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.