Since accidentally becoming a fairly prominent feminist, I’ve repeatedly experienced this phenomenon of male feminists who turn out to be, well, not feminists. Sometimes they’re revealed to be “sex pests,” sexual harassers, abusers, or even rapists. I imagine I must have been surprised the first time it happened, but it’s happened so often I really can’t even remember that reaction. Because now it’s just like “oh, that guy? He seemed like an ally but was actually a pile of garbage? Yeah, okay, that checks out.”
The most recent prominent example is Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York. I know it’s frowned upon to say things like “I never liked that guy anyway” because it belies the fact that a lot of terrible people are talented in certain ways that allows them to hide their awfulness, a la Bill Cosby, but…god I never liked that guy. He mishandled COVID cases in nursing homes and tried to hide the data while people like Jimmy Fallon tried to make “Cuomo-sexual” a thing and it was all just extremely gross.
But apparently people thought of him as a feminist ally because in 2019 he signed legislation designed to improve protections for women facing workplace sexual harassment. The law “mandated anti-harassment training, extended the statute of limitations and declared that accusers do not have to prove they were treated differently than other workers. It also lowered New York’s standard for sexual harassment to include unwanted conduct that rises above the level of “petty slights and trivial inconveniences.””
Literally the next day after the signing ceremony for that bill, he sexually harassed a female member of his security detail. And that was just one minor incident: the New York State Attorney General compiled 74,000 emails, texts, and other pieces of evidence and interviewed 179 different witnesses to show a repeated pattern of behavior, like Cuomo asking his assistant if she had ever had sex with an older man or if she had any body piercings, or randomly asking strange women if he could kiss them which I can only imagine is a severe and perhaps purposeful misunderstanding of consent and why it’s important.
So what’s going on here? Why do so many men seem interested in helping women but in actuality they are sexist assholes? Well, a study that was just published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin may be able to shed some light on the issue. In Curvilinear Sexism and Its Links to Men’s Perceived Mate Value, a team of psychologists at University of South Florida examined the link between hostile sexism and benevolent sexism. Most people are familiar with the hostile type — just click a random thread on Reddit and you’ll find some good examples. Like, oh, this guy openly states that he thinks all women only think about stupid flightly shit, yep, that’s sexism!
But “benevolent” sexism also exists — that’s the kind of sexism where someone thinks women are, for instance, delicate creatures that must be protected by men, or women are too pure to get their hands dirty, or women possess magical “intuition” beyond the purview of men. In fact I made a video about benevolent sexism just last year in reply to an article that argued that female world leaders were somehow better than male leaders at dealing with the pandemic.
What differentiates a man who displays “benevolent” sexism from one who displays “hostile sexism?” To find out, these researchers gave hundreds of men a survey meant to judge how sexist they are on those two measures. You can take it as well — I did, and was shocked to discover that I am zero sexist, benevolent or hostile. But it includes statements like “No matter how accomplished he is, a man is not truly complete as a person unless he has the love of a woman” and “Women should be cherished and protected by men” to gauge benevolent sexism and statements like “When women lose to men in a fair competition, they typically complain about being discriminated against” to gauge hostile sexism.
They also asked the men to report their perceived value as a mate, and their relationship history. What they found was that the main difference between men who were benevolently sexist and men who were hostile is that the benevolent sexists fuck. Or, at least, they think they have a good chance of fucking. The men who had lower self esteem, who thought they were too ugly or “low value” for any women to show interest in dropped the benevolent sexism and went straight to hostility. In other words, researchers have discovered incels.
It’s interesting to look at this study in light of Cuomo’s current status. Back in 2019 and 2020, Andrew Cuomo thought he was the shit. Flirting with complete strangers, allegedly groping his executive assistant’s breasts, trying to convince other employees to play strip poker with him — and at the same time, he took center stage to accept full credit for rescuing women from sexual harassers. Like, he didn’t even invite Alessandra Biaggi, the female senator who co-signed the anti-harassment bill, to the signing ceremony. He was a benevolent sexist.
The Cuomo of August of 2021, though, no longer fucks. And as this study predicted, he dropped the benevolence and went for full-on hostile sexism as he tried to discredit the eleven women who have accused him of predatory behavior: like, he kisses and hugs people all the time, but these women *overreacted*. The assistant who said she felt uncomfortable with his increasingly personal questions about her sex life just didn’t understand the situation because she was previously a victim of a sexual assault and you can’t really believe what sexual assault survivors say. They don’t really understand reality.
So there it is: remove a benevolent sexist’s perceived mate value and discover the hostile sexist hiding just under the surface. And as of today, the hostile sexist gave up and removed himself from office, so well done everyone! Let’s see if he’s identified his problem and is working to better himself:
Andrew Cuomo: “I told a woman in PPE she made that gown look good. Obviously I was joking or I wouldn’t have said it on national TV!”
Ah well. Can’t have it all.