I could rant about this at length—and I have in Gender Justice courses I’ve taught—but I’m going to be concise today.
Chivalry is sexist.
What is chivalry? Let’s take a look. It’s the qualifications, rules, and customs of a knight or gallant warriors or gentlemen. It’s entirely about men. As we think about it in modern day rules of etiquette, it is entirely about how men should treat women.
Why should there be special rules for how men treat women? There shouldn’t. They reinforce patriarchy.
Patriarchy refers to a society that is male dominated, male identified, and male centered. Chivalry has everything to do with keeping society male identified; it says that men determine the proper way to treat other people, and it also reinforces the idea that women need to be “treated.”
Chivalry says that women are weak—they can’t even open a door for themselves. Chivalry says that women are delicate—they would never be able to ride the bus or train standing up. Chivalry says that women are dependent—they should expect men to take care of them.
I’m sorry, but I am not chivalrous. Actually, I’m not even sorry. I will not go out of my way to open a door for a woman. I will not give up my seat for someone just because she’s a woman. I will not taste the wine and determine if it’s good enough for the woman. These rituals are rooted in misogyny and courting rituals from the days when men owned their wives as property.
As both a gay man and a feminist, I refuse to subscribe to this archaic thinking. Does that make me an insensitive asshole? No.
I can be polite. I can be mannerly. I can be quite courteous, in fact. But my motivations for these behaviors have nothing to do with the gender of the person I’m helping out. I’m doing it because it’s nice. If someone has special needs or challenges, that’s different; being female is not a special need or challenge. Even when I offer my arm to someone walking on an icy sidewalk in heels, it’s because of the heels, not the gender of the person wearing them. Women are not the only people in my life who wear heels.
So, to all those men out there who think they need to be chivalrous: get over yourselves. As my friend Marie says, you’re “benevolent sexists.” What you consciously mean is to be nice, but what you subconsciously mean is that women need to be controlled.
I am so over chivalry. I respect the ladies in my life more than enough to not belittle them in such ways.