According to a study, "benevolent sexism" — the idea that men need to protect and care for women — really isn't so benevolent. In fact, people tend to use such attitudes as an excuse for sexual violence.
The study, conducted at Spain's University of Granada, found that people who were told a man held benevolent (albeit sexist) attitudes toward his wife were more likely to excuse his sexual violence toward her. They were more likely to think that he was entitled to sex within the marriage, and that any rape was his wife's fault for failing to satisfy him. Explains study author Mercedes Durán Segura, beliefs about women's supposed helplessness and need for care "are not innocent, since men with benevolent sexist attitudes consider women as inferior to men, and that is the reason why they assume that women need their protection and care."
It makes a certain amount of sense that men with sexist ideas about what women need from them might also have disturbing beliefs about what their female partners "owe" them in return. It's a little more surprising that outsiders are likely to judge men less harshly for raping their wives if the rapists exhibit otherwise "benevolent" attitudes. On the other hand, we've all seen the argument that an accused domestic abuser is a "good guy" and the woman must have done something to provoke it — maybe a man's benevolent sexism makes it easier for onlookers to believe this story. And maybe outsiders too buy the argument that sex is the payment men deserve for taking care of women. Whatever the case, the study makes it clear that thinking of women as helpless doesn't keep them safe — it actually makes them more vulnerable.