Carol: What’s So Wrong With “Benevolent Sexism”?!
In the wake of my five-year-old’s medical drama last week (laid out here in tedious detail!), we returned today to Manhattan to have the stitches removed. Having arrived in the city early, we treated ourselves to lunch, and as we left the restaurant, a very polite businessman held the door for us to allow us to leave first. After I thanked him (and my little one did, too), it occurred to me this was a perfect occasion to point out how much we had appreciated his gentlemanly behavior. (In fact, I really make an effort to let men who engage in this sort of behavior know how much I appreciate it, because I realize there are women who, indefensibly in my view, object to it).
This whole episode came back to me tonight when I read Charles Murray’s comments about a Psychology of Women Quarterly piece decrying what is, in essence, nothing but gentlemanly behavior — on the grounds that this “benevolent sexism” “perpetuates inequality at the structural level.” Oh yes, this piece apparently also concedes that such behavior also makes both men and women happy (but who cares about that when there is “structural inequality” in the world?!).
It’s never clear to me how it perpetuates any kind of pernicious “inequality” when men perform small kindnesses for women. Am I supposed to be insulted that this man thinks I am “weaker” than he is? After all, from the looks of him, that’s probably the reality. What, exactly, is the offense to the at-all-costs aspiration of complete and total “gender equality” in this small display of chivalry? How is he trying to hurt me by a simple bit of kindness?
Given that these small acts have been found to make women happier — and the hard-core feminists routinely spurn them — no wonder they’re such an unhappy lot. As always, in this debate we just keep coming back to the eternal question: Who said that to be “equal” to men, we have to be “the same”? I’d bet that silly canard has caused more confusion for men and more unhappiness for everyone than any of us can possibly imagine.