Role of Men in Confronting Sexism
Role of Men in Confronting Sexism

My “news” information is more accurately known as “entertainment news.” It comes from a few gossip blogs that I follow religiously, daily.

And I learn quite a few things from my blogs – including that some celebrities don’t know the meaning feminism. Some starlets equate feminism with supporting other women. Others believe feminism refers to women wanting to be men. And the misconceptions continue.

I suspect the definition for feminism and other concepts related to equality are a problem not just in Hollywood but also in the general population. To make sure everyone is on the same page, I’m starting with some definitions relevant to this post.

Sexism is prejudice, discrimination, or stereotyping based on sex. Sexism usually occurs against women. An ally works alongside a disadvantaged group, such as women, in the search for justice and equality. A recent review1 of the literature by Benjamin Drury and Cheryl Kaiser from the University of Washington focussed on the men who take on the role of allies by confronting sexism against women.

The review indicated that it is difficult for men to detect sexism; however men who recognize and confront sexism come across better than woman. The authors state “relative to women who confront sexism, men who act as allies are evaluated more positively, while their confrontations are taken as more serious and legitimate efforts to combat sexism.”

The researchers argue that there are several possible reasons for this:

  1. There’s no obvious benefit to men who confront sexism as compared to women. Research shows the greater that women are viewed as trying to benefit their gender group the more their concerns are dismissed.
  2. People are also surprised by men who argue in favour of equality. After all, this doesn’t happen often. This surprise may lead people to pay more attention to the argument. If the argument is sound, then maybe the message will get across.

Careful with language

The authors suggest one take-way from this research is that if women want their confrontations against sexist statements and actions to have an impact, they need to be careful with their language. Using language that emphasizes how society as whole (vs. just women, the offended group) benefit from reducing sexism may get the message out that sexism isn’t ok.

This take-away, to me, doesn’t send the message that women need to be treated equally – or that’s it’s ok to fight for the rights of an oppressed group publicly and loudly. Rather, it sends the message that for women to reach some equality, the means needs to be sneaky, underhanded.

I want to shout out: Why does the disadvantaged group have to pussyfoot and cater to the oppressors? Shouldn’t researchers be looking for ways to promote equality with some sort of dignity?

I can hear my husband telling me that I have no diplomacy skills. I would then reply he’s not direct. We would then continue going in circles.

Men, speak up

Furthermore, the authors suggest men need to be more aware of sexism and speak up against it; as the male voices seem to carry a greater impact than the female voices. This line of research walks a fine-line between helping sexism and encouraging it. After all, a man acting as a knight in shining armour can take away a woman’s right to confront sexist behaviour. If a man does it for her, it can come across patronizing and demeaning. The authors suggest that men should look at working with women as allies rather than knights.

I agree with this assessment that more voices need to be speaking out against unfair and oppressive behaviour. However, the view that men have to be careful not to come across as know-it-alls needs to be expanded. Women can patronize other women as well.  People, in general, need to be sensitive to how their behaviour affects others — even if their intentions are good.

Research and morality

In another post, I asked whether research has a moral obligation.

There are of course ethics in research. All legitimate research in colleges, universities, and research centres needs to go through an ethics review to ensure that the proposed experiments will not harm participants.

What I was getting at with the morality questions is separate from this ethics protocol. Do researchers have an obligation to do research that does not promote racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.? Or is research an independent, objective tool reporting the facts?

I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around this issue from a number of points. For me, the answers don’t come instantaneously or very quickly for that matter. I think the problem I’ve been tackling with is reporting the facts versus application.

There are some results that are hard to swallow such as, on average, kids in single-parent households do worst at school than those in dual-parent households. Some single-parents will get very offended. However, objective numbers that make no judgment on a particular segment of the population are important, so we can understand and fix our society. I whole-heartedly support the idea that research needs to be an independent tool for reporting facts.

My issue stems with how the results are applied and the direction that researchers choose to pursue.

Researchers would like to have their research make an impact. To do this, researchers translate their results into real world applications. In the described review, the research gets translated into how to reduce sexism. One application is to deemphasize the benefit to women when sexism is reduced. This makes me cringe. Why do women’s benefits need to be swept under the rug? Why not promote an honest outlook of the situation? The authors’ suggestion might do more harm than good in the fight against sexism.

Also, in Canada, many researchers can drive the direction of their research program. For example, a researcher can focus on educating people on sexism, how women can best confront sexist remarks, etc. In the case when researchers choose a research direction that’s supposed to benefit society, they need to be careful that their research actually benefits society rather than undermines it.





Drury, B. J., & Kaiser, C. R. (2014). Allies against Sexism: The Role of Men in Confronting Sexism. Journal of Social Issues, 70, 637-652.

Image Attribution

Handshake man – women” by Flazingo Photos. CC by 2.0.