A new Israeli study finds that men who hold more patriarchal views tend to categorize women as either chaste, nurturing, and good, or promiscuous, manipulative and seductive.
According to the researchers, this polarizing “Madonna-Whore dichotomy” is often rooted in the male desire to reinforce dominance, and not only relates to attitudes that restrict a woman’s autonomy, but can also damage intimate relationships between men and women.
“These men may have difficulties feeling attracted to the women they love, or loving the women to whom they are sexually attracted, leading to chronic dissatisfaction in their romantic relationships,” said Orly Bareket of Tel Aviv University in Israel.
The study, published in Springer’s journal Sex Roles, supports a contention dating back to the time of Freud, which indicates that some men find sexual pleasure and love for a woman to be incompatible. The findings are also consistent with other studies that show holding on to patriarchy-reinforcing beliefs comes at a price for men, as they constantly feel threatened and anxious because of their need to defend their manhood.
The study involved 108 heterosexual Israeli men who completed an online questionnaire. Of all the participants, 77 percent were younger than 30 years old, and 55 percent were single. The men answered questions about how they perceived a woman’s sexuality, whether being nurturing and sexual are mutually exclusive, and whether chaste women have more positive traits than others.
The questionnaire also gauged the men’s general support for hierarchical social structures, particularly for male dominance. The men were questioned about whether they thought women wanted to dominate, whether they ascribed to current gender roles and relationships, and whether they sexually objectified women or felt protective and paternalistic towards them. The men also answered questions about the state of their relationships and sex lives.
The findings reveal that support for male dominance negatively influences the well-being of both men and women by reinforcing gender inequality, objectifying women, and restricting their sexuality.
In particular, men who support male dominance were more likely to view women as either sexually pure, chaste, and generally good, or as sexually promiscuous, manipulative, and generally bad.
These men were also more likely to sexually objectify women, express double standards that allow men more sexual freedom and initiative than women, and display benevolent sexism (for example, by trying to take care of women) towards women who embrace traditional feminine roles.
Baraket believes that clinicians and therapists should explore how the Madonna-Whore dichotomy plays a role in the mentality of their male and female patients. Psycho-educational interventions that help reduce sexism and social dominance and that promote empathy and respect towards others could be of value.