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Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018 12:08 am

Things that go bump in the knight

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
I’m confused. Does treating women as equals mean not doing those things that would previously have been considered chivalrous, like opening doors and giving a woman your coat? What’s now considered polite, and what’s considered offensive? -- Bewildered
 
The response by some women these days to men’s well-intentioned acts must tempt at least a few men to swing entirely in the other direction: “Let’s see ... I could open the car door for my date -- or start to drive off and let her throw herself across the hood and hang on.”
   
To these women, chivalry is “benevolent sexism,” affectionate but patronizing sexism -- a way of treating women that suggests they are in need of men’s help and protection. It involves things like opening doors and offering to carry a heavy item for a female colleague and being the one who runs for the car in a downpour -- instead of handing the girlfriend the keys and announcing, “I’ll just wait here under the awning!”
  
Research has found that benevolent sexism can be undermining to women -- even leading them to feel less competent at their job. However, complicating things a bit, new research by social psychologists Pelin Gul and Tom R. Kupfer finds that women -- including women with strong feminist beliefs -- are attracted to men with benevolently sexist attitudes and behaviors despite (!) finding these men “patronizing and undermining.” The researchers theorize that what women are actually attracted to is the underlying signal of benevolently sexist behavior -- that “a man is willing to invest” (in them and any children they might have together).
  
 Frankly, even I engage in benevolent, uh, something or other -- like by holding the door open for any person, male or female, coming up to an entrance behind me -- simply because it’s nice for one human to look out for another. Or, as my mother would put it, it’s genteel. Ultimately, your best bet is behaving as genteelly as you would if you had no idea about benevolent sexism. Most women will probably appreciate it -- even if a few of them say “Thank you ... that’s very nice of you!” in language more along the lines of “Screw off, you medieval turd!”

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