Date of Award

Spring 1-15-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Counseling & Psychology

First Advisor

Sue L. Motulsky, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Diana Direiter, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Jo Ann Gammel, Ph.D.


This dissertation sought to explore the ways in which adult women make meaning of experiences of benevolent sexism in their everyday lives. By highlighting the meaning-making process of women who have experienced benevolent sexism, this research provides an important perspective on what it is like to experience gender-based oppression. Understanding that covert forms of sexism have implications for women’s well-being is an essential aspect of social-justice oriented mental health counseling. This phenomenological study focused on the perspectives of twelve adult women who have experienced benevolent sexism. Data were collected through semi-structured individual interviews. Line by line data analysis of the findings revealed three major categories related to the lived experience of benevolent sexism: coping responses, gender comparison, and affective experiences. Synthesis of these results indicated that power is a key aspect of the lived experience of benevolent sexism; therefore, it is experienced as a threat to psychological safety. This was reflected in participants’ use of vigilance as a coping response as well as associated affective responses indicative of feelings of vulnerability. Intersectionality, power comparison, degree of personal choice, and fluctuations in response over time were perspectives of meaning making that participants used to wrestle with power dynamics. Binary thinking and relationality were the two final aspects of the lived experience to emerge from the data. This study provides recommendations for mental health counselors that address power, perspectives of meaning making, binary thinking, and relationality when working with women.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



Number of Pages