Chivalry isn’t all that benevolent

Such benevolently sexist attitudes reinforce greater gender inequalities in our society

According to two psychologists from Iowa State University and VU University Amsterdam, some women actually prefer men who are “benevolently sexist.” “Benevolent sexism” include behaviours and attitudes that still require a sexist attitude, like opening doors for women or men paying for meals on dates. This isn’t to be confused with general benevolence, where one helps people for the sake of helping them. Benevolent sexism is any so-called chivalrous behaviour performed for all and only women on the presumption that all and only women need that help.

You might wonder then why benevolent sexism would be problematic. Seeing as it’s not directly harmful, you might even think it’s beneficial for women. It’s important, however, to consider the implications behaviours like these uphold. It undermines women by suggesting they need someone else to do these tasks, thus reinforcing more sinister forms of sexism. For example, believing that women are inherently more incompetent than men in a minor way is foundational to believing women are just overall inferior to men. These behaviours strip women of agency, sometimes leading men to presume that women need help rather than waiting to see or asking if they need help.

For impressionable young girls, it’s destructive to their agency and self-confidence, and for young boys, it suggests they shouldn’t believe in the abilities of girls or ask them if they want help. By contributing to the indoctrination of kids into these systems, benevolent sexism contributes to more problematic issues like general sexism and rape culture.  

You might think this is all some SJW plot to blow up something insignificant into something ridiculous, but let me explain how it’s not. These behaviours adhere to traditional gender roles built on power imbalances. Men historically paid for women because women simply didn’t have money since they weren’t allowed to work; men opened doors for women because they were expected to be meek and go where they were directed. If we don’t reject our adherence to these outdated behaviours and beliefs in our common day-to-day, it becomes weirdly contradictory to reject such adherence in more significant respects such as “what jobs women can do” and “what behaviours are acceptable for women.”  

Imagine sitting down with a group of kids and saying “alright kids, remember: women and girls are strong, powerful, and can do anything. Except for open doors or pay for their food, boys have to do that.” It sounds quite ridiculous.  

Benevolent sexism actually isn’t all that benevolent. It reasserts gender roles and sets a poor precedent for behaviour. In this way, it’s important to challenge a lot of the traditional rituals we’ve built in society, like a variety of those attached to dating. Don’t forget that historically, dating was like test driving a vehicle, where the roles built for women were highly based around being treated as objects. Benevolent sexism relegates women back into those roles.

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