November 15, 2012

“Benevolent Sexism” at an Evangelical University

A group of professors at Biola University recently released a report called “Women Faculty at an Evangelical University: The Paradox of Religiously Driven Gender Inequalities and High Job Satisfaction.” The report shows that women faculty at an evangelical college face “benevolent sexism,” resulting in fewer opportunities for advancement than their male colleagues, yet overall, they report higher job satisfaction than women at a secular research university in the same region. The authors conclude this “paradox” results from the evangelical institution’s relational emphasis, which provides women with high job satisfaction, even though their career advancement is limited by a variety of factors.

In an interview with Christianity Today, the researchers reported that “Many women faculty … reported feeling undermined at work by implicit assumptions that they should be home with their children, or that the qualities that are valued in academia—intelligence, assertiveness, and confidence—are not traits appropriate for Christian women.”

Further, evangelical ideas about appropriate relationships between women and men limit the transfer of information about opportunities. According to the authors, “women faculty at this university are being excluded from important job-related information because of their exclusion from male social groups.”

This is at least in part because “Personal choices with regards to sexual ethics are seen as of particular importance in the evangelical subculture … guarding against sexual temptation seems to trump concerns about any gender inequality that results from avoiding too much contact with the opposite sex at work.”

Ultimately, this problem arises because “we are not taught how to have appropriate professional relationships with the opposite sex.” Women in the study reported observing “male colleagues going out together for coffee or meals, or seeing the male chair of department invite a young male colleague out. These descriptions suggest that the males do, in fact, have great access to opportunities for socialization.”

Further contributing to this pattern is “a dominant theology of gender hierarchy in evangelicalism, which does not necessitate, but in practice results in, limiting the professional advancement of women.”

But despite experiencing “benevolent sexism,” women at the evangelical school “paradoxically” reported higher job satisfaction than women at the secular university. This is probably explained by the fact that “close, warm, personal relationships with students and colleagues are one of the primary reasons these faculty chose to work at an evangelical institution as opposed to a secular university.”

This news is disappointing but unsurprising, and it probably reflects a general trend among evangelical colleges beyond just this particular case study. Sexism is wrong no matter what adjective you put in front of it. But because this “benevolent sexism” results from relational patterns, assumptions about gender roles, and theological beliefs often expressed in “informal information sharing networks,” it is difficult and probably unhelpful to prescribe a solution. It is an issue to be aware of, but perhaps one that must be resolved with time as the number of women in academics increases and shifts the relational dynamics and assumptions at evangelical colleges.

14 Responses to “Benevolent Sexism” at an Evangelical University

  1. Eric Lytle says:

    Funny how dimwitted people can be. These women complained about how a male staff member can “invite a younger male colleague out.” Did it occur to them that a male staff member would be pretty darn stupid to invite a young female staff member out, and that has nothing to do with sexism, but with the well-founded fear of lawsuits, gossip, etc. Feminists want to have it both ways, don’t they? Be “included” in everything the guys do, but always have the lawyer’s phone number handy, so maybe a lawsuit can buy them a new Lexus. Given the paranoid atmosphere today, there are plenty of men who wisely distance themselves from women in their work place.

    Yell “sexism” all you want, ladies. You created this climate of suspicion, you will endure the consequences just as we men do.

    • Marco Bell says:

      This article doesn’t clarify the difference of sexism in either environment, it simply reinforces the old paradym that men hold the reigns of power and freedom of choice among educators in some academic circles.

      Believing that “close, warm personal relationships”can’t be had at either type of school, is simplistic and indicative of an old dynamic that needs to be retired.

      It’s wrong to presume that fraternizing with female colleagues will result in inappropriate behavior. More importantly, men need to check their libidos at the door. This is the root problem in many Countries, men can’t be trusted to behave themselves, and that needs to change!

      • yan says:

        Neither men nor women can be trusted to behave themselves entirely. Put the two together, and people being what they are, things are sometimes going to happen. Don’t imagine that will ever change, not in a million years. Not unless men are required to take saltpetre tablets before going to work every morning.

    • yan says:

      Would that were true. Unfortunately, they have you both coming and going. If you deny them those opportunities by not affording them the same opportunities for networking that you afford to men, whatever your motive, it’s not likely a court is going to smile on that. And you have already spelled out the dangers involved in inviting them out, too.
      Welcome to our new, more equal, less sexist America. ‘It’s a new world Golda, a new world…’

      • Ben Welliver says:

        Yan, thumb’s up to both your comments. Men and women are what they are, and the liberal idea that they “should” be able to relate to each other in the workplace just as two men would makes about as much sense as saying we “should” be able to flap our arms and fly. One of the pleasures in being a conservative is that I take humanity “as is” and leave the dreams and abstractions to the loopy liberals. Unfortunately, social policy today is being set by the dreamers.

        Our more “equal” America is turning into one big multi-party lawsuit, with women screaming they are either left our or sexually harassed, and men walking on eggshells. This isn’t exactly the non-sexist paradise they hoped for, is it? Eric Lytle’s remarks are right on the money.

  2. Gordon Jewett says:

    Couldn’t disagree more with Eric. The fear of sexual temptation mentioned in the article, with Eric’s underlying fear of lawsuits and gossip, is eerily like the radical Islamist proscription of women. I remember a dozen or more years ago listening to the then president of Biola on a regular Bible study broadcast because I thought his doctrine was sound, but he was always referring to women as “you gals.” I wondered about that at the time, and thought it was unconsciously condescending. Even Eric’s referring to
    feminists or all women as “ladies” smacks of the same ingrained prejudice. He almost sounds like he feels he’s being persecuted

    What would be wrong with Christian university educators taking the trouble to invite at least two others to lunch for fellowship, with one of them being a woman co-faculty member? As for private conversations regarding career status and advancement, there are ways for a professional man and woman to have such conversations without arousing suspicions of inappropriate behavior. So leave the door open, already!

    • Marco Bell says:

      Brilliant response, Gordon Jewett, Hear, Hear!!
      What century are we living in, if the genders require being separated in order to maintain decorum in the workplace, or outside of it?!

    • Eric Lytle says:

      “Brilliant response.” Oh, please. More like “Politically Correct response.”

      I referred to women as “ladies.” Well, what a crime. We all know how women just HATE that! And what kind of monster would use the word “ladies” anyway? Gordon goes on the attack with a clean conscience, since only a thoroughly nasty character would use that vile, degarding term “ladies.”

      How exactly does it show “ingrained prejudice” to use the word “ladies,” and how does use of the word show I feel “persecuted”? Typical response of a liberal–instead of responding to the points I was making, you just saw the word “ladies” and decided I’m sexist, patriarchal, etc, that gives you free rein to throw your slurs about “prejudice” and “persecution.” (I’m surprised you didn’t throw “hate” into the mix. The PC types always have to label the opponent as a “hater.”)

      My “underlying fear of lawsuits,” as you so brilliantly put it, is rooted in something called “reality.” The courts favor women in situations like that. An “innocent” lunch can ruin a man’s career. A man is presumed guilty in these situations. Whether you care to acknowledge it or not, there are plenty of vindictive women who can put on a teary-eyed Wronged Woman act in a courtroom and thoroughly enjoy the sensation of power. If you think women who claim to be Christian are any different, you are quite wrong. If you think Christian men are immune to sexual temptation, wrong again. And if you think that being aware of this means I am “eerily like” radical Muslims – well, that is too stupid to even dignify with a response. Since when is it wrong to look at the world realistically? Jesus told us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Sorry, but I just don’t see how that makes me “eerily like” Muslims. I guess since I used the world “ladies,” you think I deserve to be insulted and pscyhoanalyzed. Maybe you think it is Christian behavior to accuse someone who uses the word “ladies” of being like radical Muslims, but I certainly don’t.

      You two apparently don’t live in the real world. Maybe when you answer the door and receive a summons to civil court you will realize what a minefield the American workplace has become, thanks to feminists and their dweebish, low-testosterone, he-hen accomplices. You think everything is rosy in the 21st century, that gender doesn’t mean anything any more, that a man can take a female employee out to lunch and it’s just like taking out a male employee? Try it, and keep your lawyer on speed-dial.

      Then again, judging from the way you too responded, it’s unlikely either of you would ever be accused of sexual harassment. Marco says he can “check his libido at the door.” Probably so.

      • Marco Bell says:

        Eric, There are times that we must all be wary of ulterior motives from any gender, (I use the word ANY, because there are as many shades of gender, as there are shades of character). They each, and all, have varying degrees of nuance for good and bad behavior.

        And since we’re talking about behavior, I think it is sad that you’ve apparently experienced something of the ‘bad’ kind. I remember having hopes that one of my colleagues would become more than a colleague to me. In this case, she already had a boyfriend, so I resigned myself to be just friend and colleague. I presume you, to be loyal and faithful to your relationships. So with those virtues, what more need there be? Fraternizing, Networking, Co-mingling, these need not be clandestine, but clarifying. Women deserve every opportunity in every environment to experience the world in its completeness.

        Keeping all cards on the table doesn’t always guarantee your innocence will be credible. But being true to yourself, will always prove honorable.

        I’ve been a card carrying Feminist since 1972, and it still amazes me, that this many years later, there are instances where men still feel challenged by women. Like one’s masculinity is in question because you can relate to women without expecting to have sex with them.

        BTW, I was raised a Southern Gentleman, and I find the use of the word “Ladies” to be honorable, so you needn’t be defensive there!

        Allowing female clergy to aspire to higher stations in the Liturgical world, isn’t threatening anyone either, except those uncomfortable males who dominate that strata like an ‘Old Boys Club’…and that ain’t good for anybody!

    • yan says:

      How happy do you think the older men’s older wives are with your idea?

      How good an idea is it for young professionals unmarried to consort with the opposite sex in business meetings one on one? I’m sure that never leads to premarital sex and abortion; that would be utterly unprofessional. It’s utterly unforeseeable….sure.

      Is there any price too dear for society to pay for the careers of ambitious women? Or must we sacrifice any and every value in conflict upon that altar?

      What about plain old lust? Never mind sex–Christians of course NEVER have sex out of wedlock–how does intersexual fraternizing weigh on the balance of preserving purity, or sullying it?

  3. yan says:


    I agree. To be honest with ourselves though, we should admit that the dreaming has been going on for over 100 years in regard to what is just and proper in regard to men, women, and work. Only over the last 60 years have the dreamers also worn black robes and given us a Constitution mandating Utopia on pain of financial ruin for those that disagree.

    It wasn’t even so long ago that VMI was declared a sexist institution and forced to admit women because it had been violating the Constitution for, I dunno, 200 years or so apparently.

    So the women are going to keep screaming, and the lawsuits are going to keep coming.

    Last night Rachel Maddow on her show displayed the faces of every House Republican heading a committee. To the supposed disgrace of the Republicans, every one was a white male. Merely meeting the requirements of the law is not going to be enough for this new world order.

    The other day Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said there will be enough women on the Supreme Court when all 9 are women. After all, it used to be that all nine were men, so why can’t it be the other way too?

    Ain’t there some verse in the Bible about being cursed in the form of being ruled by women…..?

    Glory glory halelujah…

  4. Marco Bell says:

    All very good comments, Yan, Gordon and Ben.

    Yes, I’m prone to idealize a bit when it comes to living Life the way I like living it…so yes, I’d be guilty of “dreaming” that there could exist such a world, where jealousy and many other fates don’t enter the picture.

    It’s been many many years since the green monster entered my conscience. I owe that to being happily married to my Soul-mate/Artist/Muse/Wife, Monica!

    I believe human nature will always play a part in everything we do, but I know that the mind is where it all starts, (and I’d be remiss, if I didn’t include the Heart) and also where problems can be stopped, or at least averted. My years of living in a nudist resort-community, proved that “It is ALL in your head!” If ever there were an environment where wonder, or sexuality were a concern, you might think that the case? But that is not the case. I have found that “you win what you want, by what you hide.”

    The male population of many Third-World countries, seems to exhibit a dominance over ALL females, old and yet unborn. Probably ancient cultural mores that aren’t just practiced, but are worshiped! Gee, that sounds uncomfortably familiar?!

    Femme-Fatale isn’t just for the weak. One can marvel at the disposition of both genders, and not come away with anything definitive….except to discover, that there’s more to it than meets the eye. ……..did I mention that Monica is menopausal?

    Perpetually optimistic,

  5. John Calvin Errickson II says:

    Yes, it’s all always ‘loopy liberals’ who live in a dream world.
    ‘Crazy conservatives’ have their dreams and abstractions
    concerning the real world. For example, ‘Crazy conservatives’
    tell the rest of us life in the United Staes
    was more pure, more holy and a garden
    of Eden back in the 19th century and up until women’s
    suffrage. That’s when Romans 3.23 started to apply to
    the human race.

    • John Calvin Errickson II says:

      The word ‘staes’ should be, of course, ‘states.’ As a former BJU student
      ‘liberalism’ always meant something or someone I didn’t like, such
      as women liberation or Democrats or even, men who wore beards. . . .That
      was the value of a good conservative ‘education.’

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