A new Pentagon survey for reserve and National Guard members aims to measure troops’ satisfaction with employment, their workplaces and quality of life issues. But it has a few questions that cause pause. Recipients are asked to decide to how much they agree or disagree with the following statements:
- Many women have a quality of purity that few men possess.
- Women should be protected and cherished by men.
- Women seek to gain power by getting control over men.
- Every man ought to have a woman whom he adores.
Alongside questions about the impact of deployment on civilian employment, advancement and pay and benefits, the questions seem curious.
They certainly jumped out at one Reserve member who posted a screenshot the survey questions on Twitter.
“I’m sure there’s a purpose for this in a DoD survey but Jesus f***,” wrote Clarissa, or @HotMessFo, who identified herself as a reservist and said the entire survey, which includes more questions than just the four on gender attitudes, took her more than an hour to complete.
The Tweet elicited a number of responses from civilians and military personnel, including Doug Koekkoek, who identified himself as a retired Navy submariner.
“I am gobsmacked. WTAF are they looking for with these questions?” Doug Koekkoek tweeted.
Navy Cmdr. Brett Stevenson, an active duty naval aviator who is active on Twitter, wondered if the questions were “appropriate to the workplace.”
“Does the Dept really need this kind of demographic info to craft a policy to essentially tell everyone to get along and respect each other?” Stevenson tweeted.
Apparently, it does. The Defense Department declined to provide a copy of the Single Survey of the National Guard and Reserve to Military Times or discuss its content, saying that officials didn’t want to influence respondents. But Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell said Oct. 8 that the survey includes topics that fulfill the department’s legal requirements to study racial and gender bias.
Under Title 10, U.S. Code 481, the “Secretary of Defense shall carry out four surveys in accordance with this section to identify and assess racial and ethnic issues and discrimination, and to identify and assess gender issues and discrimination, among members of the armed forces.”
These questions, say the scientists who developed them, do just that.
The statements -- “many women have a quality of purity that few men possess” and more -- came directly from an assessment known as the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory, developed in 1996 by Peter Glick, a sex discrimination expert and social scientist professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc., and Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton.
The questions seek to determine the prevalence of what Glick and Fiske called “hostile sexism” and “benevolent sexism” – two forms of stereotyping, bias or discrimination commonly seen against women. Both undermine equality and can negatively affect workplace productivity, Glick told Military Times on Oct. 10.
According to Glick, hostile sexism is an overt antipathy or disdain for women that is easily identifiable by most people as sexism – a hostility toward women who challenge the gender hierarchy or disrupt what some consider traditional norms.
The statement, “Women seek to gain power by getting control over men,” is designed to flush out the hostile sexists.
“Hostile sexism is the stick, the punishment when women get out of line, say, if women aren’t in traditional roles or they question men, or they have equal power to men or they are seen as competitors,” Glick said. “Maybe on the job, there’s a hostile attitude among those who don’t want to be egalitarian.”
A hostile sexist may claim they are not sexist because they “love their wives and daughters, but will also say they hate Hillary Clinton, hate feminists, hate women who are competing with them at work … [they only like women] as long as they are in traditional relationships or support roles and not challenging them,” Glick said.
Benevolent sexism is more subtle, directed at women who assume more traditional roles. With benevolent sexism, men bestow affection on and protect women who embrace limited, traditional gender roles, which often undermines their capabilities and “keeps them in their place,” Glick said.
“It’s the carrot -- they will reward you if you stay in line. ‘We will love you. We will take care of you. We will protect you.’ What’s not said is if you get out of line, we’re going to be hostile and you’re going to be punished,” Glick said. “Many women buy into the benevolent sexism attitude because it sounds very nice.”
Yet, benevolent sexism is actually worse for its targets in most cases than hostile sexism, Glick added, which is why it’s important to understand the scope of it in the workplace.
“After 20 years of research, we know benevolent sexism itself … is very insidious. If you communicate a hostile sexist attitude toward women in the work place, they are going to show you they can do it. It motivates them. But if an overwhelming protective attitude, taking care of women, is very undermining. It creates self doubt and lowers performance,” he said.
Benevolent sexists will give women less challenging assignments, they will give praise but not rewards and will provide positive feedback but no constructive criticism, denying them the ability to grow in their jobs, he said.
The current survey combines portions of three surveys conducted in previous years -- the Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Reserve Component Members, the Workplace and Equal Opportunity Survey of Reserve Component Members and the Status of Forces Survey of Reserve Component Members.
It is being conducted by the Defense Department’s Office of People Analytics, which maintains data and statistics on service members and their families to understand the military workforce, its composition and how policies affect readiness and performance.
The lengthy survey is designed so that each service member only receives a subset of the larger survey, so not everyone will see the sexism questions, Maxwell said.
Glick said the fact that the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory questions are contained in the study is a positive sign that the Pentagon is paying attention sexism in all its forms, even those that aren’t easily identifiable.
“It’s great, someone has been doing their homework,” he said. “The DoD has a long history of embracing psychology. I think its great that this issue is being paid attention to.”
Is it possible, though, to change attitudes in a male-dominated culture that is steeped on tradition and historically has encouraged masculine behavior and embraced traditional gender roles?
Glick says yes. Attitudes may be difficult to change in individuals with “ingrained gender attitudes,” he said, but awareness of sexism – especially of benevolent sexism – can be introduced in the workplace, where changes can be made.
“Part of it is raising awareness because people don’t understand benevolent sexism. You can be well-meaning but you may not realize that with these attitudes you are undermining women,” Glick said. “If you are mentoring women, your goal is not to protect them and be their friend. Your goal is to help them be the best they can be. You can de-bias the system.”
DoD is encouraging all members of the reserve component and the Air and Army National Guards to take the survey. It will be available through November on the Office of People Analytics web site.
Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.