I don't think I have to tell you that sexism is very much alive and well in 2014 — but if you need proof, type "#yesallwomen," "Elliot Rodger," or "UCSB" into your search engine. Even though most would deny it, many of us still buy into destructive, outdated ideas of what men and women should be — the events of the last few weeks make that clear. At the same time, we're not actively teaching our children that women are inherently less competent than men, for example. So, where does this subtle, everyday sexism come from?
A new study published in the journal Sex Roles sought to answer that very question. Researchers from Case Western Reserve University and San Diego State University conducted an online survey in which participants were asked to rate how strongly they agreed with statements about their character and values. The survey gauged each subject on five traits: openness, social desirability, psychological entitlement (as expressed by statements like, "People like me deserve an extra break every now and then."), hostile sexism (essentially, having negative views of women in general), and benevolent sexism (defined by the study's authors as believing that "women are special and deserving of extra care and compassion"). In order to ensure a diverse pool of responses, the researchers used two samples, 333 college students and 437 adults, both of which were comprised of approximately equal numbers of men and women.
The results showed that feelings of entitlement were positively correlated with benevolent sexism in both men and women, and in both age groups. Entitlement similarly predicted signs of hostile sexism in men in both samples; in the adult sample, researchers found the same connection in women as well.
As the study's authors point out, there's a difference between the sexism they observed in the survey responses and outright misogyny. But, they cite several studies suggesting that these attitudes are a pretty good predictor of the sorts of behaviors that perpetuate inequality on a daily basis. For those who suffer these micro-aggressions every day, it might not seem like a huge surprise that men (and women) who feel entitled to their success and position in society can be hostile when faced with what they see as a "threat" to the status quo — that is, women who challenge traditional ideas of gender roles.
But, it's particularly important to connect the ideas of entitlement and sexism in the wake of the Isla Vista shooting, which was perpetrated by a young man who wanted to "punish" women for denying him the sexual attention to which he felt he had a birthright. "If I can't have you girls," Rodger said in his suicide video, "I will destroy you." Rodger, of course, is a tragic, deeply disturbing example of the bitter resentment that arises in men who feel that they deserve something specific from women, and that women should behave a certain way toward them. The sooner we acknowledge this reality, the sooner we can begin the monumental task of trying to change it.