undermines their efforts to achieve equality and recognition based on merit rather than gender. Men, we ask you to help us educate other men about soft misogyny and benevolent sexism. Though it is less noticeable than the toxic behaviors we usually refer to when discussing misogyny, soft misogyny is still hurtful and unhelpful.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.