Feminism | Posted by Fiona L on 11/8/2010

Are Chivalry and Feminism Incompatible?

Is chivalry dead? Should it be?

Is chivalry dead? Should it be?

This summer, I had doors opened for me, was ushered into rooms ahead of my male counterparts, and was even offered a spot in line ahead of the boys. I attended an amazing international program where I met teenagers from thirty-two different countries, and I learned that in many parts of the world chivalry is not, in fact, dead.

Apparently, my international friends (who came from countries ranging from Kazakhstan to the Netherlands) share a belief that women ought to be treated differently in certain situations. Maybe it’s just automatic behavior, but these boys acted differently from the seventeen-year-old boys I know, who would never think to say “You first.”

I grew up in New York City, where people rush through their daily routines, scarcely pausing to allow others to exit the subway before they push their way on, and where people have generally liberal attitudes about the roles of men and women. I’m not exactly used to men holding doors for me. I know that many women struggled to accomplish this goal. The suffragettes and feminists knew that with independence comes responsibility, and fought to pay for themselves at dinner just as they fought to be paid equal wages. Mostly, they succeeded, and so I shove my way onto the subway everyday and grab for doors as they slam in my face. Personally, I think it builds character. Also, I’ve never known anything else.

This summer, when the first door was held open for me, I assumed it was an accident. When my suitcase was carried up the stairs, I assumed the boy helping me worked for the program as a porter. When a boy in in the dinner line insisted I step ahead of him, I guessed that the language barrier had caused a misunderstanding. When he persisted, I nearly laughed aloud at the absurdity.

After about a week, though, I was hooked. I felt satisfied when a boy helped me down the steps of the bus or thoughtfully pushed my chair in for me. When the program ended, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when my suitcase was cheerfully hauled down the stairs. I found myself thinking things like how respectful! and saying things like “Oh, that would be a delight!” when offered some service. Essentially, I became someone’s grandmother.

When I got back to the U.S., I was grumpy when I had to drag my luggage off the tarmac on my own, and I secretly found myself thinking that paying for my own meals might be a little overrated. Then, I snapped back to reality. I began to scold myself for liking the special treatment. I thought about where chivalry came from and realized it was an extension of the thinking that women are inferior to men. Chivalry exists in backwards cultures where women are not able to progress, I assured myself.

But then I remembered a conversation with some of the participants from Finland, in which I mentioned the lack of women in politics and was received with blank stares. “Lack?” one of them asked, confused. Thinking he didn’t know the word, I began to explain. He interrupted and informed me that there is no lack of women in leadership. He listed Finnish women in power, including prime ministers and members of parliament–statistics that dwarfed those of the United States. Then, he asked me if I’d like a drink, and proceeded to pay for it.

Being at an international program helped me realize that my world is not the only one that exists. I’ve always assumed there are two basic views on the progress of women, but now I see I was mistaken. In my world, women learn to fight for themselves and push ahead of the crowd, but don’t always make it. Perhaps, in countries where men open car doors for women, there are other, more important doors left open as well. Or, maybe there’s no correlation at all. Either way, I’ve learned from living with people from other countries. While I will never wait for someone to open a door for me, I will never scowl at the man who does. I know that he may in some ways be more of a feminist than a man who assumes I will do it by myself.

So, I guess I kissed chivalry on the cheek and flew back to my world a bit more open-minded.

Originally posted at Rachel Simmons’ blog

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  • Umbra @ at 10:45 am, November 8th, 2010

    Very cool post on your experiences with modern chivalry. My theory, I don,t know if this is true or not, countries like Finland have more respect for women because of chivalary, leading to more opportunities. America lacks that respect nowadays.

  • Jessica @ at 10:52 am, November 8th, 2010

    I think chivalry and cordiality are different things. I mean, I understand that we should be nice and polite to all people, women or men. So I’ve held doors and paid many times for men/women and I expect people to do the same, but because I’m a person, not a woman. I think that’s a question of being nice, polite.

  • Katherine C. @ at 11:50 am, November 8th, 2010

    OR how about this: Both men AND women pay for meals, hold doors open, and are basically POLITE whenever the opportunity arises!

    I don’t want to be treated like a lady. I want to be treated like a human being.

  • Suzanne @ at 12:22 pm, November 8th, 2010

    I agree with Jessica and Katherine C. I would hold a door open for someone who was behind me, and would expect other people to do the same, regardless of their gender. It’s simply common courtesy.

  • A @ at 3:52 pm, November 8th, 2010

    I agree completely with Katherine, and most other commenters. It’s about being kind to fellow people, regardless of gender or anything else.

  • johnny @ at 4:26 pm, November 8th, 2010

    amen to katherine; she said exactly what i was thinking.

    in answer to the title: absolutely, without a doubt, yes. chivalry and feminism are incompatible. being a decent fucking human being and feminism, however, are completely compatible. men shouldn’t hold doors open for, act polite towards, and be generous to women; PEOPLE should hold doors open for, act polite towards, and be generous to PEOPLE.

    i don’t care how much you enjoyed it, treating women worse OR better than men on the basis of their being women is sexism, plain and simple.

  • Liz @ at 4:28 pm, November 8th, 2010

    I agree with Katherine as well. I hold doors open for other people, and I like it when people do it for me. When it’s done for me because I am a LADY, then I get uncomfortable. One of my male friends in particular likes to act “chivalrous” towards me just because he knows it will make me respond with a sarcastic comment out of discomfort. I think you presented a fairly balanced view of what it is to be a feminist and enjoy being treated nicely… but naming it “chivalry” puts gender into it. We shouldn’t be treating people differently or nicer because of their gender, we just just be treating them nicely because that’s nice.

  • A.Y. Siu @ at 4:32 pm, November 8th, 2010

    People should definitely not push ahead of you and be rude to you. But they also shouldn’t treat you special just because you are female.

    How about holding doors for everyone? Helping to carry bags for everyone (female and male)?

    If chivalry is gendered (and it usually is) it’s sexist. If it’s just people being nice to each other, then I’m all for it.

  • Cait @ at 6:15 pm, November 8th, 2010

    Chivalry is, and always has been, a gendered term. In my experience, most people now use it to describe cordial behavior, regardless of the gender of the person they’re helping. Yes, it tends to happen more to women than to men, but imo, it’s not the worst sexist behavior around.

    I’ve had men help me open doors when I’ve been struggling (too many library books or w/e) or help me when I’ve dropped papers & it’s been because they think they’re being chivalrous – but they were the only people who offered me help, so in that case I’m not going to turn it down, but I think at it’s core, yes, chivalry & feminism can’t work together.

  • ana paula @ at 7:37 pm, November 8th, 2010

    people are too sensitive when it comes to this subject. i think it’s adorable when a guy holds the door for me and if he doesn’t, honestly, i think less of him. but i’m sure many people would disagree with me on that.

  • Zoe @ at 12:09 am, November 9th, 2010

    Good post.

    Chivalry, as nice as it might seem, is still sexist. It sucks for guys who feel that women want equality but still want to be treated “better” just because they are women. It sucks for women because it creates a sense of women being incapable of doing simple things like opening doors and paying for meals.

    I think chivalry should be replaced with common courtesy.

  • kay @ at 12:36 am, November 9th, 2010

    chivalry is sexist. plain and simple. it’s condescension, and it isn’t true respect, because it doesn’t treat women as equal to men. respecting people for being people (and not for their gender) is a totally different story.

  • Nano (Nyxie) @ at 3:57 am, November 9th, 2010

    Common courtesy? All for it. Chivalry? Not so much.

    Common courtesy means paying for someone else’s meal or helping them with their luggage because it’s polite. Chivalry is doing it because you assume they can’t.

    Do you know if/how those guys acted with other guys? Or what their assumptions about you are? Then I would decide if it’s courtesy or chivalry.

    My problem with chivalry isn’t its chauvanistic attitudes or its misogynistic roots, but the misogyny it inspires. In cultures where feminism overpowers misogyny and guys don’t think holding a door open will get them laid, then I don’t have a problem with chivalry – especially if it goes both ways. But in cultures like ours [American], the feminism does not overpower misogyny, and while I will always appreciate the nice guys out there, I’m still going to be suspicious of any and all chivalrous acts made towards me until I see reason to believe it wasn’t misogyny.

  • Jacquie @ at 11:20 am, November 9th, 2010

    Do you think it has something to do with the way that we in North America (I’m in Canada) continually confuse equal with same? Could this Finnish boy in the article be able to better understand how Fiona is his equal without being exactly the same as him?
    We North Americans also seem to see women’s success in comparison with men’s success – that a woman has to be like a man to be successful.

  • Katherine C. @ at 11:35 am, November 9th, 2010

    One other thing: Some of you may be familiar with Tamora Pierce, who write fantasy, quasi-mideval novels about awesome girls/women trying to be knights or sorcerers or whatever. Sounds corny, but I promise the writing is great. Anyway, she always frames the whole “chivalry” thing in her book as NOT being a gendered thing- in her world, chivalry is another name for a “knight’s” (whether male or female) responsibility to do good by those they protect, men and women, old and young. So until I fairly recently became familiar with the modern usage of the word, it always had very positive connotations for me *shrugs* It’s worth checking out!

  • typhonatemybaby @ at 4:19 pm, November 9th, 2010

    I think this issue is largely semantic. If a person justified polite action on the basis of couresy there would be no connotations. If they justified it on the basis of chivalry there might be negative ones. All you have to do here is redefine chivalry s applying to all genders in evey particular and its all sorted.

    Basically this is just an excuse to use chivalry instead of courtesy, seeing as its a much cooler word.

    On a side note a good part of chivalry, to my mind, is just straight up respect to the gents as well. Having read at lest versions of the aruthurian legends as well as some other chivalric legends i feel confidant in saying that most of the time the knights who are “good guys” generally act repsectfully to everyone whether they are friedn, foe woman or man. Granted the legends were still sexist, and deeply steeped in misogyny at times, but equal respect was often payed to both sexes. Not all the time though: in keeping with legend tradition some of the women were shoved into some horrific sterotypes. Bear in mind that I was reaing abridged translations and safe-for-work edits, so some of the less child friendly stuf was probably removed. I was about 8. I couldnt deal with Chaucerian English

  • Tessa @ at 4:26 pm, November 9th, 2010

    @Ryan:

    Nice to know. Doesn’t relate to this post at all, but whatever. If you’re going to randomnly spew out hate, at least do it in context with the ACTUAL POST

  • Juliet @ at 5:22 pm, November 9th, 2010

    Chivalry will always, always be sexist. Common courtesy from both sides, however, is not.

  • kanadra @ at 6:45 pm, November 9th, 2010

    I’m definitely agreeing with the difference between chivalry and courtesy discussion. I’ll hold doors open for anyone who is coming in behind me. Sometimes, that leaves me standing at the door, holding it open for a minute or two, because of the steady stream of people coming into the building. While going out for dinner, my boyfriend and I generally take turns holding doors open for one another, it’s become almost a game. Similar with paying for the meals. If i could see someone needed a hand with something, I most certainly wouldn’t mind helping out, and Have even offered to help a stranger push their car out of a snow drift. It doesn’t matter what gender I am, because I know i am a perfectly capable person, and I try to be courteous and helpful. I definitely agree with the people helping people, rather than men helping women, sentiment.

  • Jake @ at 12:21 am, November 10th, 2010

    He doesn’t hate women, they just don’t talk to him.
    Look at the way he speaks, he’s a child with a thesaurus regurgitating insults he read on 4chan.
    Don’t act as if he is anything more.

  • Heather @ at 6:04 am, November 10th, 2010

    I hate special treatment; chivalry. I told my boyfriend’s mother that if my bf asked my parents for my hand than that would be weird. She thought I would like that, no actually I would be appalled and I would dump him. You ask me, not my parents. Urgh!

  • Tessa @ at 6:36 pm, November 10th, 2010

    Ryan, going completely off of your logic, men shouldn’t have the right to become fathers because babies don’t come out of their bodies. Again, going by your logic, if men aren’t the ones having children, then they shouldn’t have rights in terms of taking care of their children EVEN IF THEY WANT TO. Here’s the clear logical fallacy with your statement: you assume that no men choose to have children. If you argue that children are the choice and “property” of women, you would have to completely take away a willing man’s rights. It’s hypocritical and incredibly idealistic to assume a win-win situation for men.

    This clear fallacy with your argument goes completely against your whole ideology because obviously men’s rights are SO important to you to the point where you’ll spew out random misogynistic statements.

  • Steph @ at 7:01 pm, November 10th, 2010

    Tessa, your arguments are great, but in the end all that happens is you lose time and he gets more opportunities to post.

  • Alex Catgirl @ at 11:19 am, November 11th, 2010

    When comparing cultures it’s very important not to fixate on just one facet as they are very complex social constructs.

    To varying extents, many old Europeans cling to chivalrous ideals that incorporate much more than just gender relations, which is the image that comes to mind when colonists think of the world.

    Chivalry is class-centric, which is not a bad thing when using the proper definition of class. Modern academics adhere to the Marxist definition of class(a/k/a money) which is a false premise. The truth is that it’s the difference between high(elite) culture and low(populist) culture. “High culture” is very formal.

    To not open a door or offer a hand at the stairs to a women, especially if she’s wearing heels and a dress, is an indication of poor breeding.

    Alex(andria) is my middle name, how I am refereed to by acquaintances, only my family and close friends have the “honour” of using my first name (hence the extreme hookyness of the old movies when guys will ask for the honour of a women’s name, that’s where it comes from).

    The other big deal you will come across when travelling to those countries is the use of “title”, they are very sticky about it – It’s always Mr./Mrs./Ms. last name, or in the case of young women – Miss, I am always refereed to as Miss catgirl, which is not so much about my marital status as it is about my age – Elders are revered, I am not xD.

    It’s more complicated than that though, there are a bunch of caveats depending on the particular group of people you are with.

  • Tessa @ at 8:34 pm, November 11th, 2010

    Steph, thanks! I was just getting extremely frustrated and HAD to point out how dumb Ryan’s arguments are.

    “Yes this is correct, a willing man has no rights, its called abortion.”
    Ryan, that’s actually the worst argument I’ve heard from you thus far, which is really saying something
    *Shakes Head*

    Okay, now I’m going to finally stop feeding the troll

  • Liza @ at 9:49 am, November 12th, 2010

    Guys, give up. Ryan only wants a reaction. If you took every language in existence and tried to come up with an amazing response that disproved everything he has said or will say, you will still fail. He wants a reaction; the second you press submit he wins. Ironically enough, I’m giving him attention by telling everyone to not give him attention. Yay internet.

  • typhonatemybaby @ at 4:25 pm, November 14th, 2010

    ok seriously ryan, start being a good little soldier and get to trolling tumblr. The chans have engaged in a major assault on the hipsters therein and i think they need your RAZOR SHARP WIT

  • catch @ at 12:09 am, December 13th, 2010

    This is simple: offer non-feminists chivalry and feminists get treated like men (equal to men), getting no more courtesy than men get. That way, feminists get the equality they want and non-feminists get the chivalry they want. No fuss, no muss.

  • David @ at 10:26 am, January 1st, 2011

    I’m sorry but I believe that women are special, and they should be shown an extra level of respect. I also believe that those who do not show this respect shouldn’t be trusted with respecting anything.
    Women are the next generation of mothers. They are, with few exceptions, the mothers of our children, our nation, of our world. The world you will live in tomorrow will be controlled by their children these women are raising today. It is an added burden placed on them because of their sex; a burden wrapped in a blessing.
    So yes, I will open doors, I will not try to go first, I will pay and I will leave them better tips. If this offends them, then I will apologize; it’s all part of respect.

  • Mark @ at 12:41 am, January 23rd, 2011

    Men usually feel like they have to pay for dinner because they did the inviting. Also, they know they have the disadvantage in the dating scene (unless they are wealthy), so they pay to avoid being alone.

    Until women initiate dates as often as men, the “whoever asks, pays” system will be flawed.

    You cannot compare opening doors to paying for meals and sending flowers. I would not pay for a strangers dinner or buy him/her flowers, so why would I do it for a date/girlfriend/wife? I would open a door for a stranger and my date.

    Many women are having trouble shutting off their innate design to desire a protector. They will have trouble adapting to a more egalitarian society until they can abandon that part of their mind.

    For example: Even with women outearning men, many women still desire to marry a man who earns more money and has an equal or advanced education. That is why women always claim that there are not enough “good men”. Women need to understand that when they start earning more money, their pool of superior men will slowly drain.

    Women are also starting to feel the effects of having to work for a living. It has reduced overall happiness for many of them.

    The days of coddling women are far from over, but we are still making progress.

  • David @ at 7:55 pm, January 24th, 2011

    Mark,
    I was speaking of respect for women. Respect on the streets, in the workplace and respect for their responsibility in society. It’s the same as I feel men should be honored for their sacrifices to defend that society.
    As very small children, boys play fighting games while girls play social games. It’s the way they are wired. Men grow up to defend boundaries while girls grow up to define those boundaries. Along with respect and honor comes responsibility but everyone today wants respect for nothing.
    As for dating, it’s about finding a life partner, it’s about love; all is fair in love and war.

  • Eric M @ at 9:44 am, June 8th, 2011

    No, chivalry and feminism are not compatible. Chivalry is expressly anti-equality and therefore anti-feminist. Any action or practice which endorses special treatment based on gender, even if ostensibly well intended, is against the simple principle of gender equality. Therefore, women should and cannot be treated any differently than a man would be treated in the same set of circumstances.

    This means that feminist women should be treated with no more or less courtesy than that received by men.

    Non-feminist ladies, on the other hand, can expect chivalry should that be their preference.

  • The unspoken ‘man code’ of the public service « In the shuffle @ at 12:57 pm, August 30th, 2011

    [...] fact, it’s interesting to consider the possibility that in cultures where men open doors for women, there are other, more important doors, left open as we…. I think the public service might be one of those cultures. I mean, I have seen many job posters [...]

  • Robert @ at 12:40 pm, January 19th, 2012

    hey women…as Mark and Eric state….you cant have your cake and eat it too…equality and chivalry do not go hand in hand…you want to be equal with men then you must not expect any special treatment. And btw if you want the top male jobs in society then you must be prepared to take on the worst male jobs as well because thats what equality means. Also the term “feminism” is not equality, because it focuses on only one gender, so its time to drop the anti male name and pick up something that can work for all of us, not just females.

  • Bernard @ at 11:00 pm, September 5th, 2012

    No, feminists should be treated like men, equal to men. Which means they shouldn’t get chivalry. That’s what they should want, if they truly want equality.

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