Why women – including feminists – are still attracted to 'benevolently sexist' men

Why women – including feminists – are still attracted to 'benevolently sexist' men
What sort of signal does holding a door for a woman send? Credit: KOLOTAILO LIDIIA

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?

Is it an innocuous act of courtesy? Or is it a sexist insult to her strength and competence?

Social psychologists who describe this as "benevolent sexism" firmly favor the latter view.

But researchers have also revealed a paradox: Women prefer men who behave in ways that could be described as benevolently sexist over those who don't.

How could this be? Some say that simply fail to see the ways benevolent undermines them because they're misled by the flattering tone of this brand of kindness. Psychologists have even suggested that benevolent sexism is more harmful than overtly hostile sexism because it is insidious, acting like "a wolf in sheep's clothing."

As social psychologists, we had reservations about these conclusions. Aren't women sophisticated enough to be able to tell when a man is being patronizing?

Surprisingly no previous research had tested whether women do, in fact, fail to recognize that benevolent sexism can be patronizing and undermining. And given our backgrounds in evolutionary theory, we also wondered if these behaviors were nonetheless attractive because they signaled a potential mate's willingness to invest resources in a woman and her offspring.

So we conducted a series of studies to further explore women's attraction to benevolently sexist men.

What does benevolent sexism really signal?

The concept of benevolent sexism was first developed in 1996. The idea's creators argued that sexism is not always openly hostile. To them, attitudes like "women should be cherished and protected by men" or behaviors like opening car doors for women cast them as less competent and always in need of help. In this way, they argued, benevolent sexism subtly undermines gender equality.

Since then, 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. They're more willing to allow men to tell them what they can and can't do, are more ambivalent about thinking for themselves, are less ambitious and don't perform as well at work and on cognitive tests.

Given these documented downsides, why are women still attracted to this behavior?

The answer could lie in what evolutionary biologists call "parental investment theory."

Whereas men can successfully reproduce by providing a few sex cells, a woman's must be tied to her ability to complete months of gestation and lactation.

During much of human history, a woman's ability to choose a mate who was able and willing to assist in this process – by providing food or protection from aggressors – would have increased her reproductive success.

Evolution, therefore, shaped female psychology to attend to – and prefer – mates whose characteristics and behaviors reveal the willingness to invest. A prospective mate's muscular physique (and, today, his big wallet) certainly indicate that he possesses this ability. But opening a car door or offering his coat are signs that he may have the desired disposition.

Women weigh in

In our recently published research, we asked over 700 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.

We then had the participants rate the man's attractiveness, willingness to protect, provide and commit, and their likelihood of being patronizing.

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.

To exclude this possibility, we studied participants' degree of feminism with a widely used survey that measures feminist attitudes. We had them indicate their level of agreement with statements such as "a woman should not let bearing and rearing children stand in the way of a career if she wants it."

We found that strong feminists rated men as more patronizing and undermining than traditional women did. But like the other women, they still found these men more attractive; the drawbacks were outweighed by the men's willingness to invest. 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 relations, our 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. On the other hand, it's tough to see the harm in helping a woman move heavy furniture in the home.

Understanding these nuances may allow us to reduce the negative effects of without requiring women to reject the actual good things that can arise from this behavior.


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Despite negative consequences, benevolent sexism helps in search for mate

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Sep 19, 2018
In the annals of idiocracy this is one of many that takes the highest of honors. The fact that researchers repeatedly delve into this topic with negative biasness at the onset underscores how completely gormless these ones are. In their Utopian world, men do not speak to women, do not smile at women, men do not extend even the modicum of kindness because anything a man does is always sexist in a negative conotation. I truly feel sorry for these individuals because they, like the "me first" generation, feel that self aggrandizement is the singular goal that should drive individuals every moment of their lives. In their world love & human decency are trappings for the foolhardy. Because if a man is nice he is trying to dominate you. To all the other men out there who were raised by their mothers to have manners, please continue to be kind to one & all. And during your sojourn of life if you encounter a feckless thankless individual just smile hold the door open for them & let them pass.

Sep 19, 2018
The fact is, like so many cases of politically based pseudo philosophy, "feminism" was an overreach. It emphasized areas where they agreed with the propaganda and denied all areas that were at variance with it.
In fact, many women appreciate being "taken care of" so some extent. Many chafe at the idea of the "taking care of" interfering with their inclinations to go their own way. They like to feel safe in their activities, cooperating with the man or going against his wishes.
Face it, opening a door for a woman does not "undermine her". Another case of politically oriented doggerel ignoring the truth. Like saying a woman holding her purse more tightly when blacks are around, because blacks do have the highest per capita rate of criminality, is a "violation of rights" or "micro aggression".
It is frightening how unaware so many people are that what are depicted as "philosophical truths" are no more than agenda driven propaganda.

Sep 19, 2018
Well, they always say "thank you" when I hold a door, so it must not be THAT bad of an aggression....

Sep 19, 2018
I'm not going to close a door in anyone's face, male or female.
I will always help someone struggling with heavy lifting regardless of gender because I know I'm strong, if they get upset I'll stop.

The people who invented this "Benevolent Sexism" are in fact denigrating the intelligence of women in general.

If they don't want help they will tell you.

Sep 20, 2018
I was always taught that the polite thing to do whenever opening a door is to step aside and hold it for anyone who is following close behind, or to quickly step forward and do so if more than one person is approaching the door at the same time, regardless of sex or gender. I find this is especially important since so many public doors have such powerful automatic closing mechanisms that the door almost slams behind you if you don't do this, right in the face of the next person. And while normally it might add a few seconds here and there to your day doing this, an argument could be made that if everyone did this, bottleneck situations would be reduced overall and everyone's movement would be more efficient cumulatively.

Sep 20, 2018
I even help ugly women...

Sep 20, 2018
When being polite and obliging to a female or a male is a mistake, then our whole world and society would be a big mistake - and I prefer not to live in this kind of world.

Sep 20, 2018
Like saying a woman holding her purse more tightly when blacks are around, because blacks do have the highest per capita rate of criminality, is a "violation of rights" or "micro aggression".


You're forgetting context.

Walking through a poor black neighborhood, clutching your purse may be justified. Doing the same at a cocktail party only reflects unwarranted presumptions, and is indeed "micro aggression".

It's a misapplication of statistical reasoning, where you're attributing criminality to being black rather than being of a different social class.

Sep 20, 2018
Is calling someone who is trembling in fear "Micro Aggressive" really a true scientific term ?

Does using this inverted term help rectify the problems causing said persons fear ?

Or does that label make them more of a target ?

Angry Idiots creating a terminology that, in their eyes, helps their emotionally driven cause, creating non scientific terminology, should not be allowed to infect the language of our modern civilisation.

That's how a Facist organisation called "Anti Facists" can actually gain traction in said civilisation.

Stop encouraging the angry idiots and call them the bloody hypocrites they are in reality.

Act in the name of peace people :-)

Sep 22, 2018
Is calling someone who is trembling in fear "Micro Aggressive" really a true scientific term ?


If you're trembling from fear in a context where you have no reason to be afraid, that's called a phobia. If you're black-phobic, the question remains: why? Might be because you have some irrational psychological issue, or you've been socially conditoned with the attitude which would make the society the aggressor, or because you yourself harbor racist attitudes and aggressions towards blacks. You fear what you hate.


Sep 22, 2018
DANGER DANGER Willa Robinson

"According to studies, women who acquiesce to this behavior tend to become increasingly dependent on men for help. They're more willing to allow men to tell them what they can and can't do, are more ambivalent about thinking for themselves, are less ambitious and don't perform as well at work and on cognitive tests." [Boldface disappears suspiciously]

-Well since this acquiescence is biological, and women by and large cannot resist, then men will just have to die wont they?

The study doesnt discuss what men have to do to earn this benevolent dominence... while males seek to impregnate as many females as possible, females must choose the best possible donor for each and every child they wish to bear. And the best way to discern relative quality, is to tempt suitors to compete for repro rights.

Men might regard this as equally unfair but their mates of the moment will tell them to man up or hit the pavement.

They're allowed nowadays no?

Sep 22, 2018
The quintessential man bitch movie
https://youtu.be/7wd5KEaOtm4

The difference - it never ever ends. Not really.

Sep 22, 2018
But take heart bitches!

"According to studies, women who acquiesce to this behavior tend to become increasingly dependent on men for help. They're more willing to allow men to tell them what they can and can't do, are more ambivalent about thinking for themselves, are less ambitious and don't perform as well at work and on cognitive tests."

-Humans after all are extensively domesticated in response to the artificial demands of tribal living. Much of this domestication has become genetic, as with beagles and their floppy ears.

And so 'benevolent acquiescence' may be a genetic accommodation to tribal harmony and cohesion.

But because of all-out efforts to reduce the birthrate, hairy feminists are currently being encouraged to resurrect this primal instinct.
https://youtu.be/yO1Jq2rSg1U

-The right thing. Man bitch.

Sep 22, 2018
Humans never-ending struggle with coming to terms with what we are is quite pathetic. But we certainly are obsessed with it.....

Must have deep roots in our default delusional condition.

Sep 22, 2018
Twisting the context of two different psychologies , it's not micro aggression to the person in fear , and to term it at such only escalates the situation.

For the aggressor to term it as "Micro Aggression" is just their justification for their violence whatever form it takes.

It is a "Micro Trigger" for the aggressor and it will only escalate the entire situation if we pander to their twisted psychology.

Sep 24, 2018
The fact is, like so many cases of politically based pseudo philosophy, "feminism" was an overreach


For most people it is simply the same pointing out of inequality as black power or gay power movements - so most people willingly are black power, gay power and feminist all at the same time. Our current government here in Sweden calls itself feminist, meaning aiming for equal rights - simple as that.

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