Chivalry is Not Dead!


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.

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7 thoughts on “Chivalry is Not Dead!

  1. You’re absolutely correct – the distinction between chivalry and chauvinism is all in the intention! Gestures made out of respect and helpfulness are chivalrous; gestures made to impress or “gain favors” are selfish and inappropriate. (And sometimes it is very hard, from the outside, to tell the difference between the two.)
    The bottom line is that “chivalry” (ie, courtesy and civility) is a show of respect. Opening the door for a pretty girl isn’t chivalry … if you let that door slam in the face of the matronly old woman walking behind the “hottie.”
    You might want to check out this website for more thoughts on how and why chivalry has an important role in today’s world – in everything from dating and relationships to politics, business and sports: http://www.ChivalryToday.com.

  2. Mike Marvin says:

    Excellent entry. I very much agree with your statement that “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.”

    I facilitate a couple of groups of a called “A Call to Men” which has men and women get together and discuss how men can change their behaviors in ways that will lead to less violence against women. In our discussions we touch on much of what you are talking about, especially that the change has to come from a series of changes that men make within themselves. These changes are sometimes small and sometimes large. And what is large and small is very dependent on the men. For some, just coming to the group discussion is huge. For others, that’s easy.

    One thing that we have used to discuss these ideas is the ideas of virtues. We are all endowed with certain gifts. In current society, men are encouraged to develop certain virtues like courage, assertiveness, honor. And we are discouraged from developing other of our gifts like empathy, kindness and consideration. From this we recognize two things that we can do. First we can use the virtues that we have developed in new ways. For example, it takes courage to stand up to your friends when they say sexist (or racist, or homophobic) jokes. That’s using a virtue we already have in a new way. Part of what your article does a nice job of pointing out is the other thing that we can do which is to develop the virtues within us that have not been encouraged. Holding the door may take some courage, but it is mostly an act of consideration for others. You rightly point out that it will be great when men are supportive of each other in efforts to develop the virtues that are not “manly”. And oh, by the way, most of the virtues we are not so great at, lots of women have been encouraged to develop and they are very good at them and they can be our teachers.

    Thanks for what you do.

    Warmest Regards,

    Mike

  3. sarahcl says:

    I think it would be better to ditch the term chivalry altogether and concentrate on the idea of good manners or civil behaviour instead.

    Chivalry is an unequivocally gendered concept, it started out as the right way for a Gentleman to treat a Lady (a woman’s helplessness being explicit in that), and it’s impossible to lose that element from it.

    As you said, being chivalrous towards a man feels ‘wrong’ to you, but being polite or civil wouldn’t. I think the word itself can’t really be rehabilitated.

    • Great point Sarah! You may be right. Some words are meant to be blown to smithereens and never used again. Chivalry just might be one of them. Personally, I never use the word. I only used it in this article because it was the term that my interviewer used. I am all for scrapping it and starting over.

      As for being chivalrous toward a man…I didn’t say that it feels “wrong” to me, but that the concept of one man being chivalrous toward another man leaves men in general open to criticism from other men. Good ‘ole fashioned homophobia at it’s best. Society has taught us that men are not allowed to be chivalrous toward other men without our masculinity being called into question. This keeps men in check and prevents us from holding doors for other men (to use the example from the article).

      While we are blowing up chivalry, can we throw homophobia on the pile??? We could get a 2 for the price of 1. If it were only that easy…

    • Stephanie says:

      To be honest, as a girl, I’m not so sure about that. Granted, I don’t want to be treated like I’m helpless; but I do think some aspects of traditional gender roles had merits that made the world a better place.

      From what I’ve heard – mostly from males – men are largely driven by achievement, and by feeling needed and powerful. And when he is giving an act of chivalry, and a woman responds with gratitude, it makes him feel great.

      On the other hand, women are more relationship-oriented. Sure, we can be strong if necessary; but gentleness, the ability to inspire, and the courage to be vulnerable are a birthright not to be discarded. Granted, far too many of us try to shed that in favor of being ‘capable’ and ‘independent’; but having gone down that road myself, and wasted way too much time and energy trying to be more like a man, I’ve concluded that it’s a bad idea. When I finally started to put my pride aside, acknowledged the fact that men have a greater natural inclination to both possess and value strength, and allowed myself to start acting more feminine, it was like taking off a heavy set of armor that didn’t fit right.

      Yes, I can carry my own stuff. Yes, I can defend myself. Yes, in a lot of ways, I’m actually on the more masculine side of womanhood.

      But when I can leave ‘manly’ qualities and behaviours to those who are more suited for them, not only does it make men feel needed and important, but it allows me to relax in a way that I simply can’t when I’m focusing my energies trying to be a man.

      Chivalry isn’t dead, and it doesn’t need to die. It simply needs to be carried out with the right attitude: “I’m not doing this because I think you’re weak, but because this is the kind of person I am, and I want to enjoy making this moment of your life better.”

  4. sarahcl says:

    “As for being chivalrous toward a man…I didn’t say that it feels “wrong” to me”

    Whoops, my fault for not rereading your post carefully enough before leaving a comment!

    I think another problem with the concept of chivalry is that it’s something some men do towards women in a way that is potentially harassing, eg making a big song-and-dance out of holding a door open, and expecting attention in return. It’s like the ‘give us a smile luv’ thing some men do, so that if you don’t respond enough (as much as they want you to), you’re the one being rude – it’s exploiting the conditioning girls get to be nice and polite and not cause offense.

    “While we are blowing up chivalry, can we throw homophobia on the pile??? We could get a 2 for the price of 1. If it were only that easy…”

    I agree, if only!

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