Malevolent Benevolence: "Wow, You're Really Smart for a Girl" Causes Cardiovascular Responses in Women

A new research study done by using cardiovascular measures showed that benevolently sexist feedback leads to cardiovascular responses in women.
Nursah Ergü

Sexism never stops to appear in any part of our lives, even if there's a lot of activism and movements against sexism at the moment, women still experience, even or especially in the most professional environments, such as workplaces.


A recent study showed that benevolently sexist feedback for women can cause cardiovascular responses indicative of a threat. A lot of women have received supportive yet benevolently sexist feedback from a male coworker or a superior.

And what is it trying to be meant with benevolent sexism? It's not so difficult to guess; praising a woman based on her womanly traits or behaviors, for example, saying "You're really smart for a girl!" is highly sexist comparing to "You're really smart!"

Well, the study was made with 73 participants. At first, participants completed demographic questions, then they were attached to physiological sensors and rested for 5 minutes, and then participants completed 12 items of a difficult version of a verbal reasoning task and were told that it measured intelligence and predicted important life outcomes.

Participants stated their answers aloud for the experimenter to record and then they were told that their responses were being scored by the lead researcher in charge of the lab, who would provide them with feedback.

Feedback was pre-recorded by a male researcher to ensure consistent delivery across participants.

There were two groups of feedbacks; one of them was benevolently sexist feedbacks, while the other one was was non-sexist feedbacks.

All participants first heard this: "OK, so it looks like you struggled with this test so far. But the first set of questions were just practice questions, so the next set that you’ll answer will be what you are evaluated on."

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And then, Dr. Robert Marron randomly assigned following feedbacks to students:

BS Feedback: You seem like a very smart girl because your answers showed a lot of creativity. I know it’s hard not to get emotional during this type of test, but I’m sure you’ll do well on the next set of questions as long as you don’t let your nerves get the best of you.

Non-Sexist Feedback: You seem like a very smart person because your answers showed a lot of creativity. I know it’s hard to come up with answers during this type of test, but I’m sure you’ll do well on the next set of questions as long as you continue to think outside of the box.

At the end of the test, the results were clear; the women who received benevolently or hostilely sexist criticism showed higher rates of cardiovascular responses. 

For further explanation and analysis, you can check the research. It's a pretty good example of how malevolent benevolence is affecting the everyday life of women.