I’m getting a little tired of hearing how the feminists have ruined chivalry for us straight men.
A recent article/essay from Psychology of Women Quarterly defined acts of chivalry as “benevolent sexism” and since then there has been no shortage of responses to this redefinition. Why are the mean feminists making it so hard to be respectful? Why do they hate gentlemanliness so much?
And aside from the article from the quarterly publication and its reactions, the internet is a great place to find inane articles where feminism is pitted against chivalry. As if to suggest that, only one of these two incompatible forces can survive and, right now, it looks like feminism has taken the lead.
Men that engage in chivalrous acts are acting out the old patriarchal pantomime of benevolent sexism, so says feminism (or rather, “so says feminism,” so says the internet) and empowered women would love to see its demise. But chivalry is based on respect for women, isn’t it? This can all be a little confusing for dudes with good intentions. Take this guy for example:
A woman got mad at me for holding the door open for her. #feminists , whats so demeaning about respect?
— anthony kelly (@anthonydkelly) January 21, 2013
And I can relate to that guy. It’s not easy being chivalrous these days. What we were brought up to believe as decent human behaviour is suddenly not kosher. Let me share a personal anecdote.
A few months ago, I met a lovely young woman on a night that would have otherwise been a total disaster. We got to talking and when the larger group decided it was time to push off. I suggested that those of us not quite tired go somewhere where there was dancing to be had. No one was into it, except for that one lovely lady. My heart rate accelerated a bit.
We headed to a local dance spot with a live band, bought a few more beverages and had an amazing time. Great dancing, great conversation, and a light drunkenness turned what was almost a write-off of a night (there might be a post about part 1 of this night someday) into one of the more memorable nights of 2012.
When it was finally time to head home she told me that she was going to make the 25 minute walk. Well, being raised to not let women walk home alone at 2am I offered to walk her back to her home.
Her eyes suddenly squinted and she looked at me like she was staring at me through a sniper-scope. I could visually see her drunkenly running an assessment scan, reaching into her memory banks for clues to my character from earlier that evening. Before she had the chance to say anything, I raised my hands skyward and declared, “I’m just offering to walk you home. That’s it.”
“Alright,” she said, hesitantly.
So I proceeded to walk her home. We stopped and got a burger along the way and she even linked her arm through mine at one point which had the effect of making me feel totally awesome. When we got to her place she turned to me and I said, “It was great to meet you. I hope I see you again sometime.” And then she hugged me, making me feel, once again, totally awesome. Then we parted ways.
This experience gave me a great deal to think about.
Firstly, did I engage in benevolent sexism? In a way, yes; I suggested that a woman should not be walking alone through a city at night and should be accompanied by a man. That is a fairly sexist sentiment. On the other hand, the threat of assault or rape, however unlikely, is real and I’d feel grossly incompetent if a let her walk alone. On the other, other hand, as I pointed out in a previous post, about 80% of women who are assaulted or raped are assaulted by people they know so she would have grounds to argue that she is better off ditching the escort and walking alone.
This leads me to another lesson from that night: women can be suspicious. Being scrutinized when I offer to do something that is simply a nice gesture in my head is something that I find really troublesome but I don’t blame the ladies. Women have every reason to be skeptical of gestures to walk her home, buy her a drink, or pick her up in our car. The rise of feminism has resulted in more women becoming aware and speaking out against men that would seek to take advantage of a seemingly innocent situation under the guise of chivalry.
So if feminists aren’t actually the ones killing chivalry, then who is?
I hate to say it, but we are. That is, men are. Not most of us personally, but those that have used chivalry and abused it have the same face as us. If enough well-seeming men reveal themselves to be selfishly serving their own ends then we all become suspect. There is no easy way to differentiate the difference between one offer to be walked home from the other, more insidious variety.
So then, what is chivalry in this day and age?
We need to broaden our definition of chivalry, for a start. All of the articles I cited at the top of this post refer to activities like “opening doors”, “footing the bill”, and “buying computers”. I think chivalry is much broader than that. To me, chivalry is more a way of life than it is a strict list of acts that are recognized as being chivalrous; if it were up to me, chivalry would be defined as the placing of one’s comfort, safety, and happiness over one’s own.
So, in that sense, feminism may have altered the rules slightly but certainly hasn’t killed chivalry. If you notice a woman following closely behind you to a door, by all means hold the door for her. That’s chivalry. If she instructs you not hold the door for her in the future because it enforces benevolent sexism, don’t hold the door for her. That too, in my opinion, is chivalry. If the situation is hazy, then ask her what’s up. Also chivalry. Basically, discover what would bring satisfaction to the woman in this scenario and act accordingly.
Also, I believe that chivalry isn’t just about the ladies. A man can and should be chivalrous to anyone; hold the door for women, children, and men of all walks of life.
Chivalry is also about not attaching assumptions and expectations to an encounter with women. I was grateful to prove to the lovely lady I mentioned earlier that by offering to walk her home, I meant walk her home. Period. To me, it seems that women have been pushed into a really unfortunate mindset where they have to consider every possible outcome of the offer made. A simple question like, “Would you like to go have a drink sometime?” requires a great deal of scrutiny from ladies. Some men have proved that a great deal can go wrong from such a simple question. Us more chivalrous men can work to take this back by speaking at face value. If you ask a woman to a drink and she says yes, consider the night planned only that far.
Above all things, chivalry is a man not assuming that he is going to get laid at the end of the night. He must take his cues from the present situation and act accordingly;a chivalrous man knows when to simply say goodnight. This is why chivalry is dying. We live in a culture of all or nothing when it comes to men’s sexuality. I’m sure I don’t need to tell any of my readers what the very first question I get asked at work is if it is known I’ve met up with a women the night before.
To me, chivalry is about spending my time on this planet as a respectful spectator and sometimes participant in the lives of others. This means that sometimes I will make offers that are deeply seeded in benevolent sexism unintentionally. And men, there’s no shame in this. Most of us have been raised under certain standards about how to interact with women, many of them archaic and patronizing. I think we should all uphold these teachings but be mindful of how they might be interpreted and adjust to the situation at hand. There’s nothing wrong with offering to pay for the meal as a chivalrous act and there’s nothing wrong with her wanting to go dutch.
I agree that chivalry isn’t doing well but it isn’t empowered women that are plunging the knife. Brothers, our beast to conquer has our face and in a way that makes it the most frightening enemy of all. We must take a stand against those that would wear our mask and commit injustices while wearing it.