Iowa State University Researcher Examines Women’s Reactions to “Benevolent Sexism”

A new study led by Pelin Gul, a social psychologist and postdoctoral researcher at Iowa State University, examines the practice of “benevolent sexism.” The authors note that some women like it when men open doors for them or pick up the dinner check on a date. But other women find such practices insulting and sexist.

Dr. Gul and co-author Tom Kupfer of the University of Kent in England, conducted a series of studies that measured how women responded to benevolent behaviors in personal and professional relationships. They found that women prefer men to be benevolent, but contradicting previous assumptions, they found women did recognize the potential harm.

“We found women were aware benevolent sexist men may be patronizing and undermining,” Dr. Gul stated. “However, they still found these men more attractive, because these behaviors signal a willingness to protect, provide and commit.”

Researchers also surveyed the women to give them a rating on their commitment to feminism. High feminists rated the benevolent sexist men as more patronizing and undermining than low feminists did, but the positive sides of benevolent sexism outweighed the negatives, even for high feminist women, according to the study.

The full study, “Benevolent Sexism and Mate Preferences: Why Do Women Prefer Benevolent Men Despite Recognizing That They Can Be Undermining?” was published on the website of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. It may be accessed here.

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