There’s a modern-day proverb that goes as follows: Chivalry is dead because feminists killed it.
Many men have told me stories about how they’ve opened doors for women only to be chewed out and told, “I can do that myself.” Are we women entitled to be offended towards these kinds of courteous gestures or are we overreacting?
Thought I consider myself to be a feminist/womanist (look it up!) I find nothing demeaning or wrong with a guy who offers to open a door for me. In fact, I am impressed by that. Instead of judging these gestures, I make judgments about a person’s character if they don’t do it. It might be wrong of me to think like that, but it’s not just about men, it’s about people. I associate behavior of that nature with manners, and if you slam the door in my face—I find you to be rude. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man. With that said, what do feminists have against this so-called chivalry?
The argument against chivalry that many feminists (note how I said many, not all) have is that it is a form of sexism. They believe that the underlying message of the small acts that men perform for women is because women are too delicate, fragile, fill-in-the-blank—to do so themselves. Although chivalry is traditionally associated with medieval knighthood, it has evolved throughout the centuries along with society. It used to be a way to demonstrate respect towards women—but do women still consider it to be so? Do men? Even though it was originally behavior used to describe the actions of men towards women, is it still that linear? I personally believe that people—not just men, are chivalrous more often out of habit rather than to impress.
Let’s go through common examples of what people consider to be chivalrous:
Opening or holding a door: A common courtesy that men used to extend to women – this has changed. I believe that now it’s a matter of people holding or opening doors for people and that it’s a case of manners. It’s rude to let the door close in the face of your fellow human being—regardless of their gender. Is this an act of chivalry or politeness?
Giving up a seat: I most often witness this behavior for elderly people or women who are expecting. I fit in neither category. However, when I’m out at bars, sometimes men offer up a seat—though this can be considered chivalrous, I often think it’s suspicious because of the context. Chivalrous or polite?
Carrying something heavy: I try my hardest to carry heavy things around, but I struggle, and I’ll be honest—if someone who’s stronger than I am offers to do it instead, I hand it over. Men traditionally have done the heavy-lifting, but I know some strong girls who can lift (definitely more than I can!) Chivalrous or polite?
Walking someone home: This is one behavior that I have absolutely no problem with. As a twenty-something year old living in one of the biggest cities, I feel scared sometimes walking home alone. If a guy offers to take me home, or walk me to a train, I will never turn that down. I think this falls under wanting to protect somebody, so is this chivalrous or polite?
Paying the bill: This tends to be the most controversial act. Are men expected to pick up the bill or do you split it? Is it okay for a woman to pay everything and will a man be emasculated if she does? What if there’s a gap in pay? Does it matter? Personally I don’t feel comfortable with a man paying for my entire meal—unless I get to cover the next one. I think there should be balance in a relationship and I don’t think it’s fair for one person to be paying everything all the time, that’s just me! So is paying for dinner chivalrous, polite or completely out of the question?
Speaking on behalf of my own experiences, I think that chivalry still exists—it’s just been redefined a bit. It’s not just about men and women. It’s about all sorts of couples and all kinds of people. These little acts throughout the day live in a much bigger context within society and they are affected by many other factors like how you grew up, your manners, your culture, what you currently believe in, and yes, your gender. I personally appreciate many traditional chivalrous acts and I don’t believe that I am less of a feminist because of it.
What about you? Any “chivalrous” acts that you love or loathe? Is there anything anti-feminist about it or no?