How we treat women in our day to day interactions continues to confound men. What used to be simply good manners in our social behavior with women has been labeled by many in the feminist movement as benevolent sexism. Meaning something as casual as holding a door open for a women or making sure she gets home safely after a date, although well meaning, is inherently sexist – hence benevolent sexism. I guess offering to carry a package or following the maritime regulation that women and children should be evacuated first in a disaster at sea are further examples of benevolent sexism. A recent comment on a website succinctly summarizes the dilemma. “A man who seeks to cherish, adore, love, and protect his female companion is apparently a sexist pig.”
The problem is that there is ample evidence that a majority of women are covertly or unconsciously attracted to the benevolent sexist male. Consider the fact that 42% of women ( 52% of white women) voted for Donald Trump despite the clear evidence that at best he is a classic male chauvinist. Romance novels, which are read almost entirely by women, present their male heroes as starting off gruff, rude, arrogant, and cold, but with fantastic looks. In the middle of the book, the hero tries to prove that he’s good enough for her, and that he’s changed to meet her criteria. Something happens by the end of the 180 or so pages, and he turns into a man who wants to settle down and have a few children in a monogamous relationship. He’s happy to be loyal and adore the heroine for the rest of their lives. A tough recipe for a guy to follow. Start out as a bad boy but be sensitive enough to modify your behavior to demonstrate your commitment to her and your ability to provide and care for your offspring.
Generally speaking research has revealed that most women are attracted to strong, healthy, physically fit specimens who project confidence and are more likely to succeed in surviving, reproducing, and prospering in any society. Perhaps for this reason many women still prefer if the man pays the expenses of a date. In our society, this is a sign of having disposable income and being generous enough to dispose of it. Women have rated men higher who take heroic and sometimes primal risks. Furthermore, many studies demonstrate that women prefer men who have the size and strength to protect them and whose financial resources and character offer the promise of good parenting. An evolutionary approach would suggest that women might even consider risk taking as an advantageous trait in a male that can better protect her from adversity.
A recent story widely circulated in the news described a man coming to the rescue of a women who was shamed by a seatmate on an aircraft. Her seatmate texted to a friend that he was sitting next to a “smelly, fatty.” The women saw the text and was so shamed that she started to cry. A guy sitting behind the women also saw the text and heard the women sobbing. He got up and told the texter to change seats and admonished him for being so cruel and insensitive. A classic example of a heroic man coming to the rescue of a women in distress. Is this an example of benevolent sexism? Would a female passenger have acted the same way as the hero in this story?
It appears that there is a discrepancy between the espoused desire by women for gender neutrality in their interactions with men- devaluing stereotypical male protective and chivalrous behaviors – with an unconscious or covert attraction and appreciation of those very same behaviors. No wonder so many men are struggling.