A new study with a joint team of researchers out of the University of Auckland in New Zealand and the University of Illinois has found that women who have long-term relationships with sexist men become more sexist as the relationship progresses. Encouragingly, women who date feminist men experience less internalized misogyny as the relationship progresses, so there is hope.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, surveyed 1,000 heterosexual couples in both New Zealand and North America to determine whether they perceived their partners and themselves to exhibit "hostile sexism," "benevolent sexism," or neither. According to Fusion:
"'Hostile sexism' is defined by endorsing derogatory beliefs about women and the idea that 'women seek to gain power by getting control over men.' 'Benevolent sexism' is less obvious and seemingly more chivalrous, supporting the idea that 'women should be cherished and protected by men."
Researchers then measured the participants' perceived sexism levels again at a later time to see if the perception of sexism — in both their partners and themselves — shifted the more time they spent in the relationship.
Unsurprisingly, the men's perceived levels of their own sexism remained relatively constant over time, regardless of whether he perceived his partner was more or less sexist than he was. The women, however, either adopted the perceived benevolent sexism of their partners over time, or rejected benevolent sexism over time if they perceived that their partner rejected it.
The problem with adopting benevolently sexist ideas like "chivalry" is that they actively reinforce internalized misogyny. Matthew Hammond, the lead author of the study, found:
"Women’s acceptance of benevolent sexism is linked with felt incompetence, a lack of desire for independent success, harsher attitudes toward victims of acquaintance rape and decreased support for societal policies promoting women’s workplace advancement."
In other words, the alarming extrapolation here is that the longer a woman is with someone who doesn't believe that anything other than enthusiastic consent means no, the more likely she is to adopt that belief herself. However, the longer she's with someone who understands consent, the more likely she is to gain strengthened views of consent herself.
It's kind of a bummer that the overall implication of the survey reveals that women are still molding themselves to fit their partners' beliefs, while men aren't emotionally flexible enough to be swayed to do the same. But, it's heartening to know that once straight women leave misogynists behind, they can begin to develop less misogynistic views themselves.
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