Benevolent sexism

“Benevolent sexism” is men looking after women, holding doors open, walking on the off side of the pavement, helping women with their coats. With the right person it can be pleasant occasionally, and the man’s motivation may be caring, but it reinforces the idea that men are strong and women, who are weak, need looked after, and makes it more difficult for women to be authoritative. “Oh, don’t worry your pretty little head about that.”

I heard that feminists did not want doors opened for them before I heard of BS. I had no idea why. So the term is very useful, expressing elegantly the problem: this is sexism, treating people differently on the ground of their sex, and it has the pernicious effects of sexism. If doors are too heavy for smaller people to open without too much effort, make them lighter! But men still show they don’t understand.

Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified. Sadly for Paul Ryan, there are few opportunities to be a hero in modern civilised life. Women do not need champions, and saying we should not be “objectified”, while true, does not make you one. You can get to be a hero in fantasy role play, perhaps. Reverence is unnecessary too: respect is sufficient.

Hitting on married women?… Such vile degradations demean our wives and daughters. Mitt Romney thinks men should protect the women who belong to them?

I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not. It’s not a good idea in an apology to start on “It’s not that bad really”. Say the apology and move on. But if your highest claim to decency is that you are not hypocritical about your abuse, you are a psychopath. Any healthy person knows that they should pretend not to be quite as vile as Mr Trump’s remarks reveal him to be. He would grab women between the legs, and kiss them on the lips. He would sexually assault them for his own sexual gratification. He is a noisome liar, but these remarks have the ring of truth.

Paul Ryan’s and Mitt Romney’s remarks show their attitudes are scarcely better. If Republican condemnation of Trump’s boasting of groping women between the legs does not indicate that women are equal, those who condemn do not believe that women are equal. Even Mitch McConnell’s remarks aren’t quite it. As the father of three daughters, I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape, he said. So, unmarried undergraduates need not believe the same? What about, “As a human being, recognising that women are human too”?

Representative Jason Chaffetz seems closer: If I can’t look my fifteen year old daughter in the eye and tell her these things I can’t endorse this person. He points out that was an apology for getting caught.

Conservative Evangelicals, to end with: What have we taught our boys about respecting women? What have our little girls learned about men? That was Dr James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Character matters, and the American people are hungry for that message. We care about the conduct of our leaders, and we will not rest until we have leaders of good moral character. Was that conservative Evangelicals standing on principle? No; they were talking about Mr Clinton, in the 1990s. David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network tweeted, This just in: Donald Trump is a flawed man! We ALL sin every single day. What if we had a ‘hot mic’ around each one of us all the time? Mmm. Does Brody grab women between their legs, too?

Here is Mr Trump’s initial statement, in full: “This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course – not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”

12 thoughts on “Benevolent sexism

  1. The more I hear of Trump, the more I dislike him.

    The benevolent sexism is a difficult one, although becoming less of an issue. I have never understood why men “should” hold doors open for someone simply because of their gender. But growing up, and as a young adult I was strongly criticised (mostly by women) for not doing so. Admittedly it was an age issue. Younger women were just as critical if I did, even when they clearly needed help (hands full of baby, shopping bags etc.). It was a case of damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. I still haven’t worked out a set of appropriate rules that clearly differentiate between plain common courtesy and benevolent sexism.

    When it comes to my wife of almost 45 years, I definitely act as in a way that on the surface appears to some to be benevolent sexism. I don’t consider it so, but perhaps I’m wrong. I always walk curbside. It’s so that she can more easily see to contents of shop windows. I’m 35 cm (14 inches) taller than her and can see clearly over the top of her head. I generally open doors for her. We live in a particularly windy area of the country (3 wind farms within line of sight of our home bears witness to this fact) and her diminutive size means that doors often decide to rebel when half opened. I still get the occasional “Chauvinist!” yelled at me when I do what I think is being considerate and courteous.


  2. I read this earlier today and saved it so I could come back. I’ve never heard the term – or maybe I’ve never heard it explained like this with implications explained, so thank you. I’m not sure what I think about it, though. I don’t like the idea of chivalry (holding a door open, walking road-side) being unpacked into meaning I am less. But I also don’t like the idea of a society lacking in the courtesy to open a door for another. I take the point that perhaps we should all simply be doing that for each other, but the thought that it isn’t done for fear of offence? I’m not sure what to do with that.

    Thanks for giving me something to think on today.


    • Not everyone sees it that way. And you can find an account of patriarchy overarching underpinning pervading our culture, and every interaction of men and women, reducing the power and the options women have. But it is hard being human, and sometimes we intend something generously and it is seen as other than that.


  3. Trump is a boorish individual with little to no decorum. In spite of everything he still draws that portion of America that thrives on xenophobic and sexist ideas. These are not the most educated elements of society he’s after but instead the easily duped. I keep thinking that the next scandal will derail him but it doesn’t because his base is much like him and hate Clinton that much more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting, and you are welcome here, but that comment is very close to spam. Anyone would think you were making links for SEO purposes and trying to drum up trade. Make a substantive comment on one of my other posts, showing you have read it, within 24 hours, or this will be deleted.


      • If you are not comfortable with the post you can absolutely delete it, but clearly the post I linked to makes to parallels with much of your blog. Benevolent sexism is similar to conscious sexism in that it is an attempt to respect women but what it ends up doing is reinforcing sexism and affirming male supremacy. When Christian conservatives, as you mention, teach boys to respect women, or when you make references to this notion of “protecting women” it also relates to “Afrocentric cultures” that make statements like “protecting our black queens” as to suggest that women need protecting in ways that men don’t. It relates to this Christian “Proverbs 31” culture that tells men that they should “respect” women, but only if they behave in a way that’s moral. Your analysis on how sexism is so embedded in our culture including through men who claim to respect women is brilliant, and it relates to much of what I’ve written on how rampant and widespread sexism is, either through being “nice or benevolent” and/or “claiming to respect women.” I may have posted a comment in the wrong way, but I read your blog which is why I commented.


        • You are forgiven. Onywye. Welcome.

          Precisely. We should respect people. We should allow the person to be who they are rather than conform to stereotypes. Thank you for the word “brilliant”, but I got the analysis somewhere else- I was writing it as I find that an aid to understanding. I applied it to the politicians’ words.


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