Let Chivalry Die

The sexism's just too heavy.

Chivalry, even in the modern world, could be a good idea. In theory.

Stripped of the medieval world's sexism and classism, chivalry has some good principles. Honor your word. Fulfill your duty. Defend the helpless. Treat people with courtesy. Stand up for what's right.

In practice, I think we need to leave chivalry in the past. We can't get away from the sexism: too many chivalry advocates like it precisely because it's sexist.

Case in point, Fox News pundit Suzanne Venker, who asserted in one column that "prior to the 1970s, people viewed gender roles as as equally valuable. Many would argue women had the better end of the deal! It's hard to claim women were oppressed in a nation in which men were expected to stand up when a lady enters the room or to lay down their lives to spare women life."

In the Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith argued in 2012 that by rejecting chivalry, women make men more violent, more rude and less romantic. Both Smith and Venker argue that men are suffering because women rejecting chivalry leaves them confused about how to behave. And that chivalry doesn't mean treating women as the weaker sex.

And on a personal level, no, it doesn't. If my wife wanted her chair held out for her, fine, I'd do it. Some women like the traditional manners.

But some don't. Which is the first problem with Smith and Venker (and multiple other writers who've championed chivalry over the years). They're not simply saying "men, be courteous," they're demanding that women accept the courtesy, even when they don't want it. At which point it's not courtesy, it's an imposition: women are supposed to behave a certain way and like certain things and if they don't, well how can men possibly deal with that? Women can't expect men to think about them as individuals who might not want to be put on a pedestal. Or who might want their husband or partner to put them on a pedestal but not their coworkers. No human mind can deal with that kind of confusion. If women would just stay in the box the right-wing thinks they belong in and behave in the way they're supposed to all that confusion would be cleared away.

As for the supposed benefits to society'better-mannered men, men who heroically sacrifice their lives for women'I'd say both arguments are bullshit. Good manners and courtesy aren't dependent on chivalry. Every civilization, even ones without a history of knighthood and chivalry, have a code of conduct and manners.

Besides courtesy isn't that complicated. Don't bully. Don't belittle people. Don't let the door hit the person behind you in the face. These aren't difficult ideas. If people don't do them, it's not because they lack chivalry, more likely they're just jerks.

And no, chivalry doesn't improve jerks or create a higher level of protection for women. Knights raped women. Victorian gentlemen raped women. If a man abuses or rapes a woman, it's not because he hasn't been inculcated with the principles of chivalry. It's because abuse and rape make him a happier person (the same applies to any abuse or rape, regardless of gender).

Like I said, chivalry does have some good elements, but those aren't the elements Venker and other anti-feminists are interested in. Venker's very clear it's a tradeoff: women get chivalry, so being subordinate is no big deal. Sure, 60 years ago, women could be fired just for being women. Married women often needed their husband's signature to take out a loan or a credit card, even if they had their own income. But so what? Men stood up when they entered the room! They held out chairs for women!

Yeah, who wouldn't give up independence for that?

Comment on Facebook

Updated Jul 11, 2018 1:00 AM UTC | More details


©2018 AND Magazine

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without express written permission from AND Magazine corporate offices. All rights reserved.