Is Chivalry an Affront to Feminism?

I have always considered myself to be a strong, independent woman, a feminist of sorts. Rarely do I ever hesitate in voicing my opinions amongst friends/family or in a classroom setting, no matter how controversial. However, I strongly hesitate to violate what I consider to be the laws of femininity when it comes to heterosexual dyadic interactions. For instance, I would never initiate a romantic interaction with a man. Society has implanted in my mind the idea that the man must approach the woman. He must ask her on a date, pick her up in his car, open the door for her, drop her off at the curbside when it’s raining, pull the chair out for her, offer her his coat when she’s cold, etc. And he must pay for (at least) the first few dates, otherwise said social interactions cannot be construed as “dates.”

Obviously my expectations of gender romantic roles and responsibilities are rooted in American culture and society. Since, however, these expectations are incompatible with my otherwise feminist-leaning tendencies, must they be reconsidered? If, indeed, chivalry is alive and well, are my only two options to contribute to its demise, or risk living as a self-proclaimed hypocrite?

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3 Responses to Is Chivalry an Affront to Feminism?

  1. Lauren Linsky says:

    I really appreciate your interest in this topic, since it is one with which I do grapple. Michael, it’s nice to get a male perspective on the potential dichotomy of chivalry and feminism. I completely agree with both you and Laura that chivalrous acts equate to courteous acts, and that they can (and should) be performed by women as well as men eventually, if not initially, in a dyadic relationship.

    After further contemplation of the chivalry/feminisim interplay and your comments, I’ve come to the conclusion that my answer to the big question “For what am I responsible?” when it comes to chivalry and romantic pursuits is “that which your significant other holds you responsible.” Laura, you and your boyfriend seem to have a great dynamic because you have a mutual understanding; however, had you expected him to pay for dinner until the 20th date (as an arbitrary example), you might have found him an insufficient partner. And Michael, were you to date your staunchly feminist friend, you’d probably walk away from your first date with more money in your pocket than if you had gone on a first date with either me or Laura. I can only hope that any future love interests of mine understand that I will hold them responsible for acts of chivalry to a certain extent, especially in the infantile stages of our hypothetical relationships, and act accordingly.

  2. lauracrockett says:

    This post really stood out to me, as I too am a strong, independent woman who considers herself a feminist. I also love when guys open doors for me and pursue me, in a sense. The reason I love when men act chivalrous is because to me, it signifies respect. As a woman, I am in a less powerful position than a man within society. By being chivalrous, I feel like a man is signifying to me that he understands this power dynamic and will try in small ways to equalize us. That sounds stupid when I say it – hey Laura, sorry you’re oppressed, let me help you with that big heavy door! But nonetheless I appreciate it.
    Chivalrous actions do signify respect though. Let’s take them out of the context of boy/girl relationships. I open doors for people, regardless of who they are. It’s polite. I consider it rude when anyone, girl, boy, young, old, doesn’t hold open the door for me. And no matter who someone is, I still feel like it’s a nice gesture if they let me go through the door first.
    However, what’s very interesting to me is my relationship with my boyfriend. I’ve never realize it until now, but on the first date, he was the perfect gentleman – he asked me out, paid for dinner, and opened doors for me. But ever since that first date (three years ago, mind you), we have ALWAYS split the check, and whoever is in front opens the door. I think what happened is that once he signified to me that he respects me and my gender, we became established as (however much you can be in a sexist society) equals, and those gestures weren’t necessary anymore. He didn’t need to pay for dinner because I knew we were equal. I’d like to hear your thoughts about this though!

  3. mikeal0102 says:

    I think you have raised some really good points here about your internal conflict regarding chivalry. I thought I would respond to your post from a male point of view and highlight some of my experiences in this department. I find that chivalry these days is quite a tenuous social convention for some women. I am often in doubt whether to be chivalrous and open the door and pull out a chair etc for women as sometimes I face backlash. I still do it anyway in most cases for the off chance that I wont – being polite I guess. For example, I have one friend in particular who is a staunch feminist and very much dislikes the fact that I constantly open doors or let women pass in front of me before I enter a room. I am often met with either some form of comment or “a look” to put me in my place and tell me that there is nothing wrong with either her or other women that they would need a man to do this for them. Now, I am by no means macho, but I have been brought up (socialized if you will to do this.) I guess my parents always raised me with the idea that such actions were the right thing to do – it is a matter of courtesy.

    However, as Lorber duly notes, “Gender like culture … depends on everyone constantly doing gender” and such is enforced through gender norms. I believe from the above scenarios that there is a clearly evident change in these “norms” within Western American society. With the rise of feminism and equality women feel empowered to do things on their own. Nevertheless, I do not believe that accepting a little chivalry makes you a hypocrite. Yes in the past there may have existed the presumption that women were incapable, but chivalry today I believe is mostly about courteousness and being polite. I don’t do it to debase women or make them feel any less than me or any other male for that matter. No one is forcing me to be chivalrous and I know a lot of guys who aren’t … for me its just the right thing to do and I am quite happy to do it.

    In saying all this however, if you feel more comfortable doing the same for a guy – do it – some may find it uncomfortable at first but at the end of the day gender norms are slowly changing and inevitably chivalrous roles will change too!

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