Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Is chivalry dead?

My best friend recently went on a first date and immediately called me after. Her date seemingly met many of her “must-haves” in a man; he was attractive, funny, educated, tall, nice, etc. Yet, she made it clear she didn’t want to go out with him again. When I dramatically gasped and asked why, she said, “Well, he didn’t pay for me!” And apparently she isn’t the only one who feels this way. Recently, NerdWallet released a study finding that 77 percent of straight people believe men should pay on first dates. This immediately made me wonder -- in 2015, when women are finally gaining freedom educationally, professionally and personally, is this really something that should be a deal breaker?
Historically, chivalry referred to the medieval knightly system with its religious, moral, and social code. Today, Merriam-Webster defines chivalrous as “behaving in an honorable or polite way especially toward women.” While these definitions are helpful in obtaining a background of chivalry, a quick Google search of chivalry taught me much more about what some people really think today. The top definition of chivalry on Urban Dictionary is: “Something women complain is dead even though it cannot logically exist in an equal society, which is something women wanted. It’s one or the other.” Sigh.

The notion of disappearing chivalry is a question on society’s mind. But can feminism and chivalry really co-exist? Some explain that male manners have casually disappeared but that they shouldn’t just because women are gaining ground in their fight for equality. Others argue that chivalrous actions aren’t all rooted in sexism but are actually helpful social structures that make men more respectful of women and curb harassment. On the other hand, some contend that actions (like paying for the meal on a first date) are really about romantic chemistry and sex, not sexism.

While these views are somewhat helpful in explaining the coexistence of chivalry and feminism, none answer if they actually can or if I want them to. When I reflect on my first date with my significant other, he paid. I certainly offered but he quickly rejected. This was something I appreciated but would I have been disappointed had he actually let me pay? Probably. He also held open doors for me and offered me his coat when I was cold (and he still does). These are actions I genuinely appreciate and I sincerely hope that this doesn’t diminish my status as a feminist. For me, these gestures (whether defined as chivalrous or not) simply illustrate his respect for me and not just because I am a woman.

Reflecting on the issue, I truly believe (and hope) chivalry can co-exist with feminism. But, I also don’t think men should be the only ones to carry out chivalrous acts. Chivalry should no longer be a term for how men should act towards women. It should be about mutual respect and courtesy – not just between partners but human beings in general, regardless of gender. Anyone is capable of having absolute respect for others and showing that through a variety of well-mannered actions. After all, feminism is the equality for everyone. So, why shouldn’t we all just be chivalrous toward one another?

If a man doesn’t pay for you on the first date, should this really be a deal breaker? Well, that’s up to you and I don’t think anyone should judge you for it. But in short, chivalry needs to start encompassing everyone if it wants to co-exist with feminism and cannot continue to be a question of gender-based power struggle. I began with the question “Is chivalry dead?” but the more appropriate one is “should it be?” And I say no.


Jessica S. said...

I think it is indeed a personal choice. That's why communication is important. I do not date men who do not pay, and anyone who thinks they're "buying" an obligation from me to do anything...I regulate that. I also prefer the man to order for me at restaurants. Now, I can see how folks would misunderstand my reasoning behind the above, but this is the best way for ME to navigate a society that financially, socially, and legally has me in the cage of sexism. The ordering for me at dinner? Sadly, both male and female servers often ignore or get condescending with me. The man's order is taken correctly, and when I speak, I get "hurry up" looks and eye rolls. That's not a pleasant experience for me. A male friend and I often troll servers' sexism (not in a bad way) and he ALWAYS gets the receipt even though I paid the bill with my card. I am unhappy with all of this, and if sexism could be extinguished, I'd be so glad to give up all this confusing (to all genders) maneuvering.

Damon Alimouri said...

Chivalry presupposes the subjugation, subservience, servility, and weakness of woman. All of which are, of course, real only within the confines of a particular historical context. Woman has been made subservient, by and large, under existing material conditions through a framework of social relations that produce gender inequality. Dowries, alimony, and chivalry are all inextricably related to patriarchy--each having a more robust presence in different stages of the development of production.

In a sense chivalry is dead because it certainly does not exist as it did 100 years ago or during Medieval times. However it is alive insofar as woman and man remain unequal under our free market society.

In essence, it is a false morality, like all the moralities that are touted by the duplicitlously high-and-mighty agents of power. It provides a gentle face to putrid patriarchy.

And, one of the greatest tragedies of master-slave relations is that the slave reproduces--because of his thorough inculcation--the ideology of servility. So, when women demand acts of chivalry they are acting in accordance with the prevailing mode of thinking, and they are thereby reproducing their own fetters.

But, then again, its almost impossible to really live out one's philosophies because of the fact that the social milieu will not allow it. So, I guess, do what suits your fancy, so long as you don't hurt anybody. As Simone de Beauvoir, the famous existentialist feminist theorist, said: “Well I just don’t give a damn … I’m sorry to disappoint all the feminists, but you can say that it’s too bad so many of them live only in theory instead of in real life.”

Ahva said...

I agree with Sophie that actions categorized as "chivalrous" (holding doors open, pulling out chairs, etc.) can, for some couples, merely be indications of one partner's genuine care and respect for the other. I appreciate it when my husband holds doors open for me in the same way I appreciate it if my dad or my sister holds doors open for me. Wanting your male partner to be "chivalrous" might just mean wanting him to be considerate, in the way you expect other people who care about you to be considerate. I understand that historically, chivalry was a system and set of practices that presupposed women's subjugation and weakness, as Damon suggests. I also understand that some acts of chivalry today are motivated by a desire to uphold the patriarchy and/or dominate women, or come with a set of sexist expectations (the "if buy you dinner, you better sleep with me" mentality). But I do not think that chivalrous acts on behalf of males today necessarily perpetuate female subjugation and inequality, or that, by preferring a man that engages in chivalry, a woman is "reproducing her own fetters" or disempowering herself.

I feel that, too often, people talk about chivalry and women's attitudes towards it in terms of false dichotomies -- if you want to be empowered as a woman, you will reject chivalry; if you desire chivalry, you are buying into the patriarchy. This sort of dichotomous thinking does not allow for differences in tastes among women and, indeed, all genders in terms of what they look for in a partner. I have a gay male friend who expects chivalry from the men he dates. Should we dismiss his taste for chivalry as buying into the patriarchy?Or might his taste for chivalry, like mine, simply stem from a desire for your partner to be very considerate?

I'm sure that some people will write this comment off as Ahva just being duped by society into thinking chivalry is a good thing. But I think a strong and educated woman can, without disempowering herself, choose to have a partner that holds doors open, and filter out prospects who don't -- in the same way that she can filter out prospects who aren't good with kids, or who don't like hiking, if those qualities are important to her in a partner.

Juliana said...

I think chivalry doesn't necessarily have to be "dead," but the concept definitely needs to be reframed. I don't think chivalry presupposes the subjugation of women -- at one point it might have, but the concept has evolved. With that I think the paradigm we use to think about chivalry needs to be gender neutral. That is, as Sophie aptly points out in her post -- one that is based on mutual respect between two individuals. I think we need to abandon a conceptualization of chivalry that presupposes heteronormativity, so that women can be seen as chivalrous in a heterosexual relationship, and still acknowledge chivalry among same-sex couples. Because at the end of the day, you can still have chivalry, as a form of respect, without sexism. Chivalry just can't operate within a paradigm in which it's linked to patriarchy.

Hart Ku said...

I think chivalry in the context of a close, intimate relationship could be fine. People feel attracted to what they feel attracted to. And for some people, characteristics signaled by old-fashioned courtship rituals can be very attractive. People should generally be free to set whatever standards they like for their partners/mates. And if someone doesn't respect the traditions of chivalry, they can similarly find a partner that shares those beliefs.

However, outside of these close, intimate relationships, I don't know if the norms of chivalry should have a place in our society. Certainly, we should not all be play-acting some pseudo servant-master/mistress scenario in our daily lives with acquaintances or strangers. As a previous commenter said, it can just support/create too many harmful perceptions about the different societal expectations between genders.

VK said...

Sure, for me, in the context of a close relationship, it’s attractive. It shows that a person cares. Instead of chivalry, I prefer to talk about courtesy. The historical context is the same, but we are more able to use this concept in non-gendered situations now. I also appreciate courtesy in other social relationships and I extend it to others; I hold the door for people behind me, whoever they are, men or women, and I always appreciate someone holding the door for me, whoever it is.

It shows that, as Juliana and Ahva said, the notion of chivalrousness evolved. I don’t think that most men who are courteous to woman today think in sexist terms, even if I have met some who did.
And even though in theory the roots of chivalry are in past patriarchy, I hope courtesy between the sexes will last, because the social graces in life are something I deeply appreciate. And that does not prevent me from thinking that the fight for women rights is crucial now. I share Ahva and Sophie’s feelings that we can appreciate what we are calling chivalry and be a feminist at the same time.

Rebecca F. said...

I have to agree with the comments of Ahva, Juliana, and VK. From my point of view, chivalry really should be a question of courtesy/mutual respect now. We don’t have to frame “chivalrous” actions (holding open doors, pulling out chairs, picking up the check, etc.) as things that only male romantic partners do for their female partners. Female partners can, and certainly do, engage in the same kind of “chivalrous” behavior.

But I ultimately agree with Sophie’s characterization - these “chivalrous” acts don’t need to be limited to romantic relationships! As human beings we should be capable of respecting other human beings and doing courteous things for them when we can. Of course, to a certain extent this presupposes that we can move beyond the gender dichotomy to avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes.