I don’t know when the last time was that you actually looked up the word chivalry, but it has nothing to do with opening doors for women. For that matter, women are just as capable of opening doors for men. The accepted understanding of chivalry is not anywhere near what it actually means. It should probably be removed from common usage for that very reason, but I imagine people are going to go around misusing it anyway.
Chivalry is actually about knights and medieval knightly behavior, it really doesn’t have anything at all to do with women. The problem with saying things like “don’t let chivalry die” and “what happened to chivalry” is all the misconceptions that happen on both sides of this argument. It is not radical feminism to say that I am not a delicate flower and therefore do not want men to think that they need to rescue me from everything. That sounds terribly rude on the surface, but also understand that it is a harmful form of sexism towards men to expect them to be knights in shining armor who ride white horses and rescue us all the time. These behaviors can be fun, sure, but my problem here is with the expectation which becomes even worse when we go around expecting them to also see us as autonomous and equal individuals.
First, let me address this notion of rescuing and being rescued: What kind of intimacy and equality can a women expect from a man who constantly feels like any weakness or failure will be scorned by her? What kind of intimacy or equality can she feel from a man who feels like he must rescue her from every wrong decision she makes and everything that happens to her? To be honest, I can’t see it happen at all, though I am sure there people out there who seem perfectly happy in this kind of relationship. If you have the time, listen to this TedTalk. Yes, most of it is about women but men have an important mention. Listen for the man at her book signing who talks about his family and his “white horse.”
After I watched the video, I had this stirring fear that my husband might feel this way still and I brought it up to him yet again. We have had many conversations about that armor, horse, and image. I grew up with the idea that no matter what you are outside of your house, intimacy involves being able to show the weak sides to your partner. You should always be able to express anything that you feel, even failure, to your partner. To me, marriage (or any other kind of intimate partnership) is about support and helping each other back up when we fail. We must leave room for failure and weakness in all kinds of relationships. We must not expect someone to come along and rescue us, though it is important to be gracious when someone does or tries to.
Rescuing and being rescued shouldn’t be gender specific. We, women, should do our part to make sure we’re holding each other up and we shouldn’t just go around expecting a man in armor to appear and rescue us, especially from our own stupid mistakes. Have a back-up plan instead of wanting to be rescued, I think it’ll increase the probability of someone being around when you actually need to be rescued from something outside of your own control. And you never know, maybe you’ll rescue someone too.
Second, this problem extends well past “rescues.” There is also expecting him to make the first move, opening any door at all, paying for things, breadwinning, sharing coats and umbrellas and even more than that. How about instead of expecting these things specifically from men, we be a little more gracious about giving them out as well? Again, this isn’t about “could they” but “should they have to.” Men shouldn’t be obligated to be knightly by anyone. If they choose to be exceptionally polite to women that way, that’s great, but they shouldn’t feel like they have to and women shouldn’t feel exempt from such polite behaviors. Such politeness and courtesy should be an extension to all people, not gender specific. Women who expect men to open the door for them and won’t do it for men are sexist and sometimes misandrist.
Just bear in mind that this is the potential problem we are dealing with: not all women need a knight, but yes all men have felt required by society to be one.
Lastly, we can all stand to be more polite to each other on a daily basis in this modern world. We can all stand to not put expectations on specific genders for specific acts of chivalry. If chivalry must live, let women practice it too. If chivalry must die, stop giving men a hard time about it.
Some references in case you think I’m reading this situation as if women don’t expect chivalry to be all about them all the time:
And then here are some people who agree that the expectation is a problem.
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