Chivalrous behavior is benevolent because it flatters women and leads to their preferential treatment. But it is sexist because it relies on the “gendered premise” that women are weak and in need of protection while men are strong. “Benevolent sexism,” Kathleen Connelly and Martin Heesacker of the University of Florida write in the study, “is an ideology that perpetuates gender inequality.” They advocate interventions to reduce its prevalence, even though, they found, chivalry is associated with greater life satisfaction and the sense that the world is fair, well-ordered, and a good place.

Charles Murray, the libertarian social scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, summed up the study with tongue-in-cheek, writing “the bad news is that gentlemanly behavior makes people happy.” He goes on to ask, “When social scientists discover something that increases life satisfaction for both sexes, shouldn’t they at least consider the possibility that they have come across something that is positive? Healthy? Something that might even conceivably be grounded in the nature of Homo sapiens?” …

Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes, she explains. Given that most men are physically stronger than most women, men can overpower women at any time to get what they want. Gentlemen developed symbolic practices to communicate to women that they would not inflict harm upon them and would even protect them against harm. The tacit assumption that men would risk their lives to protect women only underscores how valued women are—how elevated their status is—under the system of chivalry.