Glick explained that the overarching theory here is that benevolent sexism evolved culturally as a way to maintain the gender hierarchy while also allowing men to enjoy close companionship with women, consensual sex, and so on. In other words: If you adopt the stance that part of your role is to protect your wife or girlfriend and to be made better by her goodness, then you get those aforementioned perks, without losing your place in the gender hierarchy. “You’re the knight in shining armor, you’re Prince Charming — rather than, ‘You’re the oppressor,’” said Glick.
Women, meanwhile, often benefit from benevolent sexism in the crude, unfortunate sense that it’s simply better than the alternative. Laurie Rudman, a social psychologist at Rutgers who studies sexism, made this point in an email. “We live in a patriarchy,” she wrote. “The best women can hope for is benevolent sexism (being cherished and adored by men who love you). It’s a small pedestal that you can fall off easily, but it’s better than being harassed, raped, and demonized.”
To Glick and other researchers, one of the reasons close contact might not reduce misogyny at the family level, for example, is that within households, “oftentimes unequal status is reinforced through gender roles and daily interaction,” as he put it. If you’re a son interacting with your mom or a husband interacting with your wife, sure, there’s plenty of empathy and compassion and tenderness, but it’s all through a prism in which you view her as somehow beneath you.
(There is so much in this piece. Expect more excerpts today.)