Some say that women simply do not notice the ways in which they are threatened by the so-called benevolent sexism because they are flattered by that kind of kindness. Psychologists even suggest that benign sexism is more harmful than overtly hostile sexism because of its stealth, acting as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Women simply don’t notice benevolent sexism
Social psychologists Pelin Gal from the State University of Iowa and Tom R. Kupfer from the University of Freiburg in Amsterdam doubted these conclusions. Are women not smart enough to notice when a man is condescending, they wondered.
“No previous research has examined whether women really don’t recognize that benevolent sexism can undermine and patronize them. Given our background in evolutionary theory, we were also interested in whether this behavior is still attractive, as it shows a potential partner’s willingness to invest in the female and her offspring. That’s why we conducted a series of studies to further investigate how attractive women are to benevolent sexists.”
The concept of benevolent sexism was first developed in 1996. Its creators believe that attitudes like “men should love and protect women” (or open car doors for them) portray women as less capable and dependent on male help. In their opinion, in this way, well-intentioned sexism subtly undermines gender equality.
Since then, social psychologists have struggled to document the pernicious effects of benign sexism. According to studies, women who agree to such behavior become increasingly dependent on male help over time. They are more willing to let men tell them what they can and cannot do, are less ambitious and do not score as well at work and on cognitive tests.
When looking at these documented negatives, the question arises – why are women still attracted to benevolent sexists? The answer may lie in what evolutionary biologists call the “parental investment theory.”
While men can reproduce successfully by providing a few gametes, a woman’s reproductive success is tied to her ability to carry a pregnancy for months and secrete milk.
Historically, a woman’s ability to choose a mate who is able and willing to assist in that process—by providing food or protection from attackers—has increased her reproductive success.
Thus, evolution has shaped the psychology of women to favor partners whose traits and behavior reveal a willingness to commit. A strong physique of a potential partner (and today his material situation) indicates that he possesses this ability. And opening the door or offering a coat means that it could have the desired character.
In their research, Galova and Kupfer examined more than 700 women, aged 18 to 73. They were asked to read profiles of men who expressed attitudes or made gestures that could be described as benignly sexist, such as giving away their coat or offering to help carry heavy boxes. The researchers then asked the female participants to rate the attractiveness of the men; willingness to protect, provide and commit; as well as the likelihood of being treated from above.
The findings of their study confirmed that women do think that men with benevolent sexism are more patronizing and more likely to undermine their partners. But they also found that—despite the potential pitfalls—female respondents found them more attractive. In their answers, they assessed that such men are more likely to protect a woman, provide for her and commit to her.
Women prefer partners who are ready to commit
The attitude of feminists
The scientists questioned whether these findings could only be applied to women who find traditional gender roles acceptable. In order to eliminate this possibility, they launched a survey in which they tried to determine the degree of feminism, i.e. to what extent the participants have feminist attitudes. They were asked to rate how much they agreed with statements such as: A woman shouldn’t let having and raising children get in the way of her career if she wants one.
“We found that prominent feminists rated men as patronizing and undermining more than traditional women. But such men were more attractive to them too,” the psychologists noted. The flaws were outweighed by the men’s willingness to commit. Even staunch feminists seem to prefer a gentleman who pays the bill on the first date.
Scientists believe that in this time of strained gender relations, their findings could provide reassurance both to women who are confused and don’t know what to think about men who behave in a cavalier manner, and to well-intentioned men who wonder if they should change their behavior towards women.
Several interesting questions still remain. Does benevolent sexism always undermine women? It may depend on the context. A man who helps a colleague too much in a patronizing way could diminish her ability to appear professional and competent. On the other hand, it’s hard to see the harm in helping a woman move heavy furniture.
Understanding these nuances can help reduce the negative effects of benign sexism, without women having to reject the genuinely good things such behavior can bring.
Source: Sito&Rešeto by www.sitoireseto.com.
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