Imagine you are on a first date. Let’s say, you’re a woman. You just finished dinner and now it’s time to pay. Do you reach for your purse? If you’re a man, would you get offended or would you be pleased if the woman reached for her purse? Who ends up paying, and more importantly, who should?
We have come to an awkward age where both men and women don’t know what to do about chivalry. It’s not dead, many people still practice it, but the responses to it vary all over the map. Some women get offended if a man holds open a door for her or helps her lift something heavy. Some men feel emasculated if a woman pays for him instead. What do we do about chivalry today? Is it a form of sexism? Or is it just nice manners?
Here’s a little history lesson of how chivalry began. Chivalry arose as a response to the Middle Ages, which was a violent and barbaric time. In her article, “Let’s Give Chivalry Another Chance," Emily Esfahani Smith wrote, “It cautioned men to temper their aggression, deploying it only in appropriate circumstances—like to protect the physically weak and defenseless members of society.” She argues that since most men are physically stronger than women, “Gentlemen developed symbolic practices to communicate to women that they would not inflict harm upon them and would even protect them against harm.” Their protection showed how much they valued women.
Since the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s, women have pushed to be equal with men. Today, this equality is not quite met, but things have greatly changed. Many women work and support themselves and they have higher wages than fifty years ago.
Courting used to take place in the home where a woman would give permission for a man to call on her. He came to her home in the presence of the family. Things changed roughly about 100 years ago when courting moved from the home to outside. Since the majority of women did not work (and those who did couldn’t afford to support themselves), men “took care” of the women. It was seen as respectful to pay for a woman who couldn’t pay for herself.
Women for the vast majority of history in many cultures have been seen as fragile, weak, and in need of protection. This same view was true of women in America until the feminist movement when women joined the workforce and wanted equality.
Today, our culture is filled with independent women who don’t need to rely on men for anything. Women can even get sperm donors if they want a child without having to be with a man. Women defy the image of being weak and helpless. Because of these feminist movements, men have blamed women for the decline in chivalry. Yet, I’ve heard many women blame men, believing that they should still be respectful. Also, there is a new belief that chivalry is benevolent sexism.
Smith examines this new perspective on male chivalry, “Chivalrous behavior is benevolent because it flatters women and leads to their preferential treatment. But it is sexist because it relies on the "gendered premise" that women are weak and in need of protection while men are strong.” In Ian Steward’s article, “When Chivalry Became the New Sexim,” he interviewed Olivia Lubbock, who was part of a feminist parody of the pop song Blurred Lines. She sees benevolent sexism in the workplace when men help her to lift boxes, because she can do it herself. She also says that anyone should be able to hold open a door for someone else, not just men for women.
In a society filled with strong independent women, they want to prove that they don’t need a man helping them do anything. But there are nice men who genuinely just want to be respectful and polite, yet it is taken the wrong way. It is either seen as sexist, or it is believed the man has a hidden agenda.
What Charles Murray, the libertarian social scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, found was “the bad news is that gentlemanly behavior makes people happy.” It was found that “chivalry is associated with greater life satisfaction and the sense that the world is fair, well-ordered, and a good place.”
So, if both men and women want chivalry, but there is much tension about it, what should happen? I would like to take a different stance on the equality of the feminist movement. Yes, women are independent, strong, and wonderful, but no, they don’t need to only rely on themselves without accepting help. Similarly, men should allow women to help them as well, instead of thinking their masculinity is being threatened.
Smith describes chivalry as this: “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.”
Both sexes are capable of being chivalrous, but we need to look at it differently today than it has been in the past. Men and women can take care of each other. Both can open doors, both can help each lift something heavy, both can figure out who pays or how to split the bill. And both should accept the chivalry, or courtesy, when it is offered.
I highly recommend Emily Esfahani Smith's article, "Let's Give Chivalry Another Chance."