There really is such a thing as “chivalrous sexism” by men towards women in need. A new study by Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University found that about 2 out of 3 men (62%) would be willing to help a woman in distress whose house burned down – but fewer men (45%) would donate money to a woman whose business burned down. In other words, when a woman is in physical jeopardy or in need of a helping hand men will come forward, but not are not so quick to offer aid to a businesswoman or a woman of power.
The hero man coming to the aid of the “damsel in distress” has been a theme in literature and legends since the beginning of time. Superman, Robyn Hood, Hercules and so many more legendary figures always came to the rescue when a woman was in need. And to this day the movies still portray the male superhero saving the girl. And the same thing tends to happen in romantic comedies: the man tends to meet the girl when she is in need. The woman is always depicted as waiting to be swept off her feet by a knight in shining armor.
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On the other hand, when the researchers examined the willingness of men to donate to other men, the trend that emerged was the opposite – according to which most men preferred to donate to men whose business was burned thus maintaining the male hegemony.
Some people might see this as a basic example of sexism. Men are more likely to help another man whose business is in trouble – or invest in a man’s business in general – but not a woman’s business because men think women do not make good business people.
But the researchers explain the differences by the fact that men tend to help women out of “chivalrous sexism.” Helping a “damsel in distress” is part of a men’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 this help depends on the context: men help women as long as it does not challenge the male hegemony, in other words, if help will empower women, then men will be less willing to help them.
The new study was conducted by Prof. Danit Ein-Gar from the Coller School of Management at Tel-Aviv University in collaboration with Dr. Orli Barkat, a post-doctoral student at Princeton University, and Prof. Tahila Kogot from Ben-Gurion University. The results of the study were published in the prestigious journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations.
According to Prof. Ein-Gar, 566 men and women from the USA participated in an online experiment. A cash prize of 10 dollars was drawn among the participants in the experiment, and the participants were asked to answer whether they would like to donate this amount to a man whose house burned down, to a woman whose house burned down, to a man whose business burned down, or to a woman whose business burned down.
Beyond the disparity in willingness to help women whose business burned down, compared to those whose house burned down, the findings also show that men donated an average amount of $4 (almost half of the winning amount) to a woman whose house burned down, compared to only $2.48 to a woman whose business house burned down. The findings were replicated in another experiment conducted among management students at Tel Aviv University.
Prof. Ein-Gar said, “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. 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”.