Clumsy attempts

There are people who think there’s such a thing as “benevolent sexism.” What’s that? Like, holding doors open? Not necessarily. One definition I’ve seen is

Benevolent sexism is when, for example, you think a woman can’t “take” a clumsy attempt at flirtation.

Ahhhhhhh is that what it is. It’s a new word for the kind of feminism that thinks women should be able to work without constantly being interrupted by “clumsy” attempts at flirtation.

Ok look. No. It’s not that we think a woman can’t “take” a clumsy attempt at flirtation. Don’t insult me with that shit. It’s that we don’t think women should have to “take” clumsy (or graceful) attempts at flirtation when they’re trying to do something else. Ok? It’s not about incapacity. It’s about wanting to be able to be free to concentrate on something else.

This idea is very similar to the bullshit about thinking we’re too fragile to put up with the occasional joke. No, that’s not it. It’s that we shouldn’t have to. Why is that such a difficult concept?

Now it’s true that there are some women who are (or claim to be) perfectly happy to be subject to clumsy attempts at flirtation (and plain old propositions and gropings) at all times in all situations. I think some of them claim this just to disagree with feminists, and think somewhat differently when dealing with actual clumsy attempts – but never mind that; take them all at their word; I still don’t think their wants should trump the wants of women who don’t want that.

There are much more reasonable definitions and explanations of “benevolent sexism” though, like this one in Scientific American last April. It’s not about “versions of feminism I don’t like”; it’s about patronizing views of women.

Something can’t actually be sexist if it’s really, really nice, right?

I mean, if someone compliments me on my looks or my cooking, that’s  not sexist. That’s awesome! I should be thrilled that I’m being noticed  for something positive!

Yet there are many comments that, while  seemingly  complimentary, somehow still feel wrong. These comments may focus on an  author’s appearance rather than the content of her writing, or mention how surprising it is that she’s a woman, being that her field is mostly filled with men. Even  though these remarks can  sometimes feel good to hear – and no one is  denying that this type of  comment can feel good, especially in  the right context – they  can also cause a feeling of unease,  particularly when one is in the  position of trying to draw attention  towards her work rather than  personal qualities like her gender  or appearance.

In  social psychology, these seemingly-positive-yet-still-somewhat-unsettling comments and behaviors have a name: Benevolent Sexism.  Although it is tempting to  brush this experience off as an overreaction  to compliments or a  misunderstanding of benign  intent, benevolent sexism  is both real and  insidiously dangerous.

Completely different kind of thing.