More articles by

Judy Balan
Judy Balan


Benevolent Sexism & the rom-com of your life

  • Picture used for representational purposes only
  • Don’t we have enough behavioural cues to be legitimately afraid of, to waste precious grant money on studies about leftover social etiquette from another time?

I’m at that age where I’m suspicious of everything. Especially if it’s something a recent study has confirmed. And if it involves a fancy new ism, I usually send it directly to my mental trash folder. After reading the article with snarky commentary in my head, of course. So when my newsfeed recently exploded with articles on ‘a recent study’s findings’ on Benevolent Sexism, I was naturally curious in a let-us-see-how-much-more-ridiculous-this-can-get kind of way. And can you blame me?

This study asserted that when a man opens doors, insists on paying for dinner or offers his jacket for me when I’m cold, he’s basically just seeing me as a ‘pure and warm yet incompetent, helpless being’ that needs his protection.


A couple of months ago, I went out for dinner with a guy (I don’t want to say ‘date’ ‘cause it’s such an 80s term and can we please stop using it?) who committed all three of those crimes on the same night and I found him charming at the time. In a textbook sort of way, of course, but it was pleasantly surprising nonetheless. Maybe because men aren’t usually inspired to do things like that for me, I don’t know. But never at any point, did he give me the feeling that he thought I couldn’t open the door myself, or that, you know, without his jacket, I was going to turn into Olaf in the cold. But I was so glad I hadn’t read the article before that night ‘cause sometimes, I can be like that rom-com heroine who’d let a silly theory about three ‘wrong’ moves ruin a perfectly nice evening. Not that this blossomed into true love or anything but that’s my point—if a guy is going to run away from me, let it be because I scared him away with the crazies and not because of someone else’s stupid theory.

Also, don’t we have enough behavioural cues to be legitimately afraid of, to waste precious grant money on studies about leftover social etiquette from another time? Consider my elevator incident from this morning: A nice man who bore a faint resemblance to John Cusack (in the 90s, when he had great hair) held the elevator door open for me. I almost flashed him a megawatt smile in acknowledgement, when I suddenly realised I wasn’t supposed to. Except, I couldn’t recall why. All I recalled was that this seemingly polite gesture actually had some gross subliminal connotations. A normal woman would have dismissed the thought, thanked the nice man, made Random Elevator Conversation and who knows, it might have turned out like John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale in Serendipity. Oh, wait. They didn’t meet in an elevator. But you know what I mean.

So I continued jogging my memory for the article, all the while making vague, half-smiley eye contact with the guy, when it struck me—crap, was this that article on how to identify a potential serial killer? Or was it rapist? Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh. Yes, it had to be one of those. Even his central forehead was contracted while his mouth was skewed in a half-smile, which, according to another study, was a combination that frequently occurred and was highly consistent with psychopathic pathology.

Gasp. Six floors is a long time to be stuck in an elevator with a serial killer. They can smell fear, I told myself, and tried to breathe, stay calm and remember the Jiu-Jitsu moves I had learnt in the two-and-a-half self-defence classes I had taken a long time ago.


The elevator door opened and that was the last I saw of John Cusack. In fact, he seemed to be in more of a hurry to get away from me (story of my life). I sighed as I watched him walk away from the rom-com that was my life. But see, this is my point—we already have a long exhaustive list of annoying research findings that get in the way of life, finding love and peaceful elevator rides. Do we really need to add Innocuous Polite Gestures to the list?

Allow me to illustrate that point with rom-com’s favourite heroine. When Bridget Jones wrote her diary in 1996, this is what it sounded like: ‘Will find sensible boyfriend to go out with and not continue to form emotional attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, megalomaniacs, commitment phobics, peeping toms, emotional fuckwits or perverts.

If she were to write it today, I believe she’d have a few more additions to her list: Men who open doors, offer coats, insist on paying for dinner, men who are friendly, warm, patient and smile a lot.

Oh, and I suspect the book would end differently, too. More like Bridget’s perennial fear—she’d die alone and be found three days later, half-eaten by Alsatians.

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