Feminism Turns Kindness into Oppression

The claims have been advanced numerous times, including in 2011 in the Psychology of Women Quarterly (PWQ), which asserted that there is a cluster of behaviors called "benevolent sexism." This type of sexism manifests itself in everything from men opening doors for women to a man offering to help a woman choose the right computer. (Horrors!)

Playing the part of a gentleman is a particularly insidious form of benevolent sexism, the researchers claim. While gentlemanly behavior might appear positive towards women, it is actually a form of "gender colonialism," for equality is threatened when a man tells a woman that he cannot live without her or when he "cherishes" her. Indeed, in the topsy-turvy world of modern feminism, warm-hearted affection towards one's wife or girlfriend is actually a form of prejudice symptomatic of repression.

Nevertheless, most women are receptive to such gestures of benevolent sexism, but social scientists are alerting them to the danger:

Benevolent sexism motivates chivalrous acts that many women may welcome, such as a man's offer to lift heavy boxes or install the new computer. While the path to benevolent sexism may be paved with good intentions, it reinforces the assumption that men possess greater competence than women, whom benevolent sexists view as wonderful, but weak and fragile.1

These ideas have built on the work of Peter Glick and Susan Fiske, who, in a 1997 PWQ article, postulated the existence of "ambivalent sexism," a broad category that includes both "hostile sexism" (things like rape, wife-beating, etc.) and "benevolent sexism" (things like offering to carry a woman's luggage, opening doors, etc.).

What, you may ask, could rape possibly have in common with opening a door for a woman? According to Glick and Fiske, both hostile sexism (hurting women) and benevolent sexism (being chivalrous to women) have three common subcomponents: paternalism, gender differentiation, and heterosexuality. Both forms of sexism also originate in men's desire to dominate women: "[Benevolent sexism is] a subjectively positive orientation of protection, idealization, and affection directed toward women that, like hostile sexism, serves to justify women's subordinate status to men."2

Glick and Fiske believe that the gender differentiation and heterosexuality that are integral to benevolent sexism emerge in "protective paternalism" (as when a man offers to do the driving on a long-distance journey), intimacy seeking, male self-disclosure (how sexist to assume a woman will be a sympathetic ear!), and romantic love. Attitudes that characterize benevolent sexism include "protective attitudes towards women, a reverence for the role of women as wives and mothers, and an idealization of women as romantic love objects."3

Other telltale signs of benevolent sexism include the belief that "women should be cherished and protected by men" and that "men should sacrifice to provide for women."4 Even the idea that, "in a disaster, women should be saved before men" has been called sexist!5

Well, perhaps it is sexist to think men should treat women differently from the way they treat their buddies. But in the end, it sounds like the modern definition of sexism is based on the recognition that there are two sexes, that they're different, and that we should try to help each other out in complementary fashion. What's wrong with that?

is the author of the book Saints and Scoundrels (Canon Press) and is completing an M.Phil in historical theology through King's College, London. He is a contributing editor for a number of different publications and blogs at Unpragmatic Thoughts.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #38, fall 2016 Copyright © 2019 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo38/slap-in-the-face