Should we give chivalry another chance? No thanks. Chivalry is an archaic term that is only necessary if you think women are fragile posies who must be protected by self-proclaimed knights in shining armor. Letting go of the sexist word doesn't mean men shouldn't be polite and respectful, obviously. It means that people should look out for each other because we're all human beings — even those of us who have vaginas that some people still think should be guarded by "gentlemen." Fuck that.
The Atlantic's Emily Esfahani Smith is concerned about the "decline of chivalry and the rise of boorish behavior among men," and has some data that she's twisted to back her worries up: a new study, published in the feminist journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, found that male chivalry is indicative of "benevolent sexism" that perpetuates gender equality, even though it was "indirectly associated with life satisfaction for both women and men." The American Enterprise Institute's Charles Murray chuckled at the irony of these silly feminists' findings: "When social scientists discover something that increases life satisfaction for both sexes, shouldn't they at least consider the possibility that they have come across something that is positive? Healthy? Something that might even conceivably be grounded in the nature of Homo sapiens?"
Nice try, but just because the study's authors concluded that "274 college women and 111 college men" like it when men are polite to women doesn't mean chivalry is good for the feminist movement. (Or for the LGBTQ movement, for that matter, but non-straight people apparently don't exist in Smith's fairytale castle of a world.) It means that most women like it when men are polite to and respect them. Men, also, usually like to be treated well by women. It's shocking, I know, but people like it when other people are kind. Why do we have to call it chivalry?
Let's think about the word's history for a sec. Here's Smith:
Chivalry arose as a response to the violence and barbarism of the Middle Ages. It cautioned men to temper their aggression, deploying it only in appropriate circumstances-like to protect the physically weak and defenseless members of society. As the author and self-described "equity feminist" Christina Hoff Sommers tells me in an interview, "Masculinity with morality and civility is a very powerful force for good. But masculinity without these virtues is dangerous-even lethal."
Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes, she explains. Given that most men are physically stronger than most women, men can overpower women at any time to get what they want. Gentlemen developed symbolic practices to communicate to women that they would not inflict harm upon them and would even protect them against harm. The tacit assumption that men would risk their lives to protect women only underscores how valued women are-how elevated their status is-under the system of chivalry.
It is awesome to value and protect others. We are down with that. But what makes a woman more "valuable" than a man? What, exactly, are we protecting? That's a dangerous question, because it leads to pro-modesty crusades, purity balls, and the assumption that women warrant additional protection. "Feminists want men to treat women as equals; traditionalists want men to treat women like ladies," Smith writes. "Are the two mutually exclusive?" Okay, first, BARF, that quote makes want to take a shower/never use the term "ladies" again, even sarcastically. Second, yes, they are if you think women necessitate male guardians at all times.
I'll bet my childhood VHS tape of Sleeping Beauty that both sorta-well-meaning folks and MRA trolls have already stopped reading this piece and are furiously writing comments along the lines of: "So you're saying that I should spit in your face instead of opening the door for you? Is that what you want?!?" and "Will women call me sexist if I press the buttons in the elevator for them??" and "OMGZ Bitter feminists are ruining our culture!!"
No, no, no. If you haven't figured this out by now, I'm just saying we should do away with "chivalry," a word with unarguably sexist implications, and replace it with "politeness," or "respect," or "courtesy," or "civility," or, hey, the thesaurus is fun, you should check it out sometime! Let's take another look at Smith's specifically "chivalrous" examples:
Perhaps because of women's ambivalence about chivalry, men have grown confused about how to treat women. Will holding doors open for them or paying for the first date be interpreted as sexist? Does carrying their groceries imply they're weak?
I love when people (of all shapes and sizes) hold doors open for me because I'm clumsy and usually carrying a ton of shit. I love being treated to dinner because, mmm, free dinner! I love when my friends offer to carry my groceries because I like to run around the market looking for snacks without being weighted down by bags.
It is not "chivalrous" to open the door for someone, carry their groceries, or pay for their dinner if you invited them to dine. It is polite.
On Saving People's Lives Whilst on a Sinking Ship:
This past spring marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic [...] Three-quarters of the women on the ship survived; over three quarters of the men, by contrast, died. In Washington DC, there is a memorial to these men. The inscription on it reads: "To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic...They gave their lives that women and children might be saved."
About a year ago, a group of today's men were tested the way that the men on board the Titanic were. When the cruise ship Costa Concordia hit a rock and capsized off the coast of Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, last January, men pushed women and children out of the way to save themselves.
People who help those in need during life-threatening situations are heroic, and those who trample weaker people to get to safety are either cowards or practical, depending on your point of view. Neither heroism nor cowardice should be gendered; those qualities are situation specific. Plus, the whole "gallant men on ancient ships past" thing is a debunked myth. And remember when Jack was handcuffed below deck? What would he have done without Rose? Answer me that.
On Tipping Your Hat to Imply Respect:
A story from the life of Samuel Proctor (d. 1997) comes to mind here. Proctor was the beloved pastor of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church. Apparently, he was in the elevator one day when a young woman came in. Proctor tipped his hat at her. She was offended and said, "What is that supposed to mean?"
The pastor's response was: "Madame, by tipping my hat I was telling you several things. That I would not harm you in any way. That if someone came into this elevator and threatened you, I would defend you. That if you fell ill, I would tend to you and if necessary carry you to safety. I was telling you that even though I am a man and physically stronger than you, I will treat you with both respect and solicitude. But frankly, Madame, it would have taken too much time to tell you all of that; so, instead, I just tipped my hat."
LOL, how nice of you, beloved pastor who probably made up this anecdote, to treat those who have punier muscles with "both respect and solicitude" even though you, apparently, are super ripped. Tipping your hat = fine, good, polite! Not chivalry. Especially if you're going to get all haughty about it.
Some women are trying to bring back chivalry. Since 2009, for instance, a group of women at Arizona State University have devoted themselves to resuscitating gentlemanly behavior and chivalry on a campus whose social life is overwhelmingly defined by partying, frat life, and casual sex. Every spring for the past three years, these women have gathered for the "Gentlemen's Showcase" to honor men who have acted chivalrously by, for example, opening the door for a woman or digging a woman's car out of several feet of snow.
Again with the holding of doors! Dude, you do not deserve a special Man Award if you help someone out. This behavior isn't "gentlemanly." It's...do I really have to get my thesaurus out again?
The most frustrating part of Smith's article is that she knows that the traditionally gendered implications of chivalry are bullshit. She says it in her own words:
Chivalry is about respect. It is about not harming or hurting others, especially those who are more vulnerable than you. It is about putting other people first and serving others often in a heroic or courageous manner. It is about being polite and courteous. In other words, chivalry in the age of post-feminism is another name we give to civility. When we give up on civility, understood in this way, we can never have relationships that are as meaningful as they could be.
If women today-feminists and non-feminists alike-encouraged both men and women to adopt the principles of civil and chivalrous conduct, then the standards of behavior for the two sexes would be the same, fostering the equality that feminists desire. Moreover, the relations between the sexes would be once again based on mutual respect, as the traditionalists want. Men and women may end up being civil and well-mannered in different ways, but at least they would be civil and well-mannered, an improvement on the current situation.
Hey, look; we're on the same page! (Except for your obnoxious determination to separate yourself from feminism.) If you really believe chivalry is "is another name we give to civility," then why did you write an article arguing that "all women" and "especially feminists" should "give chivalry another chance"?
In a sense, chivalry actually supports many of the "boorish" behaviors Smith laments, such as catcalling and fratty "hookup culture," because the traditional notion of the word reinforces the concept that women aren't people but objects to be lusted after/ruined or protected. See? Nobody wins! So let's most definitely not give chivalry another chance. But, if you want, I'll curtsey sweetly as I kick its ass out the door towards irrelevance.