Men are willing to help a damsel in distress, but are less likely to do so if the woman would be empowered by their intervention.
The phenomenon, termed ‘chivalrous sexism’, was tested in a new study, which found that two out of three men (62 per cent) would be willing to help a woman whose house burned down, but only 45 per cent would donate money if her business burned down.
On the other hand, when the researchers examined the willingness of men to donate to other men, the trend was the opposite: most men preferred to donate to men whose business was burned, which maintains male dominance.
The researchers, from Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion Universities, explain that helping a ‘damsel in distress’ is part of a man’s gender role, which is why a man will open the door for a woman or pull over to help her change a flat tire. But if the help will empower women, they are less willing to do so.
In an online experiment in the USA, 560 men and women were asked to choose who should receive a $10 donation – a man whose house burned down, a woman whose house burned down, a man whose business burned down, or a woman whose business burned down.
Men donated an average of $4 to a woman whose house burned down, compared to only $2.48 to a woman whose business had burned down.
“We presented the participants with two identical requests for help from two individuals in need, a man and a woman, whose home or business caught fire,” said Prof Danit Ein-Gar from the Coller School of Management at Tel Aviv University.
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“We found that the biggest differences, both in the actual willingness to donate and the donation amount, were when male subjects had to choose between helping a woman’s home and helping a woman’s business.
“It should be noted that we did not present the fund request as a financial investment but rather as a donation.A fire raged in the area and consumed houses and shops, and now those in need are asking for help to rebuild their lives.
“When men were asked to donate, some of them found it easier to donate to a woman in her domestic, needy, and weak place than to a woman raising funds to rebuild her business.
“The new research reveals the boundaries of male ’chivalry’ – and these boundaries are set by men’s hegemony in the business world. That is, gentlemanliness reaches up to the point where it does not threaten their dominant status.
“A similar effect was not found when men were asked to donate to another man whose business burned down, compared to a man whose house burned down. This means that men do not donate less to businesses due to some business threat, but only donate less to women’s businesses.”
The research was published in the prestigious journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations.