The Apprentice: Benevolent Sexist
By Kizzy Katawonga, Uganda:
The other day a friend shared with me an intriguing article that appeared on The Telegraph website. The article claims the chivalry by men is actually a benevolent form of sexism because the men believe women are weaker and need saving or help. “Psychologists found that a friendly or chivalrous attitude can mask chauvinistic and patronising views because the men see females as weak creatures in need of their protection.”
I have to say this article left me exasperated. It's a classic case of damned if we do and damned if we don't. As a full blooded male who honestly strives to be a good man, I find this sort of thinking to be extremely confusing and disempowering. Sexism is defined as “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.”
More and more men are increasingly facing a society that demands women be treated with equal measure but the rules of engagement are getting muddier and more confusing.
A colleague at work got me even more bothered by all this when we talked about the article. He asked me if I was getting into the lift and I saw a woman with a really heavy box, would I offer to help her; I said of course I would. I'm a gentleman after all.
Then he asked, would I offer help if it was a man? Pffft. Of course not, he's a man. He can handle it. Let him hustle.
I stopped and thought about what I had just said. My answers were a result of reflex but upon further discussion, I realised the “sexism” in my thinking. I would offer help to the woman because I think she's weaker than the man and as a good catholic boy, raised by a mother, I should help her out.
Now, I have been raised to believe women are physically weaker than me and I should use my strength to help them, protect them because that's what God expects. It is actually a biological fact that in terms of upper body strength, the average man is twice as strong as a woman. Therefore, isn't only logically a man should offer to help a woman when it comes to matters that require physical strength. But that makes us sexist pigs.
That's terribly confusing to me. I am capable of doing something good but I can't because that would make me a sexist pig? If we are vilified because we must never see or treat women as weaker, what then are we supposed to do, even if in fact they are in some cases? I am expected to bypass a woman carrying a heavy box up a flight of stairs because that would suggest she's weaker but I am an incredible bastard if I stand by and watch the same woman being overpowered by a mugger?
How do we deal with these paradoxical standards of how a man should treat a woman?
What kind of world are we creating where men can't be chivalrous because it's considered sexist? Where goodness, kindness and consideration are misconstrued by socio-political agenda's?
I fear that the fight for gender equality is actually robbing us of many good and useful things. Not only that, it is becoming increasingly difficult to function as a man without being offensive to women by many of the standards that are now being put forth to us. But I’ll be damned if I don't live as my God leads me.
So, I will lend my strength when it is needed, I will help change a tire or lift a heavy box or open a door and all sorts of other chivalrous acts. And if that makes me a Benevolent Sexist, then so be it, because the alternative is to be an uncaring, unhelpful and indifferent chauvinist – which I can't be.