Saturday, January 8, 2011

What are your feelings on chivalry?

My friend Erika asked me this question a while back, and I think it's an important one. We all know that one gross misconception about feminists is that we all hate men*, so it's probably also a preconception that feminists despise chivalry, or "special courtesy afforded to women by men."

I honestly had a heckuva time coming up with an answer to this question. I mean, if a boy insisted on opening my car door, pulling out my seat at dinner, whatever - would that go against my beliefs as a feminist because, in all actuality, I'm perfectly capable of doing all of those things by myself?

As they say, this issue is a double-edged sword. If a feminist woman denies chivalry, people will call her a man-hater (just check out the shirts that say "Chivalry is dead, and women killed it!"). If, on the other hand, a feminist woman accepts chivalry, people will call her a hypocrite.

We just can't get a break, can we?

Well, here's my answer to this brain-bending question. You might agree, you might not, but either way I'd love to hear your opinion.

Q: "What are your feelings on chivalry? Legitimate, heart-felt, pure chivalry?"

A: First of all, interesting question! But it makes all the difference that you said "Legitimate, heart-felt, pure chivalry." I think there's a huge difference between a boy doing something nice for a girl because he expects to "get something" in return, and a boy doing something nice for a girl because he genuinely cares for her. 

But I also don't think chivalry is necessarily something that a man should do for a woman* - it's common courtesy that all people should exhibit. It's the little things you do each and every day for people to show respect: holding doors and elevators, helping somebody with their groceries, giving somebody the bigger slice of pizza . . .

So, am I against a boy holding a door open for a girl? No way. But tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, I would expect that same girl to hold a door open for the person behind her, that person to hold a door for the person behind him, and so on.

In the long run, everybody deserves respect. Guys should respect girls, guys should respect guys, girls should respect guys, girls should respect girls . . . and I'm pretty sure I should respect you, and you should respect me. Because we're all people, right?

*Don't get me started on the "feminists hate men" stereotype . . .

*Yes, I know the official definition of chivalry is "The qualities idealized by knighthood, such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women." But we're not in the 10th Century anymore. If knights are characterized by bravery, courtesy, and honor, women sure as hell can be modern-day "knights"!


  1. Chivalry is great, just not the version of it that's completely bound up in gender stereotypes, where it's born of the idea that men need to protect and coddle women. If it goes both ways, I'm absolutely fine with it! I'm female, and I hold doors for people all the time, offer help with heavy packages, etc.--and I've gotten into a few almost-arguments over doorholding, let me tell you. For instance, I'll hold one of a set of double doors for a man, and then he gets defensive and competitive and INSISTS on holding the second door for me... it's pretty amusing, actually.

    My one other argument for chivalry, though, is that it can absolutely exist independently of gender. If I'm on a date with a woman I'll be as chivalrous as I can be, and not only is it a sweet and nice thing to do on a date but more often than not she responds in kind, and it's a very polite and considerate evening.

  2. You make an extremely valid point. I never really knew where I stood regarding chivalry, but I guess it can easily be a two-way street. Awesome piece!

  3. Chivalry and feminism are mutually exclusive. Chivalry is about according special treatment based on gender. Chivalry is completely counter to feminism (where the mission is gender equality) and a TRUE feminist would politely but firmly reject it, just as someone opposed to racism would reject being given preferred treatment based on their race.

    Bottom line, chivalry is fine and proper for non-feminists but it is out of bounds for TRUE feminists.

  4. I don't *expect* anybody to hold a door for me because of my sex, but I certainly appreciate it because it's an act of human kindness. I hold doors open for men, women, everybody. That's what we, as people, should do for each other, don't you think?

    I don't care for the term "TRUE feminist," either. It sounds a bit alienating and accusatory - like if you make one mistake, you're not a "true feminist." I don't agree with that. Nobody's perfect.


  5. Feminism is founded on gender equality, that men shouldn't be treated better than women nor women than men. Therefore chivalry and feminism are opposed and mutually exclusive.

    Feminists have long demanded equality with men, which I have no problem with. However, they cannot also support chivalry since it is special treatment based on gender. Chivalry is anti-feminist and a person who claims one cannot also claim the other; hence my comment about being a true feminist.

  6. Sorry. I meant for the above comment to be a reply to yours.

  7. @Chris

    Trust me, I get where you're coming from. But if you take gender out of the equation (i.e. be kind and courteous to everyone, because that's the right thing to do), I don't think there's an issue.


  8. Danielle, agreed. Taking gender out of the equation, feminists shouldn't expect or want any more than basic common courtesy, which is what men give to other men. That would be equality.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...