Feminism & Chivalry don’t need to Sleep in Separate Beds.
We. Are. Confused.
Open a car door, pull out a chair, help with a coat, pick up the check, give up your seat on public transport—what’s a dude to do, what’s a modern woman to appreciate, or reject?
In our ongoing “battle of the sexes,” feminism and chivalry have been beaten, twisted, and distorted like a jacked wrestler in the WWE.
Men are scratching their heads and protecting their testicles, women are wondering whether to sashay, tiptoe, or stomp their Doc Martens as they traverse the loaded minefield that feminism and chivalry have become.
How do we identify with the aspects of feminism that feel authentic to us? What are men really confused about? Why is radicalism so damn scary? What the hell is going on here?
Contrary to popular opinion, chivalry and feminism do not need to sleep in separate beds or walk on opposite sides of the street. They can happily coexist so long as we are willing to give our understanding of them a refreshing update.
First, a bit of (cough) housekeeping.
Chivalry began in the Middle Ages as the ideal qualifications of a knight which, in part, included: courtesy, generosity, honor, valor, and dexterity in arms. Its roots were predicated on the belief that women were inferior creatures, weak and feeble, and needed the power, intelligence, and strength that only men could provide. It also ironically served to protect women from other men (and okay, the occasional dragon or ogre).
As this old-school chivalry progressed through the ages, it continued to be steeped in sexism and patriarchal oppression.
But just as “the right to bear arms” is in need of a Constitutional update, so too is the traditional concept of chivalry associated with knighthood. A contemporary understanding of chivalrous deeds will go a long way toward peace, love, and understanding.
Chivalry, by its very nature, is not belittling or degrading. In fact, chivalry is couth, refinement, and just plain decency that can be carried out by men and women alike.
Modern-day chivalry includes: random acts of kindness, respectful behavior, and courtesy. These are noble values with positive intention, and can make us all feel respected and appreciated.
At a time when the internet is exploding with hate and vitriol, chivalry is a minty fresh breath of healing air.
Feminism, at its most simple definition, is a movement that seeks the equality of all humans.
This equality includes: equality under the law, equal pay for equal work, liberation, individualism, bodily autonomy, protection, justice for assault and harassment, and social mobility.
That society’s treatment of women was, and continues to be, inequitable, unfair, and unjust, and that the core principles of feminism are right and proper, no longer seems to be a matter of debate.
These are the sane and sensible tenets of the original movement. But because feminism has repeatedly come up against the restraints and oppression of patriarchy and religion, it hasn’t been an easy shift and the movement was corrupted by fringe, wackadoodle extremists. These extremists are what gave feminism a bad name and while there are groups of man-hating feminists, for the most part, radical feminism opposes patriarchy — the system — not men.
So, let’s just take a breather here for a second and for the sake of this discussion, we will stay with the concept of feminism as equality and equanimity, not extremism.
Ladies, we are free to pick and choose the aspects of feminism that resonate for us. We don’t have to identify with all of it. The whole point is for a woman to feel the freedom to choose for herself.
There’s no shame or conflict of interest in enjoying chivalry, while also being the breadwinner of the family, for example.
I think it’s fair to say that the average hetero woman appreciates it when a man offers up chivalry in the context of a sincere romantic gesture. It’s in our soft wiring to be wooed by it and it can be a turn on. “Let’s split the check,” is as cold and dry as a snow-banked nun.
And, for clarity, a woman can (and I dare say should) also pick up a check sometimes, open a door, and offer whatever acts of kindness and generosity feel right for her. Chivalry is not one-sided. This is how respect, equality, and kindness flow.
And, intention is everything.
Dude, if your chivalry is a barter, don’t bother — that’s entitlement steeped in misogyny.
And ladies, if your attitude is one of expectation rather than appreciation — congratulations, you are an equally entitled princess.
The proverbial dropped handkerchief is no longer waiting on the sidewalk to be rescued by a man. It’s up for grabs in the breeze, hoping to be caught by kindness, not coyness.
We need to work together with respect — not emasculating, ball-breaking revenge for decades of wrongdoing; after all ladies, in many ways, we have also been complicit.
Living in reality means accepting the fact that we are different. We can embrace those differences and have fun with them, or we can fight a losing battle against them and ourselves.
I am a modern, independent woman; a feminist of the non-extreme variety. I love and adore men, and believe they truly want to make women happy.
Appreciating a gentleman does not make me a betrayer of the feminist sisterhood — that’s radical thinking.
And men, our acceptance of your differences doesn’t give you a pass to be crass. Chivalry is a golden rule, not a power play.
Let's work together with respect, open, honest communication and kindness. This really doesn't need to be so complicated.
Originally published on Elephant Journal