Researchers at Northeastern University’s Department of Psychology conducted a study which claims the politeness of men towards women may be a sign of something nefarious: “benevolent sexism.”
The study, conducted by Jin X. Goh and Judith A. Hall and published in the journal Sex Roles, defines “benevolent sexism” as the “chivalrous belief that women are warm yet incompetent.”
“Women are portrayed as pure and warm yet helpless and incompetent beings who require cherished protection from men. Benevolent sexism asserts men’s power through paternalistic affection rather than dominance, and these affectionate behaviors may be insidious because they are not necessarily negative on the surface,” the study states.
This benevolent sexism can take shape in the chivalrous gestures made by men: “For instance, opening a car door for a woman may reflect simple politeness that would be extended to anyone; however, it could also reflect benevolent sexist attitudes if the man does it because of his assumption that men are more competent than women and that women should be pampered or protected by men.”
According to the Daily Mail, benevolent sexism can also take such egregious forms as refusing to split a dinner bill, offering a woman a coat if she is cold, and even holding the door open for women.
The study was carried out by creating 27 pairs of undergraduate men and women to engage in one structured, and one unstructured interaction: a structured trivia game and an unstructured conversation. “Naïve” raters gave their impressions of the participants, while researchers observed the verbal and nonverbal cues. Word count software was also implemented. After the two interactions, the participants were given surveys to control for their personalities and gauge their views on sexism.
In order to determine whether an individual is a benevolent sexist, the participants were asked to rate their opinions of certain phrases on a six point scale, from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The benevolent sexists were more likely to agree with phrases such as, “A good woman should be set on a pedestal by her man.”
The study found the benevolent sexist men were “rated to be more approachable, warmer, friendlier and more likely to smile. They also used more positive emotional words and were overall more patient while waiting for a woman to answer trivia questions.”
According to the researchers, this is a problem. “Benevolent sexism is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing that perpetuates support for gender inequality among women at an interpersonal level.” “These supposed gestures of good faith may entice women to accept the status quo in society because sexism literally looks welcoming, appealing, and harmless.”
The study concludes, “Unless sexism is understood as having both hostile and benevolent properties, the insidious nature of benevolent sexism will continue to be one of the driving forces behind gender inequality in our society.”