Bullish: Benevolent Sexism and “That Guy” Who Makes Everything Awkward

Benevolent Sexism

Let’s talk about benevolent sexism. From Science Daily:

The truth about sexism seems stranger than fiction,” wrote authors Peter Glick and Susan T. Fiske, about their investigations into the nature of sexism. Sexist attitudes are not exclusively hostile, but include an “odd…conjunction of what at first seemed inherently incompatible: subjective affection as a form of prejudice,” which they labeled “benevolent sexism.”

Glick and Fiske have shown the negative consequences of attitudes that idealize women as pure, moral, pedestal-worthy objects of men’s adoration, protection, and provision. People who endorse benevolent sexism feel positively toward women, but only when women conform to highly traditional ideals about “how women should be.”

That sounds bad, right? Here’s why it’s bad!

Cross-national comparisons show that hostile and benevolent sexism go hand-in-hand (that is, nations that endorse hostile sexism also endorse benevolent sexism). The beliefs work together because benevolent sexism “rewards” women when they fulfill traditional roles whereas hostile sexism punishes women who do not toe the line, thereby working together to maintain traditional relations. In other words, act sweet and they’ll pat you on the head; assert yourself and they’ll put you in your place.

So, I sometimes read evanglical blogs for the lulz. This salacious habit of mine was sparked in the early days of the Internet and also inspired Bullish Life: Towards a Monstrous Regiment of Women.

So allow me to introduce Mr. Brendan Malone, who writes on Mercatornet: “I am proud to say that I practice ‘benevolent sexism.’” There’s more, plenty more:

I don’t open doors, or practice other acts of chivalry towards women because I look at them and think: ‘geez, she looks like a frail weakling incapable of scaling the great heights of masculine awesomeness which gives us the muscular strength that females lack for door opening prowess. I better open this door for her before her poor tiny confused female brain makes her cry because it can’t figure out the engineering dynamics of door opening.’

No, instead when I look at women I see the feminine genius. A genius so profoundly complex, important and valuable that I adore it. I adore the feminine genius because I am a real man who has not had his masculine awareness dulled by erroneous ideologies about gender, or seriously messed up by pornography-fueled predatory attitudes towards women

As a real man I know that for my masculinity to scale the heights of greatness, I depend totally on the feminine genius to become the best that a man can ever be — in much the same way that I depend on oxygen to keep on living.

Without the complimentary and amazing feminine genius I can never be a real man. Instead I am doomed to be nothing more than the masculine equivalent of a rōnin — the Japanese name for a samurai without a master to lead him, a term which literally means “wave man” because he is adrift without direction and purpose

I open doors for women because I know they deserve my profound adoration and selfless love. My tiny act of sacrifice is my way of saying ‘I am in awe of your feminine genius and all that I owe to it as a man’.

Dude, that is creepy as hell. And just plain awkward. And condescending. Also, that was a super-bizarre usage of Japanese culture to support your point! Also, women don’t exist to give you direction and purpose. That is not healthy. You need to have that for yourself.

I don’t care much who opens doors in cafes and shopping malls, but people who think of women as magical creatures are SUPER AWKWARD to work with. That, I care about very much. If your graphic designer is female, respect her for her graphic design (if it’s good), not for her “feminine genius.” Nobody made your logo with her uterus.

In fact, women have actually worked pretty hard to be respected for their jobs — see Bullish: When Is It Appropriate To Ask People About Their Jobs? (Ladies Say: INSTANTLY).

Brendan Malone sounds a lot like “that guy” who turns to his female coworkers and asks for a “female point of view” instead of, you know, the points of view we bring to bear as part of our jobs and areas of expertise (that is, an accountant’s point of view, or a manager’s point of view, etc).

I once worked for “that guy.” I was the webmaster of a university department. My boss was a patriarchal Christian. Literally. He believed in patriarchy.

Some of my coworkers had been to his wedding, which involved a lengthy sermon about patriarchy and his wife promising to “obey”, which my male coworkers described as “creepy.” My boss would sometimes bring his wife to the office. She thought her husband was basically a god, which might have had something to do with my having to work for a boss who thought he was a god.

Once, I made a web form that had a pulldown menu with two options: Female and Male. I had put them in alphabetical order, F before M. My boss went behind my back and had someone else change it, since “Male” is obviously the default.

My boss thought he was a pretty nice guy. One example of his being nice was politely asking me for my “feminine point of view” about a matter of web design. I was the lead web designer. I could’ve been a surgeon saving his life, but I still would have been female before anything else. And presumably my “feminine point of view” would have been interchangeable with any other woman’s.

An author friend and I recently kvetched about men who read female novelists and then want a gold star for it. This also implies that women have something more fundamental in common with each other than men do. This denies women the opportunity to be individuals, or really to even excel. Women are not interchangeable. (Imagine: “I’ve been reading a lot of male novelists lately, like David Foster Wallace and John Grisham. They have such a masculine energy!”)

I’m trying to imagine how uncomfortable my male dentist (for instance) would be if I watched him adjust the dental chair and then made a strange comment about how I “love men, all of them” for their “masculine genius.” That chair’s so heavy, I love to watch you adjust it. You really inspire me in my femininity! How dull the world would be without your manly gusto making it go ‘round.

Either my dentist thinks I’m starting something (because it got weird, real weird all the sudden), or else he’s just been made really uncomfortable. Maybe he doesn’t find me attractive at all, or considers me a threat to his happy marriage, or he was sexually assaulted by a woman in the past, or he’s worried that I’m mentally unbalanced or that he’s about to get sued. Maybe he has that kind of queasy-ambivalent feeling you get when you think you’ve just gotten a compliment, but you know it’s rotten with condescension. Or maybe he really just wants to do his job normally without thinking about his masculinity.

Or think about how insane it would sound if Brendan Malone had instead written an article about how he admires all Hispanic people for their “Hispanic genius.” That’s crazy. Let people be individuals and stop making life awkward for everyone.

Women aren’t all part of some mystical collective, like some kind of perfume-wearing Borg.

First published on Medium.