An Easy Way to Help Tell How Sexist a Man Is

04/21/2015 05:23 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2015

2015-04-20-1429544803-2928185-Screenshot20150417at4.05.32PM.pngWell now, this is revealing! A new study finds you can determine how sexist a man is -- whether the more hostile and malignant form, or the more benign and patronizing -- by how they smile towards women when they interact with them in social interactions -- and by the manner in which they speak to them in those situations.

In short, this study, conducted by Jin Goh and Judith Hall of Northeastern University and published in the journal Sex Roles, found that if you want to uncover a man's true attitude about women, you only need to watch how he smiles and talks to her.

In this study the researchers examined how men's word choice, attitudes and smiles can reveal their version of sexism in different ways when they interact with women they've just met. The researchers examined the interactions of 27 pairs of American undergraduate men and women who were filmed while they played a trivia game together and then chatted afterwards. Researchers analyzed the men's behavior, including nonverbal behavior and choice of words used during the interactions, in a method explained in the journal article.

Interestingly, they found that the more "hostile sexists" were viewed as less approachable, less friendly, in their speech. They also smiled less during the interaction. However, the men who were more of the "benevolent sexist" variety were rated as more approachable, warmer, friendlier and more likely to smile. Moreover, the benevolent sexists used more positive emotional words and were overall more patient while waiting for a woman to answer trivia questions.

The authors argue that sexism can range from hostile to benevolent. Of course, either form reflects negative, discriminatory or dominating attitudes towards women. In the researchers' formulation, they describe hostile sexism as an antipathy or dislike of women. It often manifests as dominating and derogatory behavior towards women, in order to maintain power over them.

True: I've never encountered a woman who hasn't experienced this, somewhere, at some time. But the researchers also describe a so-called benevolent sexism that may appear less negative on the surface. It's more paternalistic, reflecting a "chivalrous and subjectively positive view of women." Men who demonstrate this "well-intentioned" sexism see women as warm and pure yet helpless, incompetent and in need of men's protection. That, too, is something most women have experienced. It's probably the kind of sexism that women have described as "mansplaining."

The researchers point out that their study sheds light on how sexism subtly influences interaction between men and woman. According to lead author Goh, "While many people are sensitive to sexist verbal offenses, they may not readily associate sexism with warmth and friendliness. Unless sexism is understood as having both hostile and benevolent properties, the insidious nature of benevolent sexism will continue to be one of the driving forces behind gender inequality in our society."

"Benevolent sexism is like a wolf in sheep's clothing that perpetuates support for gender inequality among women at an interpersonal level," Hall adds. "These supposed gestures of good faith may entice women to accept the status quo in society because sexism literally looks welcoming, appealing, and harmless."

And that more insidious form of sexism, as well as the more blatant, is something against which both men and women should be aligned.

Photo credit: CPD Archive

Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Progressive Development, and writes its blog, Progressive Impact. For more about him on The Huffington Post, click here.

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