Opening the door of the car, giving the lady a flower or holding her hand while watching a horror movie could make every man look attractive in the eyes of his date. So it comes as no surprise that men who do such things for the ladies are seen by the latter as extremely sexy and attractive.
Sadly, not all guys are gentlemen especially nowadays. And not all of them treat women with that much attention and respect.
Actually, the men who display a special type of attitude called by social psychologists “benevolent sexism” are the ones who put ladies on a pedestal.
Benevolent sexism consists of viewing women as “typically” more gentle, loving, pure and kind, and men as “typically” tougher and logical. Unlike the stereotypical sexists, benevolent ones don’t insult women but pay them compliments based on the aforementioned (and other) stereotypes.
Researchers Pelin Gul and Tom R. Kupfer at Iowa State University examined this type of male attitude. They conducted research named “Benevolent Sexism and Mate Preferences: Why Do Women Prefer Benevolent Men Despite Recognizing That They Can Be Undermining?“. It was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
“We became interested in this topic because we realized a paradox in the literature on benevolent sexism,” said Pelin Gul.
It turns out that this type of male attitude is not always regarded as positive. Actually, there are theories which claim exactly the opposite.
“Previous studies have found that men’s benevolent sexism has many detrimental consequences on women (such as undermining their competence, restricting their freedom, confining them to the kitchen), yet research had also shown that women prefer benevolent sexist men and even find these men more attractive than non-benevolent sexist men,” explained for PsyPost the study author Pelin Gul of Iowa State University.
“We realized that theoretical perspectives on mate preferences, especially parental investment theory, could solve this puzzle,” Gul said. “It could be that women’s attraction to benevolent sexist men is because they perceive these men as willing to invest, which could even outweigh the downsides of benevolent sexism. This explanation was entirely absent in the literature, and so that is what we wanted to add to this literature,” she added.
The researchers conducted 5 studies in total, with 782 women who took part in them.
According to the final results, all the women who participated (including feminists) shared the opinion that men who exhibited benevolent sexist attitudes were more willing to act in a protective way towards them.
According to the ladies these men were also more caring and likely to commit to them. So all of the participants stated firmly they preferred benevolent sexist men to the ones who treated women as equal.
According to the information in the study, benevolently sexist men are gentlemen who believe that men have to show respect to the ladies.
They also think women should be helped before men in case of an emergency.
On the other hand, Non-benevolent sexists have egalitarian views and believe that women and men should be treated equally.
“Women are attracted to men with benevolent sexist attitudes and behaviors because benevolent sexism signals that a potential mate is willing to invest (i.e., protect, provide, and commit). That is an important mate preference for women,” Gul said to PsyPost.
“Because of this, even though benevolence can be undermining to women at times, they generally still prefer men who show they are benevolent. This may apply to any women, regardless of their level of feminism and gender egalitarian views.”
However, the research has some caveats and limitations.
“There is a lot that still needs to be addressed. For instance, do women differentiate between male behavior that is genuinely benevolent and that which is intended to patronize and undermine them?” Gul said.
“If women can tell the difference, then how do they react? Do they have ways to defend themselves against it? Women say they prefer benevolent men, but it would be interesting to see if women who do have benevolent mates have greater relationship satisfaction.”
“There is also the question regarding men’s motives for displaying benevolent sexism,” Gul added. “Do men display benevolent sexism in order to increase their desirability as mates? Would men be motivated to display benevolent sexism regardless of whether they are gender egalitarian or not?”
The idea of benevolent sexism is based on the ambivalent sexism theory.
The latter consists of both benevolent and purely hostile attitudes.
“We haven’t coined the term ‘benevolent sexism’, previous researchers did,” Gul added. “I don’t agree with this and I don’t think we should phrase it that way. It is not our job to say what is and isn’t sexist.”
“Ordinary people’s conception of sexism is intentionally or deliberately undermining, but academics often conceive of it much more broadly as anything that has a detrimental outcome for women, even if it wasn’t intended. We think that the consequences of benevolent sexism should be separated from the intent, which is our next planned study.”
“Certainly, some men may be motivated to and deliberately intend to undermine women. But, we think that women are able to tell when a man’s intent is to undermine her versus when he uses benevolent sexism for courtship,” concluded Gul.