A man asks a woman out on a first date and from the start they fall into stereotyped roles.
Picture the scene…
He holds the car door open for her and pulls out her chair at the restaurant. Over dinner they talk about their lives and when he learns she’s an engineer he’s surprised and tells her she’s beautiful, for an engineer. When the check comes he whips out his wallet before she has a chance to see the bill. She thinks he’s a romantic and she’s flattered by his compliment.
Or maybe she’s not so sure.
How desirable these behaviours seem can depend on the culture. People who live in countries where there’s less equality between men and women are more likely to think it’s a good thing when a man acts in these ways, research shows.
Nasty sexism, nice sexism?
But why would well-intentioned actions and compliments be a bad thing? They can be a sign of hidden power and inequality in the relationship where the balance falls in favour of the man. Seemingly romantic gestures can be a way for a man to use romance to control his partner, according to researchers.
When most people think of sexism they’re thinking of what social psychologists ‘hostile sexism’ – negative attitudes and behaviours towards women. Men treating women like they’re inferior, or just sex objects to grope. Or violence against women.
But when men and women behave in traditional ways in a relationship where it’s the man’s job to protect, provide, and care for the woman, it the researchers call it ‘benevolent sexism’.
Though it wears a positive disguise, just like hostile sexism, benevolent sexism can have real consequences that go beyond a particular relationship. Gestures like holding open and door and compliments about appearance that seem positive can actually strengthen gender stereotypes and inequality in society.
And what’s more, people who tend to think there’s nothing wrong with benevolent sexism are also more likely to be OK with hostile sexism, research has found.
If a man is gallant and charming, is he being sexist? What do you think? Tell us here or on Facebook.