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The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. If a man offers to help a woman with her heavy suitcase or to parallel park her car, what should she make of the offer? As social psychologists, we had reservations about these conclusions.
Surprisingly no research had tested whether women do, in fact, fail to recognize that benevolent sexism can be patronizing and undermining. The concept of benevolent sexism was first developed in In this way, they argued, benevolent sexism subtly undermines gender equality.
Since then, social psychologists have been busy documenting the pernicious effects that benevolent sexism has on women. According to studies, women who acquiesce to this behavior tend to become increasingly dependent on men for help.
Evolution, therefore, shaped female psychology to attend to — and prefer — mates whose characteristics and behaviors reveal the willingness to invest. But opening a car door or offering his coat are s that he may have the desired disposition.
In our recently published researchwe asked over women, ages ranging from 18 to 73, in five experiments, to read profiles of men who either expressed attitudes or engaged in behaviors that could be described as benevolently sexist, like giving a coat or offering to help with carrying heavy boxes. Our findings confirmed that women do perceive benevolently sexist men to be more patronizing and more likely to undermine their partners.
But we also found that the women in our studies perceived these men as more attractive, despite the potential pitfalls. So what made them more attractive to our participants? In their responses, the women in our study rated them as more likely to protect, provide and commit.
We then wondered whether these findings could only really be applied to women who are simply OK with old-fashioned gender roles. We found that strong feminists rated men as more patronizing and undermining than traditional women did.
It seems that even staunch feminists may prefer a chivalrous mate who picks up the check on a first date or walks closer to the curb on a sidewalk. In this time of fraught gender relationsour findings may provide reassurance for women who are confused about how to feel towards a man who acts chivalrous, and well-meaning men who wonder whether they should change their behavior towards women.
But several interesting questions remain. Does benevolent sexism always undermine women?
It might depend on context. A male being overly helpful to a female co-worker in a patronizing way might hurt her ability to project professional competence.
Understanding these nuances may allow us to reduce the negative effects of benevolent sexism without requiring women to reject the actual good things that can arise from this behavior. Edition: Available editions United Kingdom.
What sort of al does holding a door for a woman send? KupferVrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Is it an innocuous act of courtesy? Or is it a sexist insult to her strength and competence?