When I originally brought up this topic, I did not quite realize the extent of the great debate already plastered all over the internet. I knew that there was an ongoing conversation, but when I set out to read what had already been written on the subject, I was surprised by the number of articles in credible sources as well as how many of the writers sourced articles that they felt the need to rebut.
There are a few different arguments. For the most part, men seem to agree on the matter. They would be happy to treat women with respect and perform all of the heroic acts associated with the modern ideals of chivalry, if they knew their behaviors would be well received. I would argue that the main reason men do not adhere to the rules of chivalry is because women shoot them down for treating in this manner. We kind of ruined it. For everyone…
Women who are against these ideals argue that chivalry is an outdated and sexist concept. Holding doors open for women or offering to take over any form of manual labor demonstrates that the man feels that the woman is incapable of performing these tasks. The belief being that as equals, men should not pay for women’s meals on dates, because the woman also has an income and need not be doted on.
The opposite of this argument is that men should absolutely treat women like princesses. We should be put on pedestals. When a woman is being courted, she should be showered with flowers and candy and whatever else these women feel are acceptable gifts.
There is a third argument. One that encourages both men and women to adhere to common courtesy. Hold doors open for people who do not have a free hand, let pregnant women or elderly people take your seats on public transit, take turns paying for dates or split the bill. This argument makes the most sense to me. I think everyone would be happier if we were all just a little nicer to one another.
The question I posed was: Is Chivalry Dead?
Amongst the replies I received, there was certainly a general consensus, which is that there are men who still adhere to the ideas that women should be treated with respect and little bit of adoration. These men tend to be raised with these ideals (usually stemming from their mothers) and can often be found in the south. As a midwestern born woman who spent her formative dating years in the south, I can certainly attest to that. If you are not used to it, the manners of southern gentlemen can be, not only startling, but a little off-putting. Over time, you learn to accept it, then expect it. Then, inevitably, you move back up north and wonder, Where have all the good men gone?
I believe there are a few reasons these behaviors seem to be highly concentrated in this particular area of the country. Being the home of the Bible Belt, people in this area tend to hold more traditional values. Women seem to be happier adhering to traditional gender roles and therefore do not discourage men from acting like Arthurian Knights in the name of progressive feminist ideals. Whether this is a cause or an effect, these parts of the country tend to be safer than certain northern cities. One reason I tend to be against men holding doors open or helping me in many ways is because of the dangers I have been taught to avoid living in urban areas with a high violent crime rate. If a man is holding open a door, he is then walking closely behind me, which is the least safe position I, as a woman, can be in. If I am having car trouble, please drive right past me. I will not get into a stranger’s car and I will not feel comfortable being alone with one on the side of the road at night either. Maybe not even during the day. Remember, Ted Bundy was supposedly super polite (until, of course, he wasn’t).
I am, admittedly, not a very good feminist. I will quantify that by saying I am not a very good feminist by certain standards. The truth is, I have never in my life felt like I was at a disadvantage by being a woman. I have always believed that I can be and do whatever I want regardless of my gender. I have had exactly one teacher who I believe would have given me a higher grade if I had been a boy, but you move on. I still got into my first choice of college, and high school grades mean absolutely nothing starting the day you leave for college. Just ask my high school valedictorian…
I am not a very good feminist because most days, all I really want in life is to become a princess, and not the social activist kind. I want to sit around in pretty dresses while being served champagne and petit-fours. I want to spend hours reading books in the insanely large palace gardens. I want my primary goal in life to be organizing the seating arrangements and determining the menu for the next dinner party.
I am not a very good feminist because I let men do the heavy lifting. Or use the power tools that I am perfectly capable of using. “Brittany, Jake can cut that 2×4 down for you if you tell him the measurements.” No problem. Jake cut a lot of stuff for me. And I have no regrets. Did Jake think I was not capable of cutting my own lumber? No, he was standing in front of the saw and I was cutting copper pipes. Or maybe painting a Ken doll to use as a scale model. Either way.
I also call my guy friends to help my move. Why? My upper body strength is abysmal and men tend to be able to lift more than women. That is science. Once when I came home from a trip in a massive snow storm, the dudes who picked me up from the airport and took me to my car, offered to scrape the ice off the windows. I gladly accepted and took their advice to go wait inside my friend’s apartment. My car was drivable in a quarter of the time it would have been if I had been the one scraping.
I am not a very good feminist, because rather than trying to change the system of oppression, I knowingly manipulate it to my advantage. Awful? Yes, but I feel like it is all a part of our reparations for years of having to submit to men. I gladly accept free drinks in bars. Living in the south, I rarely paid for drinks, and that was great, because I had very little disposable income. I use my feminine wiles to get my way in various settings. And throughout most of high school I used my “lady’s problems” to get out of any unappealing gym class activities. My PE/Health teacher, probably should have been concerned about the length of time these periods lasted, but he never brought it up…
All that is to say, that my issues with the chivalric code have nothing to do with my forward thinking feminist ways. My issue is that, as a midwesterner, if you treat me too kindly, I get suspicious of what you want from me. In the case of romantic entanglements, opening doors and laying it on thick, makes me think you are trying to close a deal that I may not want to close. On the other hand, you do have to earn it. If you do not pay for the first date (or two, or three), you are getting nowhere with me.
Women may resist these gestures, but what I believe is the real reason for this is that we use these cues to determine how interested in us you really are. How much effort are you willing to put in and for how long before you get anxious to collect. Most of us resist because we are afraid to get hurt yet again. If you act like a jerk from the beginning, at least we know what to expect. If we get used to being treated well, it will be that much worse when it goes away. Also, you might be a serial killer.
Women hold men to a double standard. We all know it. We want it all. Which is the fundamental issue.
In my professional life, I want to be a major player in a male-run industry. I want to be taken seriously and will not allow my gender to hold me back.
In my personal life, I want to be wooed. I want a man who wants to drive all the time (because I hate to drive), who can do the manual labor around the house, and who wants to pay for things when we go out. And I will even make you a sandwich from time to time.
“And if anyone wants to let me ride on their white stallion, I also wouldn’t say no.” – Kristen Smiley
In case you are interested in reading further on this topic, I suggest these three articles from the many I have now read on the subject:
“Let’s Give Chivalry Another Chance” by Emily Esfahani Smith for The Atlantic
“Why Chivalry Is Dead, From A Man’s Perspective” by John Picciuto for Elite Daily
“Why Men Should Pay For Dinner” by Amary Wiggin for The Huffington Post