I have been thinking about chivalry and how it impacts my feminist beliefs. I can easily say this topic has been on my mind for a few months, and the only reason why this post has just now come to fruition is that I finally have a solid or completely formed thought around it.
So, here I am talking to you all about chivalry, sexism, and feminism. I know, that last word can be pretty intimidating, but it’s nothing to be wary of. To me, feminism means advocating equal rights for all genders in all avenues: political, cultural, social, and economical. Plain and simple. Of course, that varies depending on what “feminist” you ask. To some feminists, this whole chivalry topic shouldn’t exist in an equal society. To a certain extent, I can agree, but that depends on how “chivalry” and “equal society” are defined.
Let’s begin by defining chivalry, according to the Oxford dictionary:
“The combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, namely courage, honour, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak.”
Also: “Courteous behaviour, especially that of a man towards women.”
With that in mind, I cannot understand how being “courteous” makes a man sexist.
However, if a man acts chivalrously only because he believes a woman is fragile, weak, or requires protection, then he is being sexist. That’s a fine line, I know, because how are you supposed to know someone’s true intentions? Well, I guess you don’t have to in these cases.
What I know is that when a man has held a door open for me, I have not felt patronized or less capable of going through it. Instead, I have appreciated it, acknowledged it, and moved on with my day. I have never thought “wow that man who let me out of the elevator first was being incredibly sexist!” I have also never come across a man who has openly said: “Let me open this car door for you because I know you’re too weak to do it yourself.”
I understand the argument some women pose about chivalry being patronizing, but I think those arguments undermine the reality of sexism. They drown out true sexist acts, laws, orders, and behaviors. Maybe I’m too much of an optimist or too naive, or not, but I don’t believe the vast majority of men open doors for women simply because they feel superior to them. And unless a man says he is “chivalrous” only to undermine women, I don’t have a problem it.
I appreciate having doors opened for me, my date caring about my safety and walking on the outside of the sidewalk, and being taken out on dates. I don’t see anything wrong with that. The issues for me would arise when a man began to make me feel like he had to do it because I couldn’t. Chivalry is not limited by gender either, I think anyone can be chivalrous. Therefore, chivalry does not limit the advancement of women and is not sexist.
I don’t expect anyone to hold the door open for me just because I am a woman, but because I’m human and deserve respect too.
I appreciate my date picking up the bill at dinner because he asked me out, and that’s the decent and polite thing to do. The fact that I want to be treated equally, does not mean I expect to be treated with disrespect. No, I don’t want you to be an asshole and say, “you can hold your own door open” while you let it shut in my face.
In a Facebook Q&A, Emma Watson made a fair point about the intersection of chivalry and feminism. She said, “I love having the door open for me. I love being taken to dinner. But I think the key is, would you mind if I open the door for you?”
I agree with her completely, and stress again that chivalry and feminism are not exclusive. I am a feminist and I believe that every gender is equally capable. I believe we should all be entitled to the same salary, opportunities, education, treatment, and access.
The meaning behind chivalry has been misinterpreted and lost.
Although much of these knightly qualities aren’t as applicable today as they once were, they still hold basic principles that should be an example of human behavior, gender aside.
“To me, chivalry is a language of love. In a way, it’s a standard I set for myself for how I want to be loved,” says fitness blogger Annie Kora Kim. “It doesn’t make me less of a feminist if I want my boyfriend to be polite or to go out of his way to do kind things for me because I also go out of my way to do nice things for him. It goes both ways, and I think more people should want to be loved that way, regardless of society’s expectations.”
Feminism shouldn’t be a scary or confusing thing. It’s simple, it’s equality. Feminism should be used to establish mutual respect so that we can all operate to the best of our abilities as humans. Feminism isn’t a female thing because inequality isn’t a woman’s issue. It’s everyone’s issue because it affects everyone. So we, as women, should not deprive or deny ourselves of receiving decency, politeness, or basic human courtesy from men just because they are men. That would just reinforce sexism.
So, be a feminist, and walk through that door with a smile on your face. Trust me, it won’t make you any less of a feminist or advocate for human rights.