What is Benevolent Sexism?

By Maria Mellor

When you think of sexism, an image that may come to mind is that of the pig-headed idiots in the comments section of YouTube who think it’s amusing to tell women to ‘go back to the kitchen’, or of ‘lads’ in YOLO sexually harassing any girl they can lay their hands upon.

Sexism can be split into two categories, hostile or benevolent. Hostile sexism is obvious, overt, treating women as second-class citizens or objects. On the other hand there’s benevolent sexism, a symptom of society that is far harder to eradicate.

Have you seen the latest Star Wars film? I was delighted to see that it not only sees a female taking the lead, but also the subtle rejection of benevolent sexism. Finn and Rey are running away from the First Order’s troops, and manly-man Finn keeps insisting on taking Rey’s hand in the manner of a parent helping their child to cross the road. Fin later gets knocked out, lying on the ground and Rey goes to check on him, he wakes up and immediately asks if SHE’S alright. See what’s wrong here?

In a waitressing job I had over last summer, men were given the job of carrying heavy things, big stacks of plates and large tables. In families it’s the sons and fathers that are expected to fix things and carry things. It makes me wonder how women are supposed to get stronger if we aren’t allowed to do anything? Men open doors for women, pay for women’s dinner and come riding in on their high horses to save poor weak women incapable of doing things for themselves.

Society views women as kinder, more moral, more virtuous. There are people who wouldn’t swear in front of women as to not hurt their delicate little ears. Men feel protective over women, wanting to keep women safe from the world’s dangers. It has long been thought that in the event of a sinking ship, women should be saved before men, with most of society in agreement. Stop and think about this. It’s ridiculous! We can’t be equal if one gender is put first either way.

Just stop for a second. If you are a man reading this, would you hold open a door for another man in the same way you would for a woman? Would you give a fellow male your jacket if he said he was cold, like you might do for a woman? It’s time to reconsider attitudes to differences between the sexes, and why we do these things. It’s not just men either, but women seem to expect men to put themselves out to help them. A 2014 NerdWallet study looked at 1,000 US respondents, finding that 72.5% of women expected men to pick up the bill on a first date. In my opinion, some women perpetuate their own inequality by thinking it’s their right to be bought drinks by men. It’s fine buying people drinks, paying for people’s meals, opening doors for others, but thinking you deserve these things just because of your gender is not right.

Professor Judith Hall, of Northeastern University in Boston, puts my point perfectly: ‘Benevolent sexism is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing that perpetuates support for gender inequality among women.’ If we continue to expect men to treat us as like this, how can we expect true equality?

People will argue that women need to be helped because we are biologically weaker than men. Women enter weightlifting competitions who are far stronger than the average man. And I don’t know about you, but even though I may not be able to do more than one push-up or be able to reach things that my over-six-foot-tall male friends may be able to, but I seem to be able to manage just fine most of the time by myself. Women are not weak. Why is it then that men are still expected to be the ones who should take the lead?

It must be recognised that there is a difference between chivalry and courtesy; as men should not be going to extra lengths to protect or help women. But if someone is physically struggling to do something, obviously anyone who can, should help. Chivalry should die.

You may argue what’s the point? It’s not hurting anyone or offending anyone, so why should we care? Just think: if a male boss believes women are more sensitive and delicate, how would he expect women to handle difficult situations, or be worthy of promotion.

Stopping this type of sexism is beneficial to all, as men will no longer be breaking their backs or their bank accounts to save supposedly incapable women. I’m sure most men will also appreciate not being made to wait in a life-or-death situation while women are saved first.