Role of Men in Confronting Sexism

Men 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 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 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 women. 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 a whole (vs. just women, the offended group) benefit from reducing sexism may get the message out that sexism isn’t ok.

My takeaway from these conclusions is that women need to be sneaky, underhanded to reach some equality. However, why does the disadvantaged group have to pussyfoot and cater to the advantaged? Shouldn’t researchers be looking for ways to promote equality with some sort of dignity?

My confusion

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.

Research is supposed to report unbiased results. That’s perfect. However, 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 women’s benefit 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.

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.