Reflecting further on chivalry

By Gabriella Fleming-Shemer


After reading the two articles published last week on chivalry I couldn’t help but contribute to the conversation. Firstly, I think it’s important to look at the history of chivalry and understand how it has become such a valued element of our society. The term “chivalry” can be dated back to as early as 1297 AD, used to describe the valor and militant success of a knight. From the 13th to 18th centuries it has described a set of moral, religious and social practices of knighthood that reflected the exceedingly patriarchal times during which men were admired for asserting forceful dominance whether it be in battle or in the household. The historically “chivalrous” rituals then of holding doors open for women and pulling out their chairs were ways of enforcing ownership and controlling the sphere that women lived in. While traditions die hard and people cannot help but play into its roles, the expectation of chivalry today encourages limiting gender roles that are harmful to both sexes.

Let’s begin with Connor Small’s example of paying for dinner. In his article he talked about the resistance many males have in paying for the first date and how disappointing this is to him. He wrote that “it is natural to get frustrated over feeling like you are an ATM, but if you feel that the girl you are dining with is not worth the price of one dinner, I would question why are you out with her in the first place.” I completely see where he is coming from because paying for another person is showing your respect and admiration for them and therefore should not seem out of place when dating someone. What I disagree with though is the one-sidedness of this practice. If it is only ever men who are expected to buy the meals, pull out chairs and hold open doors what does it say about women? It says that they are the passive ones in the relationship, the ones who need to be taken care of and managed by men. So while I can’t help but appreciate Connor’s desire to fulfill his gentlemanly role, I believe that these long-standing social expectations are outdated and serve to contain women in docile roles.

In stark contrast to Connor’s view that the fundamentally good-intentioned gallantry should prevail, Sarah Morris’s piece held that women today are undeserving of such courtesy due to our increasing promiscuity. In her article, after attributing the initial decline of chivalry to the women’s rights movement, she stated that “too many women are sluts these days.” I’ll admit, even I was momentarily lost for words. But no worries, they’re back.

First off, whether a woman sleeps with 1 or 100 men should not determine how civilly people treat her. What we do in bed, with whom and however often, does not define us, just as how often we workout or how much we eat defines us. Unless we’re placing moral value on abstaining from pleasure, we cannot be contemptuous of those who enjoy this lifestyle. Sarah went on to describe the “sluttiness” of girls at frats who grind with random guys, writing  “I’m not sure that girls who behave like that really deserve to be treated as expected. In that moment at least, when ladylike behavior ceases to exist, so does the opportunity to be treated like one.” Though her point is far from being inexplicit I’ll break it down further: girls cannot both reveal their sexuality and claim respect. So while men continue to be high-fived for scoring a different girl every weekend, women will be persecuted, perhaps have a door shut on her face, because hey, that slut grinded with a stranger last night and who deserves to be treated nicely after that? I would perhaps be more empathetic to her message if she had scorned all “sluttiness” but her point is clear that publically sexual behavior is fine for men and fine for women, if these women are okay with foregoing courteous treatment by men.

Instead of lamenting the so-called death of chivalry, maybe we should look at its effects and ask whether it really is such a bad thing. Rather than blaming dirty dancing or the women’s rights movement (which clearly still has a long way to go) for women’s reduced status, we should work to find ways in which common courtesies can still exist without the structure of oppressive and patriarchal gender roles. Yes, maybe men would feel emasculated for a while when their girlfriends were the ones to drive and maybe women would feel less valuable for a time when they would buy their own coffee but in this world, being chivalrous is a gift both parties could equally give and take. It’s a world where men wouldn’t be forced to empty their pocketbooks on every holiday and women weren’t indebted to them for it. It doesn’t sound too horrible to me.

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