A new study looks at why some women support sexist social systems that actually disadvantage them. 

Researchers at the University of Queensland surveyed 10,754 women about social attitudes, including whether they believed the gender hierarchy was fair, and if they felt a personal need for protection from men.

UQ’s Dr Fiona Barlow said the study found that women who believed that relationships between groups should be based on a hierarchy rather than on equality also felt that they needed to rely on men to both protect them, and provide for them.

“Women who support the social hierarchy in general also appear to be high in benevolent sexism – meaning what while they hold a generally positive view of women, they see their own low-status place in the gender hierarchy as fair,” Dr Barlow said.

“Benevolent sexism concerns revering traditional women, provided that they do not violate traditional norms, like being an outspoken feminist or an ambitious career woman.

“This ideology also concerns the idea that it is men’s obligation to look after and protect ‘good’ women.

“This helps to explain how some women can support, or even fight for, limitations on what women are allowed to do.”

Dr Barlow said more research is needed into why this attitude exists.

“These kinds of beliefs may be contributing to discrimination in the workplace and preventing women from participating in collective action for greater gender equality,” she said.

The study has been published in the Australian Journal of Psychology.