Sexism has been cropping up in discussion a lot recently (what with the UK Slut Walk and the re-opening of the Playboy Club) – it's always a hotly debated topic, and one I am always interested in. A recent study though, I must admit, had my eyes rolling.
Entitled (deep breath) Seeing the Unseen: Attention to Daily Encounters with Sexism as a Way to Reduce Sexist Beliefs, the paper – published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly journal – essentially had a pop at men for reinforcing sexist beliefs without even realising they are doing it.
The authors, Julia Becker and Janet Swim, questioned 1,000 women in the USA and Germany and, in their conclusion, cited not only the respondents' experiences of overt sexism (such as being leered and whistled at) but also men's supposedly pseudo-friendly behaviour; sexism, they argue, continues to permeate every day life because men hold doors open for women.
Men (the swines) also compliment women on their cooking. They offer to drive on long journeys, to help with buying electrical equipment and they stop at the roadside to assist lone women in broken down cars. These are all examples of "benevolent sexism". So presumably – as someone who passionately believes women should receive equal pay and opportunities, not be discriminated against, abused or mistreated – I should be offended by these things.
I'm not though. I like it when people hold doors open for me – even when those people are male. The grey area that Becker and Swim have stumbled in to, with this partly pointless study, is the fog of kindness and courtesy. When a kind act is committed by a woman for a woman, or by a woman for a man, it is just a kind act. But when a kind act is committed by a man for a woman, it has an apparently dirty name: chivalry.
Of the men I know who are likely to hold open a door for a female companion (and there aren't all that many actually), they are equally as likely to hold it open for a male companion. I believe this was also the case back in the day, when every middle class chap was brought up to observe a certain amount of etiquette.
What's more, many of the 'crimes' men are accused of (for example, calling adult females 'girls' rather than women, or saying 'darling' or 'love' to women they are not romantically involved with), are also committed by us girls (oops). I'm always – apparently – belittling the boys (oops). I used to call my boss 'darling' – but, as far as I could tell, he didn't feel threatened or degraded by it. He always called me 'mate' as it goes. It never occurred to me to feel like a builder.
While I can sort of see what Becker and Swim are trying to say, I'm left baffled as to what the answer to their 'problem' is. The major issue, as they see it, is the intrinsic belief that women should be cherished and protected by men.
Well – here's another toughie for them – every woman I know in a relationship with a man wants to be cherished and protected by him. There. I said it. And I am talking about confident, intelligent career women – women who also put shelves up and tile bathrooms. Many people who are on an even footing, in terms of work and sharing household chores and childcare, still seek to celebrate their gender differences. That'll always be the way in my opinion, even if we women in the west do leap those final hurdles to what is right – ultimate equality.
That aside, people in general are just less polite than they used to be. There is less civility, less courtesy – and if I'm honest I hate the thought of feminists beating men over the head with what's left of it. Feminism has bigger fish to fry.
A commenter 'dandare' posted on the Telegraph website the other day: "I wish the fairer sex would make their minds up. Do you want me to hold the door open for you or not? Ladies, make it easy for me, one word YES or NO answers will do." Were you being trite, dandare, referring to the 'fairer sex' and 'ladies'? Whatever – we ladies generally are prettier than you men. Anyway, YES. Yes is my answer! Please hold the door open for me (particularly if I have a double buggy and four bags of shopping) and I won't scowl at you. And if I see you (perhaps also with a double buggy and four bags of shopping) I will hold the door open for you too. And won't we be that much happier for it?