Tonight I was on a radio show called Down Ballot. It is a political talk show hosted by 3 students from the University of Texas – one Republican, one Democrat and one Independent. I was invited to come in and talk about Responsible Men and our mission to promote gender equality. It was a fun show and I thought the hosts asked some great questions. I am very thankful to them for giving me the opportunity to come in and talk about RM and discuss gender inequality.
There was a point in the interview when Tony, the Republican of the group, stated that he didn’t feel that there was much gender inequality in our society today. From his perspective, he stated that he sees treating women differently as chivalry. I had honestly never heard anyone approach the topic from this angle. I countered by saying that chivalry is a good thing, but that there is a difference between chivalry and male privilege. He asked for clarification, but I wasn’t able to give much because the conversation was diverted by one of the other hosts. However, I wanted to give an answer to his question because it was a good one.
The easiest way I can explain the difference between being chivalrous and exercising one’s privilege as a man is by looking at a man’s motivations. Is the man being chivalrous because he is kind and thoughtful or is he chivalrous because he feels women are incapable of helping themselves and, therefore, need him? More simply put, are you holding the door for a woman because you are being polite or is it because you think she can’t or shouldn’t do it herself?
It is a fine line. I’d like to think that I am chivalrous. I believe I am kind and thoughtful. I hold doors for women (and men) and such. However. I am also aware that my chivalry can come across as sexist if I am not careful. Honestly, it is tough to walk this line as I am surrounded by very strong women (by choice) who may not appreciate the door being held for them. My solution??? I am an equal opportunity door holder. I hold doors for men and women alike. Not because I feel obligated, but because it is nice thing to do for someone. Who doesn’t like having a door held for them every once in a while?
This might seem silly to some people, but it actually takes guts for a man to hold a door for another man. Am I right men? Our socialization as men tells us that this activity is very un-masculine and will leave us open to judgment by other men. It is small things like this that keep men bonded to society’s strict gender roles. I say we should stop worrying about being judged and just be kind and thoughtful whenever the mood strikes us. It is fine to do something nice for someone, even if that someone is another man. It doesn’t make us less manly. In fact, I would argue that it make us more complete as men to develop that part of us. It feels really good to do nice things for people. We don’t have to live in a world where men can only be men if we are emotionless and silent and concerned about ourselves. We are free to be ourselves.
Chivalry is not dead by any stretch of the imagination! However, I suggest we tweak the definition to be more inclusive. I say we add that to be chivalrous is to be thoughtful, friendly, kind and courteous to everyone – not just women. And fellas – if another man holds a door for you, don’t look at him like he is a freak. Tell him that you appreciate it and do the same for someone else.
Lastly, the guys hosting the show asked what is one thing men can do to start to change male culture to create gender equality? I answered by saying that men need to start by looking at themselves (I know this is cliche – I am sure you can hear MJ singing Man in the Mirror in the background right now). Men have to try and understand how we fit into the puzzle of oppression. What role do we personally play in sexism, racism, heterosexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression? It is not enough for men to just be non-violent. All men must dig a little deeper to understand that every time we laugh at a sexist joke, buy products from companies that objectify and sexualize women in their advertising or refer to sexism and violence against women as “woman’s issues” we are contributing to the problem. Men must be intentional about checking ourselves and making the necessary changes to create gender equality. Without equality, violence will always exist. Men must step up and be agents of change and allies to women. As my friend Maria says “men and women must be co-creators of non-violent culture.” Women have been doing their part for many years. Now it is time for men to join them.