Benevolent Sexism? Whatever Happened to Kindness?

A new study shows that being nice to women is now considered sexist.

I’ll pause for a moment to give you the opportunity to pound your head on your desk.

The study purports to show that men are nicer to women than they are to men because, deep down, men think women are inferior to them. Thus, kindness towards women is actually patronizing behavior.

The study, by Professor Judith Hoffman, among others, uses the rather odd determinant of how men react to women when asking them trivia questions. If the men are impatient and disparaging of the women, they are considered hostile sexists. But if they are patient, kind, and charming to the women, they are considered benevolent sexists.

If you need to bang your head on the desk again, I’ll wait.

I didn’t realize that there were more options for treating people beyond being nice or being nasty. Apparently, there is some sort of magic response that most men are just too sexist, one way or another, to use. (Even though the midpoint between being nice and being mean is indifference, which comes across as mean anyway.)

The problem with this study, like so many of its ilk, is that it fails to take into account all the other factors that could be involved, instead focusing on supposed misogynistic attitudes. The designers of the study went into it wanting to prove that all men are sexists; thus, everything they see is through the prism of sexism. Any other–and possibly more valid–motives are ignored because they do not fit in with the result they have already created.

For example, they failed to take into account the possibility that the men who are disparaging of women are just jerks, or having a really bad day, or else incredibly intelligent and unable to fathom how the woman they are paired with can’t answer the questions. They might not be hostile sexists all the time if this is the case. Imagine yourself in this scenario: you are told to ask someone a series of questions; how would you respond if you knew all the answers but the person kept getting them wrong, even if they are things that everyone should know?

And, by contrast, the “benevolent sexists” might just naturally have more patience. Or–and here’s a shocker–they might really like women. Being a man doesn’t necessarily mean that you get along with other men. Some men might be nicer to women because they have more empathy with them, and thus view their problems with more charity. While this is unfair, it can hardly be said to be sexist against women–if anything, it’s sexist against men, because they are being denied the extra patience and understanding given to the women.

The real test should have been to have further studies in which the men were paired with women, the women were paired with women, and, finally, the women asked the men the questions. Then it would clearer if sexist attitudes were at work, or if some of the participants just had massive personality flaws.

To use a pop-culture example, imagine that Dr. Sheldon Cooper and Dr. Leonard Hofstadter of The Big Bang Theory, or Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson of Sherlock, are the ones asking the questions. Sheldon and Sherlock will be impatient, Leonard and John much less to. Bu t none of these characters are deemed to be sexists–Sherlock and Sheldon are usually considered to be inconsiderate jerks to everyone.

I think that we should all be able to recognize actual patronizing behavior when we encounter it, too. (“All right, darling, don’t worry your pretty little head about it, I’m here and I’ll solve all your little problems.”) There is a very obvious difference between someone who is nice and someone who is patronizing. If it isn’t obvious to you, then you are either really cynical or else don’t have much experience with people.

Women can be horrible to each other. So can men. Are they being sexist against their own sex? Can you even do that? And what if you’re a woman who is always nice to men? What are you then? (a traitor, probably, at least according to the people behind this study.)

I am a man, but almost all of my friends–certainly the people I would consider my closest friends–are women. I just naturally get along with women better than men, and I would much rather be around women than men in any givebn situation. When I write short stories, they are either told from a woman’s point of view, or else feature women who are just as important to the plot as the men. And all my favorite blogs are run by women.

I never knew that I was actually an evil man who is perpetuating the status quo with my benevolent sexism!

The study does go beyond the bizarre trivia question phase, though. They also cite the horrible, sexist practice of men holding doors open for women. To them, this is obviously yet another instance of men thinking they have to protect women, who are obviously frail, fragile creatures incapable of doing anything for themselves.

Either that, or men hold doors open for women because they’re trying to be helpful.

I hold doors open for everyone–women, men, black people, Hispanics, Asians, and old people. (Plus all the other demographics I didn’t want to go into a big list of right now.) It was never because I though I was superior to them; it’s just because I’m trying to be a nice person. But, apparently, I’m not only benevolent sexist; I’m also a benevolent racist, benevolent ageist, and probably a benevolent heterosexist. The only times I hold doors open because I’m concerned that people wouldn’t be able to do it themselves was if they are carrying a lot of stuff and don’t have a free hand, or else if they’re old and it’s slippery outside, so they don’t fall trying to open the door.

Wow, am I evil or what?!

Contrary to the constant arguments of modern feminism, it isn’t the men who keep gender relations at their current screwed up level, it’s the feminists themselves. The people (most like all women, but I don’t want to make a blanket statement without being absolutely sure) behind the study clearly state that they are looking into the sexist implications of interpersonal relationships, and in this case, the sexism is most definitely in the eye of the beholder. Or, as is always the case, if you’re looking for something, you’re probably going to find it.




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Categorised in: Feminism, Society

2 Responses »

  1. Your bastardization of benevolent sexism is appalling. Your entire diatribe was fallacious, via straw man. The authors are not asserting being nice to women is sexist, they are suggesting the reasoning as to WHY men are nice to women can be seen as sexist. If you view women as inferior, weak, fragile, powerless and helpless and that is why you are benevolent towards women, then yes, you are sexist and perpetuating inequality. You should really take the time to study benevolent sexism and its implications. If you believe this is the only study showing how chivalrous acts perpetuates sexism and gender inequality then you are completely wrong, there is extensive literature on the subject. Hundreds of studies show just how insidious benevolent sexism (chivalry) is, and how it hurts women more than helps them.

    No, being nice is not sexist. People should be nice towards women, but they should be nice towards men as well. Politeness should not be gender dependent and unidirectional. If you are nice to women, but an asshole to other men, you are not a nice person, in fact you may be a manipulative jerk on top of being sexist. We should all have egalitarian attitudes towards all humans. Be nice because you are a nice person, not because on some level, even if on a subconscious level, you feel women are inferior and need protection from a man.

  2. My overall opinion about all this is that some people are huge whiners and will always complain no matter what. Having said that, I do find pretty annoying those women who are super nice towards men (and think they are “one of the dudes”) but are very patronizing towards other women (as if they were in a position superior to all orher women). Those are the ones who keep complaining how difficult it is to make female friends… Bah

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