Is chivalry dead? Men help women to maintain sexism - Israeli study

Men will donate to women in need, provided that it is not a violation of male dominance, according to a new Israeli study.

 A man is seen holding an umbrella open for a woman (illustrative). (photo credit: PEXELS)
A man is seen holding an umbrella open for a woman (illustrative).
(photo credit: PEXELS)

A new study by researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba reveals a phenomenon of “chivalrous sexism” towards women in need. According to the study, about two out of three men would be willing to help a woman in distress whose house burned down – but only 45% would donate money to a woman whose business burned down. On the other hand, when the researchers examined the willingness of men to donate to other men, the trend that emerged was the opposite; most men preferred to donate to men whose business was burned thus maintaining the male hegemony. 

Women tend to engage in more communal forms of helping behavior such as providing emotional support, while men tend to engage in performing heroic acts in emergencies. 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 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 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 TAU’s Coller School of Management in collaboration with Dr. Orli Barkat, a post-doctoral student at Princeton University, and Prof. Tahila Kogot from BGU. The results of the study were published in the prestigious journal Group Processes and Intergroup Relations under the title “I will help you survive but not thrive: Helping decisions in situations that empower women.”

Men won't help women if it will empower them

According to Ein-Gar, 566 American men and women participated in an online experiment. A cash prize of $10 was drawn among the participants in the experiment who 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 TAU.

 Prof. Danit Ein-Gar (credit: NIV KANTOR) Prof. Danit Ein-Gar (credit: NIV KANTOR)

“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 Ein-Gar. “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.”

Prof. Danit Ein-Gar

“The new research reveals the boundaries of male ‘chivalry’ – and these boundaries are set by men’s hegemony in the business world,” she concluded. “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.”