Contemporary American society defines prejudice as negative and often hostile behavior. Regularly associated with disadvantaged groups, prejudice far too frequently rears its ugly head in the form of violent, ignorant, or judgmental actions. Yet as Professor Peter Glick pointed out in his science hall lecture “The Perils of Positive Prejudice” on Oct. 4, prejudice is not limited to such negative actions. Another form of prejudice exists—a form that manifests itself through actions like opening the door for a woman. Glick names this version of prejudice “positive prejudice.” Before Glick spoke in detail about positive prejudice, he provided background information about stereotyping and prejudice. Common stereotypes typically fall into one of two dimensions—warmth or confidence. Groups thought of as spiritual, trusting, and sensitive match the warmth category while groups labeled as ambitious, competitive, or materialistic match the confidence category. These categories are associated with two specific types of prejudice: paternalistic prejudice and envious prejudice.
Paternalistic prejudice can be thought of as an affectionate prejudice with rather patronizing tones. It is manifested toward groups that are viewed as friendly but incompetent, and Glick uses a common female stereotype as an example of this. “Women are warm. Women are wonderful. Men love women. Men are highly dependent on women. Women are seen as a cooperative group overall,” stated Glick, showing how stereotypes of women are more positive than those of men. Feelings of sympathy, pity, and affection combine with a feeling of individual superiority to create an exploitative behavior toward these groups. Slavery is another form of this paternalistic exploitation. All one needs to do is recall Rudyard Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden” to understand this idea of exploitation with good intent.
Envious prejudice, on the other hand, is directed toward highly successful minority groups, and here Glick uses anti-Semitism as an example. “Jews [are] typically viewed as successful, but then as competitive,” he stated. These groups are viewed as competent because they are socio-economically successful, but because of that success they are perceived as the enemy. Feelings of envy, resentment, and admiration combine to create a self-defensive motion of, “Well, we can’t let them take over,” as Glick stated. By attributing a positive quality such as competence to this group, very negative results can occur. Unlike targets of paternalistic prejudice, who can be domesticated and exploited, targets of envious prejudice are uncontrollable and potentially dangerous. The genocide of WWII is a tragic example of this type of positive prejudice.
Though the dire effects of envious prejudice are obvious, one wonders whether paternalistic prejudice is really such a bad thing. After all, what woman hasn’t on some occasion played the damsel in distress to get some help? Glick reinforced that this prejudice really is a bad thing. It often complements negative prejudice and is used to justify inequality. Glick succinctly summarized the outcome of playing the damsel in distress: “In immediate situations, you can get men to protect you and do things for you, but it also carries with it possibly hidden costs. You’re being patronized and you’re being viewed as not competent.” So women, next time you act helpless to get some help to change a tire, consider how you’re being perceived. And men, next time you hold the door open for a lady, ask yourself why you’re doing it—to be nice or to make yourself feel superior?