Now that I’ve got your attention with a provocative title, let me clarify — sexism, in the sense of believing women to be less-than, is never okay, and promoting that line of thinking isn’t the intent of this article.
Rather, I want to take a look at how our modern definitions of sexism have lost the true meaning of sexism, making it more difficult to call it out.
Is Sexism Really As Prevalent As We Think It Is?
I think it’s safe to say that every woman alive has experienced sexism at some point or another — maybe you’ve been told to smile by a complete stranger, felt unwelcomed by the men around you in your pursuit of a certain career, or been asked if it’s your time of the month because something upset you. Sexism like this is an ugly, unfortunate aspect of our lives as women, and thankfully, we’ve started calling out this behavior, shining a light on the harmful effects it has on both men and women.
We’ve reached the point where, if we squint hard enough, we can basically see anything as sexist.
But it seems that, in our hopes to bring attention to sexism’s all-too-common appearance in our lives, we’ve become intent on finding hidden micro-aggressions in nearly every interaction we have, calling something as simple as a man offering a woman his coat “benevolent sexism.” But, wait, since when is just trying to be nice…sexist?
What Is Benevolent Sexism, and Is It Actually Sexist?
The term “benevolent sexism” encompasses an array of actions and phrases, such as when a highly successful businesswoman is recognized for being a good mother to her children, or when a man expresses his desire to protect a woman, or when a guy opens a door for his date. We’ve reached a point in time where, if we squint hard enough, we can basically see anything as sexist. Here are some examples of the principles of "benevolent sexism":
Women should be “put on a pedestal. "
Women should be cherished and protected by men.
Men should be willing to sacrifice to provide for women.
Women are more virtuous than men.
Women are more refined and pure, compared to men.
I hesitate to believe that some of these instances are actually sexist. A man who offers to protect a woman from harm isn’t telling her he thinks she’s incapable of looking out for herself, but rather he’s acknowledging her smaller frame and the reality that men are typically physically stronger than women, often leading to abusive situations. A guy who holds a door open for a woman isn’t signaling to her that he thinks she wouldn’t be able to open the door herself, but rather he’s trying to be kind and is simply showing her respect.
If Chivalry Is Sexist, I Guess That Means Women Like Sexist Men
It’s a well-known fact, and oft-chagrined truth for the incel community, that many women find themselves naturally attracted to more traditionally masculine, gentlemanly, chivalrous men than guys who don’t possess these qualities — and ironically, this includes feminists and traditionalists alike. Some might blame this on women’s own "internalized misogyny," something we’re so "conditioned" by society to accept that we don’t even see it, but does that theory check out?
Both feminists and traditionalists are naturally attracted to more traditionally masculine men.
Not really. Modern feminists will often decry a man who offers to help a woman lift a heavy suitcase, object when hearing someone describe a woman as “soft” or “compassionate,” or pushback when told they’d make a great mother one day – but despite this, they secretly still prefer men who offer their coat and insist on paying for the first date.
Recently, researchers Gul and Kupfer from the University of Kent conducted a study that showed women see these “benevolently sexist” men as more attractive overall. It didn't matter how "feminine" the women considered themselves – they consistently preferred the "sexist" men. It boiled down to those men were perceived as more willing to commit and to value a woman than other types of men — and if there’s one thing we know all of us ladies can’t stand, it’s a guy who just won’t commit. And it makes sense why.
If a woman gets pregnant, she wants to know the man she’s with won’t bail. If a woman wants kids, she has far less time, biologically speaking, than a man to mess around. In a world in which women have felt unsafe and often preyed upon by men, having someone offer to walk her home and protect her is gladly received. With a modern dating scene that enables men to use a woman’s body for a night and never call back without any consequences, it’s attractive to meet a man whose interest lasts longer than that.
It’s important that as we try to fight sexism, we don’t get distracted by attempting to find it in every situation, especially when it isn’t really there. This only takes attention away from real sexism and hinders the fight against it.