Benevolent sexism [aka chivalry] may not be physically violent, but it has a pretty similar outcome to hostile sexism… . . A group of psychologists … ran a study to find out does benevolent sexism influence how girls’ feel about their bodies?
The researchers used a simple test to measure the effects of benevolent sexism on how women felt about their bodies (this is called “self-objectification”, looking at your body as men or other women might and turning yourself into an object in your own eyes). The researchers tested two groups of college women. Now, here’s the clever part. In one group, the participants simply filled out surveys measuring self-objectification. In the second group, there was a female and a male research assistant (let’s call them “Susan” and “Tim”) pretending to be participants. The researcher in charge of the group was “in” on the trick. During the experiment, she received a fake phone call that she said was from a colleague who needed a box of research materials brought to another room. She asked “Susan” (whom everyone else thought was just another participant) to carry it, at which point “Tim” stood up and said, “I’ll get that for you,” and took the box. “Susan” sat back down. After this exchange, the real participants filled out the surveys measuring self-objectification.
So, what did that little act of “politeness” do? Well, when they compared the two groups’ survey scores, they found that in the group that watched Tim’s act of chivalry, women felt a stronger sense of shame about their body. They were more concerned about their bodies not fitting into society’s standards of how a woman should look. This group was also more preoccupied with monitoring their appearance (which researchers call “body surveillance”). Basically, the group that saw Tim’s act of “politeness” examined their bodies more to see how they compared to cultural standards of beauty and felt shame about not fitting into what society says women should look like.
But what do we make of these results? How could Tim’s simple act of carrying a box make women feel bad about their bodies? The authors propose that benevolent sexism, even though it may be meant to convey respect, actually reinforces traditional gender roles. Traditional femininity emphasizes the importance of a woman looking attractive (as opposed to intelligent, witty etc.) Without being aware of it, simply being reminded of traditional gender roles can make women more concerned about how they look (as opposed to their accomplishments or personality) which translates into “body surveillance” or women checking themselves out. When women compare their bodies to cultural standards of beauty, they can feel a sense of shame if they think they don’t “measure up.” It pretty much goes without saying that this is harmful to women and girls.
I kind of find this a bit disturbing—mostly because I would do exactly what Tim did, which would then imply that I’m exacerbating sexism. The thing is, if I were Susan, I’d do it for Tim, and if I were Tim, I’d do it for another Tim as well. When I get the door for people, or offer to retrieve some small item, or any other simple task like that, it doesn’t really fit into the mold of “chivalry” mostly because I don’t just do it for girls. Also, I’m not even attracted to women, so I guess what is really concerning is just how I now would have to weigh doing something nice for someone against possibly consciously pushing them into a gender role they shouldn’t have to be in if they choose not to. Fuck.
I wonder if it works the same way if women showed chivalry toward other women. Interesting experiment though!@2 years ago with 1050 notes