I sincerely hope that the fact that I address you by your gender doesn’t offend you. You are biologically a woman, after all — carrying around your beautiful breasts, a fragile yet fertile vagina and the female energy that can be felt by others. Is there any shame in admitting that? I don’t think so. I think that these are qualities to be proud of.
You want to be a strong and independent one — and I get it. Why would any man dictate how you live or look like? Why should the patriarchal system reduce you to a beautiful object that, as a bonus, cares for the children and the household? Of course, it shouldn’t. Times have changed and your biology doesn’t define you anymore — at least, not as a primary factor.
Your consciousness and intent are much more important than your biology. You want your very own choices to be the most reliable predictors of your future. You want to — and should —be treated as equal to men.
But here comes the most important question: does “equal” mean “the same”?
You have surely heard of “benevolent sexism” and maybe you even rage whenever you spot it. A man opening the door for you or offering to help you carry shopping bags. Or notoriously insisting to pay for dinner. Social psychologists tell us that these behaviours are hardly less harmful than hostile sexism. And the feminist narrative reconfirms: we, women, should be wary of such “overprotective” attitudes since they undermine our position in the world and reinforce inequality.
I get it — I don’t want an unequal world, either. I am as pro-women as I am pro-men. Pro-partnership. Pro-equal opportunity and pro-choice.
But I need to confess something. This “benevolently sexist” behaviour is something that really turns me on in men. There’s not much I can do about it. Nor do I feel the need to do anything, for that matter.
I experienced such a sense of attraction very vividly when I was on a sailing vacation recently. As a captain of the boat, it was my responsibility to manage all the manoeuvres, ensure the safety of the crew and care for the yacht and its appliances. Needless to say — no captain can do this on her own. For any cruise to be a success, she needs a competent and willing crew to help.
I was blessed with the company of close friends, who looked after me as much as looked after them. One male friend was particularly helpful when it came to traditionally “manly” tasks. Chopping the wood. Repairing the engine. Carrying heavy water containers. But also, he looked after me and other girls from the crew in the bar full of drunken people.
Classic benevolent sexism, isn’t it?
Embarrassingly enough, I found this incredibly attractive. The notion of him being so engaged, caring and the same time skilled in the matters I had trouble handling made me feel a particular fondness towards him. His practical skills and mere physical strength reassured me that we would have no trouble taking down the sails when they broke. Things like that, you know.
I liked the fact that I could count on him to help. At the same time, I could see that he and the other male in the crew relied on us, girls, with traditionally “womanly” tasks that needed to be done on the boat — like managing the food supply. Now, writing this to you, dear Woman, I feel like I should be ashamed of myself. It clearly seems that I conformed to the long-lived rules of patriarchy instead of standing up for our female rights.
The thing is — this distribution of roles on the boat worked perfectly well. We were all in harmony, working side by side to keep the boat going and helping one another — while also accepting that some of us were more skilled in certain tasks than in others.
Actually, researchers also have an explanation for why women are often attracted to the so-called “benevolent sexism.” Some studies have shown that women — even those who identify with feminist ideas — tend to be more attracted to men who display protective behaviours towards them. Scientists explain that from the evolutionary and sociocultural perspective, this makes sense because such benevolent attitude signals that the mate who presents it may be more willing to invest in and commit to the relationship. That’s a super important factor for prolonging the species.
Taking the current climate of the social debate, such a view may be extremely unpopular — but I am going to voice it nevertheless. What I experienced on the boat was a near-perfect balance of task division. It involved a lot of stereotypical roles played by men and women — but was not limited to them.
Simultaneously, my biology made it very clear to me what is important for me in a potential life partner. I find the notion of being able to rely on him very comforting. There are certain skills that I am not very good at and I would find it amazing if he complimented me by having those skills. Simultaneously, I have no problem with him relying on me with other stuff that I am naturally good at.
If these happen to coincide with the stereotypical roles of women and men — should I be ashamed of myself for “reinforcing patriarchy” or approving of “benevolent sexism”?
Please answer this question for yourself, dear Woman. I just hope we can all be true to ourselves — regardless of how our authenticity fits (or doesn’t) into the black-and-white narrative of feminism versus patriarchy.