5 Things Women Don't Need "Protecting" From, Because Benevolent Sexism Hinders More Than It Helps

A recent Harvard Business Review article called "Stop 'Protecting' Women from Challenging Work" brings attention to the tendency for employers to assign women easier tasks than they do their male colleagues. This provides just one example of the things women don't actually need "protecting" from. When we behave like women are fragile and need special care, we're not actually helping them. We're encouraging benevolent sexism.

The authors of the HBR article, Kristen Jones and Eden King, discuss how benevolent sexism — the view of women as superior to men or deserving of special attention — is often overlooked as a form of sexism. A recent Pew Research survey found that men and women disagree on how rampant sexism still is, with women considering it more common, which could stem from disagreement about what constitutes sexism. Hostile sexism includes overtly negative beliefs like "women aren't as smart as men," while benevolent sexism includes allegedly positive ones like "women are more emotionally intelligent than men" that are well-intentioned, but which nevertheless encourage harmful stereotypes.

And benevolent sexism has consequences for women in the workplace that are just as serious as those arising from hostile sexism. Jones and King cite surveys, for example, showing that women in the oil and gas and health care industries often received less challenging assignments despite having as much interest as men. "While this may have seemed 'nice' on the surface, these protective behaviors actually made it more difficult for women to advance," they explain. The desire to protect women might even explain why so many women feel shortchanged when it comes to promotions. A recent survey by Fairygodboss found that not getting promoted was the most common workplace-related complaint among women, and Deloitte's Millennial Survey found that women were more likely than men to feel overlooked for promotions.

Here are four more things that women don't actually need "protecting" from — because all it does is hold women back, both in the workplace and in life.

1. Getting Hurt

Parents tend to play more gently with girls than with boys, coddle them more when they get hurt, and allow them to do fewer physical activities, according to Introduction to Psychology by Dennis Coon and John O. Mitterer. This teaches them that they're less capable and that they can't rely on themselves, and it also teaches boys that they need to "toughen up" and can't be vulnerable. With this viewpoint, everyone loses.

(Obviously I don't mean that girls shouldn't be protected from abuse; that's an entirely different situation, and no child, no matter what their gender might be, deserves to suffer abuse at the hands of a parent, caregiver, or anyone else.)

2. Sex


Starting in adolescence and carrying over into adulthood, girls are warned that having sex will make them less valuable, or at the very least, make them unhappy. And certainly, it is worth protecting kids of all genders against unsafe sex or sexual assault. But girls should be taught that having healthy sex lives is an option for them — rather than being told to avoid sex altogether, which contributes to slut-shaming down the line.

3. Being Disliked


Women are often told to smile and make other efforts to please other people, not just by harassers but also by people trying to "protect" them. This teaches them that it's more important to give others what they want than to stand up for what they want themselves. By asking women to accommodate sexists by smiling, speaking softly, and making other efforts to be "feminine," we teach them to tolerate sexism. Sometimes, being disliked means you're doing something right — especially if you're being judged based on unfair standards.

4. Being Victimized

From nail polish that detects date-rape drugs to underwear that's hard to remove, many efforts have been made in recent years to protect women from becoming the victims of sexual assault and other crimes. But we can't stop sexual assault by asking women to be cautious because women often are cautious and get victimized anyway. In fact, rapists are usually the people victims know — and often trust. We'd be better off teaching people to understand consent so that there aren't rapists in the first place; telling people not to get raped instead just sets the stage for the rapist to target somebody else.

Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (2)