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Not all sexists are jerks — they aren't all men either​

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Benevolent sexism, anti-feminist women are more dangerous to equality than you think

We all know what a sexist looks like, right? That mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging aggressor with mommy issues… or is it? The reality is, benevolent sexists and anti-feminist women may be the lurking reason women remain a marginalized "minority" in the U.S.

Benevolent sexism

Benevolent sexists are those wolves in sheep's clothing we were all warned about as kids. These are the nice guys who may very well have good intentions, but they still perpetuate inequality by putting women on pedestals and treating them as the weaker sex who somehow need the assistance of big, strong men.

This doesn't mean all nice guys are just sexists, but a study published in the journal Sex Roles indicates that some of those "nice guys" may be holding us back. This paternalistic view of women often goes by the less offensive name of "chivalry." According to lead author Jin Goh, benevolent sexists (also called "ambivalent sexists") are much more dangerous to equality than their hostile counterparts.

They're likely to be more likable at first because they have a bigger tendency than men who believe in equality to smile broadly (even at inappropriate times) during interactions with women, regardless of how the women are behaving. Essentially, a man who's not a sexist at all is more likely to quickly display signs of annoyance if a woman is being rude or displaying other negative behaviors because he doesn't believe women have to be protected (from his annoyance) or put on pedestals (women's prerogative).

I'll never forget being the victim of this type of sexism in college, and actually, I felt crummy about it even though I'd never heard the term "benevolent sexist." I'd been on a tour with other students, and reaching the door first, I did as I was always taught. I pulled it open and stepped back to let everyone else through first. Both of the men behind me immediately jumped in and grabbed the door, kind of forcing me through it first. I know it sounds strange, but I felt like I'd done something wrong (to offend their manhood maybe?). You'll be glad to know that I didn't stop, and most men just politely say, "Thank you." I've even gotten a guy nod or two.

Now, just because someone opens the door for you doesn't mean he is sexist. Some guys are just polite that way (and many of the guys who open the door for you would do the same for another man in the same circumstance).

The problem with benevolents is that they don't realize they're just reinforcing gender inequality (which does make them the easiest to "turn" once they're made aware). Additionally, they can do exactly what happened to me — make a woman feel weak, shameful and confused about doing a nice thing.

Worse? They teach women (sometimes their own daughters) that a lack of self-sufficiency and an expectation of special treatment are par for the course, reinforcing in our own minds the concepts that women are weak, that our bodies are for public consumption and control (because what else can we contribute to society but looks and babies?), that our role is subservient and that those of us who want more are flawed and selfish.

It seems like they're really nice guys who want us to be happy. The reality is, our gentleness is simply required as a symptom of their lack of security in their own masculinity. They're just nicer about it than hostiles because you catch more flies with honey. I, for one, will not accept their invitation into their parlor — I prefer my boyfriend's more feminist view of assuming I can do something unless I tell him I don't know how and calling me on my bullshit (even if I hate it at the time, I know he respects me as a human being).

Anti-feminist women

There seems to be a growing movement of "I'm not a feminist" gals, who clearly don't realize that feminism is literally seeing that both genders are equal — apparently too busy buying into the "male rights activists" propaganda that all feminists just hate men.

Hey, we've all done it. When you're surrounded by no one but men, it's hard not to let a crass joke about women's bodies or nagging slide. Hey, we might even say we agree with them. But that does nothing but reinforce our subservience — that to be equal to them, we must participate in their negative gender stereotypes… that we must agree.

And make no mistake, ladies, they may say they think you're "cool" but that doesn't mean they think you're equal because you can still give birth, and they're still judging you based on the same things (they're just too polite to say they think your hips are a bit wide or your boobs are small… you know, because you're cool — doesn't mean they aren't saying it to each other behind your back).

Do you also believe a woman's most important job is that of wife and mother? And that you should quit working when you get knocked up so your husband (whose job may pay less) can bring home the bacon? Why isn't spouse and parent also a man's most important job? Talk about gender bias!

I'd guess there are a fair number of men out there who'd be a bit offended if someone thinks they exist solely to work and provide rather than to be loyal partners to their wives and care for their children. They're people, not mules. They're perfectly capable of being amazing co- or stay-at-home parents, too, in case you were wondering — they're perfectly capable of being nurturing, responsible human beings (they can even clean and cook!).

Saying you're not a feminist, that you're not in favor of equal rights, regardless of gender (which, make no mistake, many of them know damn well is what feminism means), just reinforces negative and false stereotypes that feminists hate men. It makes you look weak because you can't stand up for yourself, and they've converted you into a drone. Being a feminist doesn't mean you have to be pro-choice. It doesn't mean you have to be anti-stay-at-home-mom. It doesn't mean you have to be anything other than exactly what you want to be, be it a teacher, a high-level CEO or a mechanic.

Beware the non-hostile anti-feminists

At least everyone can agree the hostiles are just A-holes. Benevolent sexists and anti-feminist women are the snakes in the grass when it comes to true gender equality for both women and men.

More on feminism

The Mamafesto: What happens when a bunch of feminists talk about family?
Feminist kids book The Princess Who Saved Herself is perfect for little girls
The best way to watch Fifty Shades of Grey is with feminists

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