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Studies Show Chivalry Is Sexist

Fri, Jun 12, 2009

News, Research

knight_in_shining_armor1from Wonder Woman #125 comic

With the excellent debate going on in response to the recent Wise Guys question about men behaving chivalrously, we thought we’d stir the pot a bit by mentioning studies that suggest chivalrous behavior is a subtle yet harmful form of sexism, known as benevolent sexism. The term was coined in 1996 by the first study of this kind (as far as we know), which showed that men who exhibit signs of chivalry (opening doors open for women, always paying for the date, being protective) often exhibit signs of hostile sexism as well (thinking of women as less intelligent, weaker creatures whose place is in the home). These findings were supported by another study by the University of Michigan several years later. Dr. Daisy Grewal, writing for Psychology Today earlier this year, has a compelling round-up of a lot of the research on the topic, saying that “Both perspectives [hostile and benevolent sexism] fail to view women as multi-faceted equals to men.” She gets a heated response from a fellow Psych Today blogger, but Grewal holds her own in the comments section of that post (plus, that is the haircut of a smarmy benevolent sexist if ever we saw one). Have a read, then please to discuss.

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20 Responses to “Studies Show Chivalry Is Sexist”

  1. AlanK Says:

    Much of this hinges on the details. A man who insists on opening doors for a woman, when she clearly prefers to open them herself, probably thinks of her as a weak and inferior object. Conversely, a man who opens doors for a woman who does not object is probably reinforcing the idea that she is delightfully different from him and worth attending to. Of course, such a distinction is only meaningful when looking at a society in which women are both different and equal. When you do a world-wide study that cuts across an enormous range of attitudes and realities such distinctions get lost, but life happens at the edges.

    You’d have to actually read the University of Liege studies to comment on them, but note that such studies (at least as described here) would be considered unethical to conduct in the US.

  2. Conrad Says:

    Although I can see this being true in a lot of cases, I wouldn’t say it was the end all. Most of us are the exception.

  3. Lady Tarrant Says:

    Personally, I’m all for being adored.
    However, I’m not for be coddled.

    I’m inclined to agree with AlanK. I think it’s all about intention and the mind set of the man in question. And let us not forget that chivalry wasn’t, and shouldn’t, be a gender issue. The knights of old were to treat their fellows and even rival knights with chivalry. Again, it was originally based on showing courtesy and respect for others. Just because some use it in a harmful manner doesn’t mean that chivalry itself is a bad thing. One could look at chivalry as being a kin to fire, you can use it to cook a meal for a loved one, or to burn someone’s house down.

    Of course women should be aware of the line between a man being chivalrous and domineering. But let’s not start assuming that holding a door open is an insult. It seems women need to utilize their minds and make these kinds of discriminations and decisions on a case by case basis.

  4. Wendell Says:

    I’m going to be the classless jerk here: in a world where uncertainty reigns supreme (especially after 8 years of right-wing rule), things like chivalry give some people stability because it reinforces certain notions they hold dear about their gender/roles. This is fine. It’s also not for me, like, say, superstition.

    Courtesy, manners? Yes, indubitably I support and practice these (try saying “you’re welcome” in response to “thank you”–it sounds better than “thank you” back), however I’ll sure as hell go through the door first and hold it open for the person behind me, regardless of who that person is. On a date? Two sets of doors equals each person getting a door-opening. Hey, I like it, too. And flowers. Irises, thanks! :)

    Then again, I’m a feminist who would call it “benevolent patriarchy/kyriarchy,” who prefers to be friends with his partners from the get-go (of course with that spark of attraction to get things going), and–for a peek inside my brain–would have giggled with glee if the girls chased him on the elementary school playground. Alas, it was scripted the other way around.

    I am hugely in favor of humility, but not of putting others on pedestals–which is a potential danger of chivalry, though it seems commenters here have been able to avoid it for the most part.

  5. Wendell Says:

    “But let’s not start assuming that holding a door open is an insult.”

    Good point, LT. I’d also submit that the man holding the door shouldn’t feel slighted if his un-asked-for service goes unacknowledged.

    However, “Of course women should be aware of the line between a man being chivalrous and domineering. … It seems women need to utilize their minds and make these kinds of discriminations and decisions on a case by case basis.” is problematic to me because it puts the onus back on the woman. Wouldn’t chivalry wish to unburden the woman? ;) Seriously, though, shouldn’t we be asking men to stop being domineering (as opposed to polite) and not put the responsibility of determining this on the woman? Let’s raise appreciative and polite children by giving them good examples of gender interaction.

  6. Flo Says:

    Ok now, so if a guy doesn’t slam a door in my face he’s not standing up for feminism?

    I understand that feminism is becoming more and more nuanced and debated by experts everywhere. Sometimes I think people in general are getting to be more and more impolite. I do believe that it’s a good idea that people hold doors open for other people. Heck, I do it all the time. Men are all mixed up!

    I guess there is a difference between men opening doors because women can’t open them and a man being polite. I just appreciate the gesture when it comes along. I don’t really think gender matters at all in this equation as I can be equally chivalrous in varying situations.

  7. Lady Tarrant Says:

    “Wouldn’t chivalry wish to unburden the woman?”
    Nice!

    Indeed the type of sexist chivalry would, but I would think true chivalry would want for a woman to ultimately be free to make up her own mind. And agreed, it would be far better to have men just not be domineering and/or sexist. But let’s face it, how apt is that to happen? If women don’t want to be coddled, then women need to think for themselves. Although, I must totally agree that it would be far better if we as a society just raised our children to be courteous and appreciative—period. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem too apt happen either.
    So where does leave us? Again, women should be aware of their surroundings, but not be so hypersensitive that a nice gesture is taken offensively. And men, well some of them just need to get over themselves and their harmful views that women are somehow less than men. But still show courtesy and respect towards women, and understand though different we are equal in a person to person sense and thus act accordingly.

    I don’t place the responsibility of good social interaction on women or men; I place it on everyone.

  8. Johnny Says:

    I grew up half in continental Europe, where they kind of snicker at our gender politics crisis. In general they see American women as willfully omitting feminine grace for the sake of making some political point, and American dudes as bumbling, wide-eyed boys who get all doofy around women. Gender roles are much more clearly defined in much of Europe, and people seem kinda happier in them than many of the progressive folk I know here in the states. We romanticize Europe as an, erm, romantic location, but they (and we) owe that to their “vive la difference” attitude. When you trade this attitude for greater gender equality, a decline in niceties like chivalry is inevitable. Can’t have your cake and eat it.

  9. Jay Jay Says:

    Let’s not forget the idea that Feminism was founded upon – Choice. Not that idea that women can do everything that a man can or that she should in someway show her strength and equality every chance she gets and if she doesn’t, well, then she’s a pathetic excuse for a woman. If a woman CHOOSES to open her own door and politely declines the need for a man to exercise his chivalrous nature, then that’s one thing, but in my opinion, more and more men are just plain lazy and using the excuse of feminism as a reason to behave poorly in social situations. Since when does having good manners mean you’re insulting your lady? Sometimes, and I know this is a stretch, it’s nice to be polite because you care about someone and want to show them this by treating them the best way you possibly can. And even if you are one of the growing-fewer-every-day guys that still exercises manners regardless of the person, be it a man or woman, stranger or friend, young or old, odds are you are doing it because you are a decent human being, and let’s face it, your momma told you to do so!

  10. Mr L Says:

    Some of us GREW UP being trained and taught chivalry. They are not easy habits to shake! I am still working on the handshake! even though I am a professional I do all kinds of hard work including construction work all my life. So if you are a male and you shake my hand very firmly, you are very likely thinking damn! that fellow has a grip like a vise! So when I shake a female hand, I am intentionally trying not to do the same thing or even ‘meet’ the firmness of the other person shaking my hand. Plus, a whole lot has to do with their actions, are they advancing the full palm ? I would say over the past 2-3 years, I have been 50- 70 percent successful in changing the way I shake hands with a woman in a business setting. One very memorable event stands out in my mind. I met a woman at a seminar and we shook hands perfectly. She was very forward and professional and I think she was also a marathon runner. HER half of the handshake had everything to do with how I was able to shake her hand “as an equel”

    I agree with comments above, women need to let men know when they would rather not be the receiver of chivalrous acts.

  11. Wendell Says:

    I apologize for my tone in my posts–it was reactive as opposed to my ideal: contemplative, self- and other-challenging.

    @ Flo–It might’ve been my tone that brought you to write your first sentence. My apologies; I didn’t intend for my comment to come across that way. (If you were replying to my comment at all, that is!)
    “Sometimes I think people in general are getting to be more and more impolite. I do believe that it’s a good idea that people hold doors open for other people.”
    Totally agreed on both counts!

    @ LT–I really appreciate your comments; tactful, yet also getting me to think. :) It’s true that the things you list as not apt to happen are stupendous tasks. I try to think of them as things I can slowly chip away at if I make the effort day-to-day. Of course, it’s easier said than done! I try to remember that I can choose *not* to pass my crappy mood on to another, though I’m crap at that so far. Crap!

    @ Jay Jay–”…more and more men are just plain lazy and using the excuse of feminism as a reason to behave poorly in social situations.” Which men? It’s an honest question, because when we have all these journalists and pundits saying the world is “post-feminism,” to me that means #1. folks might be writing feminism off, and #2. they want an excuse to get away from that *scaaaaary* word because they never got a proper definition of it.
    Barring the cynicism, I’m totally aboard with your statement that, “…even if you are one of the growing-fewer-every-day guys [I'd include gals, too] that still exercises manners regardless of the person, be it a man or woman, stranger or friend, young or old, odds are you are doing it because you are a decent human being…”

    I’ll try and STFU now, but one last general comment.
    I think it’s telling that we have a word for men doing things for women, but we don’t for the other way around. (And how would men react to it? Would it threaten their masculinity?)
    Personally, I don’t think chivalry can necessarily be separated from its chauvinist (recent) past, but I do think that discarding chivalry is in no way analogous to discarding manners and politeness. It’s the gender-loaded meanings we ascribe to those acts of decency we should try and change, which is the hard part.

    “There’s a land that I see where the children are free, and I say it ain’t far to this land from where we are!” :D

  12. Andi Says:

    I think it’s a hard question, but it depends on how the guy is. For example, some guys *insist* on opening doors, paying the bill, etc, and get offended when the woman tries to open her own door or pay the bill. We want to treat the guys sometimes, too!
    Oftentimes, this man will use his “chivalry” to seduce the woman, and call her all sorts of sweet-nothings. Then he doesn’t call for a three days and she wonders why…

    The other type is the guy who genuinely cares or is being polite. He’ll just as easily accept her opening a door for him or her paying the check.

    I think, then, modern chivalry is (or should be) just politeness.

  13. Sir Realist. Says:

    Lets face it. Women want to be treated equal but don’t want to give up the benefits of being women. You can’t have it both ways
    ladies! I use to hold doors and pull out chairs but eventual stopped.
    Why bother when such acts of kindness are unappreciated at best and ridiculed at worst? I discovered that most of us guys are fed up with what women want. Or think they want. It has spread among us to not apply chilvalry. We say we’re just respecting you by not holding the door and such. By showing we know you can do it yourself. ;) It’s such a relief of stress I can tell you! Not having to worry about such nonsense. I have gotten more respect and have better communication with women since then and explaining the reasons for such a stance. The Gentleman is always under attack and always vulnerable. The New Modern Guy is invulnerable because he doesn’t play by the code of chilvalry. Or by anyone else’s rules but his own. It’s funny. This is what women wanted. Equality on all levels. I think it’s a great thing. What’s the problem? Funny how now that chilvalry is gone. That’s now somehow our fault as well. Sigh. Women! You’re equal on all levels now ladies. You wanted it, you got it, be thankful.

  14. Madamoselle L Says:

    A man opens a door for you, it is RUDE to either NOT go through the door (and even more rude to reprimand the man for trying to be nice) and RUDE to NOT thank him. I do not see this as “sexist” I see it as a man opening a door for me, period. I walk through, smile, nod, say, “Thank you, sir.” and keep walking. I have seen men actually GASP at my kindness. Why? I don’t know. Have other women given them dirty looks, or a lecture on 2nd wave feminism, there at the door? Or refused to walk through the opened door, leaving the man standing there, feeling like a fool for no decent reason? I don’t know.

    I open doors for elderly people, (I have never been called “ageist”) and women with babies, and even men who are carrying things. Nobody seems to mind, I don’t mind when a man opens a door for me. And, I appreciate it, and would never be RUDE about it. But, it’s not “cool” to be a Lady, I guess. *sigh* One’s actions always have to have some “movement” behind them. Sometimes an opened door is JUST someone attempting to be nice. And, if the opener’s intentions are otherwise, I’m not going to assume that is the reason.

    Yesterday, I was in a (locally run) coffee shop, and ordered a soy mocha latte, and then started digging through my purse to realize ALL my cash was in my other purse. A man sitting at one of the tables, working at his laptop kindly said, “Don’t worry about it, I’ve got it for you.” I wavered for a moment, then said, “Thank you very much. That is very kind of you.” Nodded to the GENTLEMAN, took my mocha, added sugar and left. End of story.

    Of course my husband, when I told him later said, “He wants you.” (he thinks he’s funny) I think he (the Coffee Gentleman) was just being nice. It wasn’t sexist, I wouldn’t have refused if an other woman had offered to pay for the coffee, so I don’t see the difference. The gentleman at the Butcher Shop, later that day, also cut up my chicken (I HATE to touch raw meat) at no charge, and came around the counter to show me some new things they had in stock. My husband says, “Men do thing for you because you’re hot.” *SIGH* He’s biased, but, no, I DON’T want to give up the “benefits” not at all. We are NOT equal, I don’t assume so. WHO assumes things are “equal?” Who says “women got what they wanted.” when they DON’T KNOW what ALL of us “wanted.” We don’t all want the same things.

    I appreciate “la differance” and have no problem with men who appreciate it also. That may make me “Incorrect” but I am not treated “unfairly” or “unequally” by men in most ways. There IS a difference between men and women. My husband outweighs me by nearly 100 lbs, and is more than a foot taller, he’s bigger and stronger.(As are most men, I’m tiny and petite.) He SHOULD open the damn door for me (in fact, it took me several months, when we first started dating, by simply standing there, not moving until he DID open the door (he was raised with NO manners whatsoever) until he learned to do so. He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he can open the door, pull out my chair and be a gentleman. He SHOULD do it, if strangers want to, that’s nice, too.

    Your mileage may vary.

  15. catch Says:

    The nice thing about dating a feminist is that it’s easier, cheaper, requires less thought and effort. It’s not much different than being with a guy since you don’t have to treat her any differently. You can show her the same (equal) level of courtesy and respect accorded a man. That is what feminism is about: equality.

  16. Graphite Says:

    Listen to Catch; they’ve got the right of it. And the great thing is, when you’re equal, you can both do “chivalrous” things for one another just because you like each other, not because anyone thinks they’re entitled to them.

  17. Kathleen Says:

    I’m not shocked by those studies on benevolent sexism. I have found that men who INSISTED on opening the door for me are usually very male chauvinistic and believe that women need to be submissive.

    There is a difference between chivalry and courtesy. Chivalry is male chauvinistic but courtesy is egalitarian. Our culture needs to teach men to be courteous to women and other men.

    It’s embarassing when a man always holds the door open for me and holds out a chair for me. But it is disgusting when men slam the door in my face and arrogantly walk in front of me. Both views are inherently anti-woman.

  18. Kathleen Says:

    Benevolent sexism is everywhere. The “men opening doors” issue is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Indeed, has anyone read Ian Kerner’s “She Comes First?”

    I thought that book had a lot of benevolent sexism and demeaned female sexuality. Kerner acts like women should orgasm first during intercourse because they are sexually inferior. However, he does not mention that the REAL reason women should orgasm first is because of male weakness. After a man orgasms during intercourse, he can’t do anything. If a woman waits until a man climaxes, she will not get satisfied.

    Also, Kerner says it takes women around 20 minutes to orgasm, but neglects to mention that without intercourse, it takes a woman only 5 minutes to climax.

    Kerner says he wants to turn “foreplay” into “coreplay.” YUCK! Kerner privileges intercourse over all other sexual acts because it benefits the male.

    Kerner, like so many other sexologists, takes the sexiness out of sex because he’s a benevolent male chauvinist.

  19. catch Says:

    Non-feminists typically enjoy chivalry and don’t ever think it’s in any way demeaning. It’s only feminists that believe it to be “benevolent sexism.” As I said above, that makes it easy. Treat feminists equal to men; no chivalry for them, just the basic common courtesy that men give to other men is what feminists should get, nothing more, nothing less.

  20. Brandon Says:

    (opening doors open for women, always paying for the date, being protective) often exhibit signs of hostile sexism as well (thinking of women as less intelligent, weaker creatures whose place is in the home

    Ar you kidding me with this crap ok if you don’t damn well like it then don’t accept it. Another thing don’t bring your boys up to treat women with respect ugh god women are just never happy unless they can be bitches like this and i am tired of it. Seriously get off your perma pms and do something about it then you don’t like it grab the chque first you don’t want him to then hold your own damn door instead of being a typical C U Next Tuesday. Maybe you would rather a guy tell you to go F yourself pay for your own dinner and stop his foot waiting for you to open the door for him would that be better? All I have to say is wow I am glad I grew up with a wonderful mother an amazing sister and one hell of a role model for a dad because i would never want to become bitter jaded and a flat out bitch like you . As i presume now you are going ohhhh I just posted it it was someone else that wrote it well ummm you who your the bitch that posted it so you must see some truth in it so get of your what you think you have as a high horse.


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