According to research recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, women who date men they perceive to be sexist, become increasingly sexist themselves over time. Basically, many women don't just stay in relationships with mild misogynists — they also start to lean in to the idea that maybe they're not so equal after all.
The study: In a series of four studies of more than 1,000 participants in North America and New Zealand, researchers from the University of Illinois and University of Auckland sought to prove that for some women, their own sexism was correlated with their partners' anti-women views. What's more, the researchers wanted to see if the boyfriends' sexism was the cause.
Led by University of Illinois social psychologist Matthew Hammond, the study tracked how people's beliefs changed over the course of a long-term relationship, asking participants in one study to measure their own level of sexism, their partners' level of sexism and what type of sexism their partners displayed: "hostile" sexism (perhaps better described as "straight-up misogyny") or so-called "benevolent" sexism, or sexism masquerading as chivalry.
"Benevolent sexism is central to the maintenance of gender inequality."
As the name implies, benevolent sexism can seem benign, but it isn't. It fundamentally relies on the belief women deserve to be protected because they need to be — that they are, in other words, inherently weaker than men.
As the authors note in the study, such attitudes present a significant roadblock to gender equality.
Even though benevolent sexism is "relatively more accepted than hostile sexism across countries," it is "central to the maintenance of gender inequality because its positive tone encourages women to adopt benevolent attitudes and accept and hold stake in men's societal power," Hammond and his team wrote.
Why women don't want feminism: The study determined that women's sexist views increased the longer they were in relationships with benevolently sexist men. While it was certainly possible that the female participants had sexist leanings to begin with and simply sought partners who reinforced their views, the researchers noted that the fact that the women's views changed over time indicated that they might have been under the influence of their partners.
That effect also held true for women whose partners weren't, well, fuckboys. Participants who dated men they didn't perceive as sexist didn't just avoid adopting anti-woman views themselves, but also became more egalitarian over time. By dating men who weren't sexist, some women were more likely to reject benevolent sexism outright, and maybe even endorse gender equality.
For those women who did accept their partners' sexist views, however, the researchers noted that it could have a negative impact on their overall self-esteem. Accepting benevolent sexism, the authors wrote, is "linked with felt incompetence, a lack of desire for independent success, harsher attitudes toward victims of acquaintance rape and decreased support for societal policies promoting women's workplace advancement" among women.
The study's real takeaway, though, isn't so bad: The conclusion seems to be that we should all date feminists, which, in addition to paving the way for eventual gender equality, could also mean better sex for all.