Manners Are Nice; Chivalry Is Sexism

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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.

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There are 3 Comments to "Manners Are Nice; Chivalry Is Sexism"

  • Ryan says:

    I must disagree with your ovelyr entrenched ideas of Chivalry. I am bisexual and strive to be chivalrous. It has nothing to do with the notion of women being weaker. For me its about respect, doing that little bit extra. If anything, I hold women in higher regard than I do men.

  • ZackFord says:

    Ryan, thank you for your comment. I must point out that it is your very attitude that seems to be part of the problem. What does it really mean to “respect” women or hold them in “high regard”? I would challenge you to think about the implications of these self-expectations. By doing so, are you not treating women as the “fairer” of the species and thus relegating them to a position of delicate and vulnerable?

    Here are a few examples of male privilege to consider that I think you are helping to perpetuate with your chivalry (taken from Allan Johnson):

    Men are more likely to be given early opportunities to show what they can do at work, to be identified as potential candidates for promotion, to be mentored, to be given a second chance when they fail, and to be allowed to treat failure as a learning experience rather than as an indication who they are and the shortcomings of their gender.

    Men are more likely than women are to control conversations and be allowed to get away with it and to have their ideas and contribution taken serious, even those that were suggested previously by a woman and dismissed or ignored.

    Men can succeed without other people being surprised.

    Men don’t have to deal with an endless and exhausting stream of attention drawn to their gender (for example, to how sexually attractive they are).

    Men can reasonably expect that if they work hard and “play by the rules,” they’ll get what they deserve and feel justified in complaining if they don’t.

    The standards used to evaluate men as men are consistent with the standards used to evaluate them in other roles such as occupations. Standards used to evaluate women as women are often different from those used to evaluate them in other roles. For example, a man can be both a “real man” and a successful and aggressive lawyer, while an aggressive woman lawyer may succeed as a lawyer but be judged as not measuring up as a woman.

    You see, Ryan, women are constantly sent messages that they are the weaker sex. By defending and promoting chivalry (as opposed to just sex-blind manners), you are actually reinforcing those messages.

  • Tom says:

    I agree 100%. Chivalry is the idea that women are weak and need to be protected by men. It’s a way of reinforcing patriarchy.

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