When chivalry became the new sexism

IAN STEWARD
Last updated 05:00 03/11/2013

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When a man holds a door open for a woman, is it chivalry or sexism? Or, to be precise, "benevolent sexism"?

Benevolent sexism has been identified as the flip side of the "hostile" sexism that would banish women to the kitchen.

It's a distincition that has been looked at by Auckland University researchers in a survey of the attitudes of more than 6500 New Zealanders.

Study author Matthew Hammond said benevolent sexism portrays women as "fragile and delicate and in need of protection" and emphasised their emotional qualities.

The study found that many women embraced benevolent sexism. Those women were also more likely to be psychologically "entitled" - a symptom of a narcissistic personality where people feel they are deserving or more special than others.

Hammond said it was predicted the two traits would go together as benevolent sexism appeared to "promise" things to women.

Television presenter Ali Mau said she believed benevolent sexism was predominantly "an older generation thing" that would probably die out with her parents' generation, or perhaps with her own generation.

"These people who protest that it's chivalrous - I think there's some deep-seated sexism there."

From an informal poll of her younger workmates, the custom of a man paying on a first date was still common, she said. "But generally the woman will insist on paying on the second date."

Auckland University law student Olivia Lubbock, 22, who was part of a feminist parody of the pop song Blurred Lines, said she hadn't experienced any hostile sexism recently but "I definitely agree there's a lot of benevolent sexism".

Particularly in the dating world, there was still an expectation that women were supposed to be "demure" and "fit into a certain stereotype" - the "good girl" of the Blurred Lines song, for example.

Lubbock said she had noticed benevolent sexism in the workplace where men offered to lift boxes for her when "I like to lift my own boxes". The old-school staple of opening doors for someone was still gratefully received but "anybody can hold a door open for anyone else".

"That's where we need to be heading rather than this notion that men need to protect women."

The link between benevolent sexism and entitlement did not surprise her.

"I think there are women whose parents actively encourage them to be entitled. As mature young women we have to be realistic - you can't expect everything to be given to you on a gold plate."

Anna Guy, the sister of murdered Feilding farmer Scott Guy, said sexism had got "a lot better than it used to be maybe 10 years ago".

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Benevolent sexism was difficult to separate from a new attitude of people looking after each other and gender roles becoming more shared, she said.

"It might not be exactly equal but men also look after children and work."

Is a man opening a door for a woman "benevolent sexism"?

Guy: "It's definitely impressive. I feel like they don't have to - if they don't want to I wouldn't be offended. It's a bonus."

Olivia Lubbock: "Anyone can hold a door open for anyone else."

Study author Hammond: "I open the door for everyone. I know when I open the door for someone it's not because they are a man or a woman, it's because they are behind me . . . but they don't know that."

Alison Mau: "I open doors for men and they open doors for me. It's about who's better placed to offer the courtesy."

* Comments are now closed for this story

- Sunday Star Times

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