Welcome back to Feminism 101, where each week we answer your questions all about feminism. This week’s question comes from a UK Grokite, Kate:
“I have a question that I’ve been thinking about lately… Where does ‘chivalry’ and ‘traditional gentlemanly manners’ towards women fit into the feminist world? Can a feminist still wish to be treated like that but also want to be treated as a strong independent woman?”
We asked our favorite group of feminists what they thought about chivalry and its place within feminism. Here’s what they said:
Shaindel Beers: “I’m not expecting ‘special’ treatment for being a woman, but I believe in politeness. I will open a door for anyone who is coming behind me, and I would expect the same from everyone else. If I look like I’m struggling with something heavy, PLEASE open a door or offer to help, because I would do the same for you. To me, it’s not about gender, it’s about not being an asshole.”
Soraya Chemaly: “Honestly, FWIW, what I always ask is: ‘What is chivalry worth to you?’ Because you might like having a man open a door, even if you can do it yourself, but you can’t give yourself a raise, and they go hand in hand.”
Therese Shechter: “Now that the dragons have been slain and the chastity belts* have been sent to metal recycling, can we lose that word ‘chivalry,’ or at least un-gender it? Here are some tips: Holding a door is just good manners and everyone should say thank you to whomever does it. Letting me out of the elevator first because I’m a lady is a bit pointless, but whatever. Thanks for letting me sign in first at the doctor’s office! However, laying your cloak upon a muddy puddle may be going too far, dry cleaning bills being what they are.
*Chastity belts probably didn’t exist in large numbers since we have so little historical record on them. However, they are quite easy to find today, mostly for men. Google at your own risk.“
Becky Jones: “Of course chivalry is compatible with modern feminism. We just call it common human kindness, and we think everyone deserves it.”
Paige Blansfield: “I want to be treated with the same radical generosity that I give, so for me, my feminism doesn’t conflict with ‘chivalrous’ behaviors. I do, however, view today’s chivalry as less about holding doors or having chairs pulled out by one gender for another, and more about generous consideration that manifests in behavior. Expectations for empathy and awareness can be sex- and gender-neutral. It’s simply a courtesy to hold a door, or to wait to begin eating if you’re around others in certain situations. Regardless of the sex or gender of the person performing any generous action, I think the world would be a better place if more people demonstrated a profound awareness in behavior. My partner holds doors and brings me flowers — but I hold doors for him if I get there first and strive to delight and surprise him, too. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be treated in what you define as a considerate manner — but I expect myself to also take the initiative whenever I can!
Also, as a shorter person, it drives me crazy when a (taller) person insists on holding the door for me — especially when I get there first — and I’m forced to walk under their arm. To me, it’s not chivalry or polite, but a power play.”
Awanthi Vardaraj: “Google defines ‘chivalry’ as courteous behavior, with the synonyms for the word being ‘gallantry,’ ‘gentlemanliness,’ ‘thoughtfulness,’ ‘attentiveness,’ and ‘consideration.’ I may be a feminist, but I’m also a human being. In other words, yes please. All of the above, all the time. Yes, please.”
KM O’Sullivan: “We’ve been told quite a few fairy tales about chivalrous acts leading to happiness ever after, but let’s be real: chivalry and all its religious, moral, and social codes has evolved. It’s not antiquated or even patriarchal, not any more. Chivalry is just another word for RESPECT, and RESPECT is a gender-neutral concept. If you want the door opened for you or your chair pulled out at the table or jacket placed across the puddle in the street so your shoes don’t get wet, then, by all means, find a person who will respect that part of you. Feminism is not about behaving in a certain way. Let that go and respect yourself, and throw a little respect to person you are with. That’s the chivalrous thing to do.”
Marissa Korbel: “I think chivalry can exist within consent culture. If you know a person that likes to be treated that way, go right ahead and do it! If you have no idea what a person enjoys, maybe ask before undertaking a big chivalrous display. If you’re a woman that wants to be treated a certain way by your honey, speak up and say so. Traditional chivalry is based on the idea of female weakness — that’s why it’s not a good idea to assume that every woman likes/wants it, OR that every man wants to engage in that kind of relationship. But what you negotiate with your partners and friends is totally fine (just like D/s or another negotiated relationship). Something small, like holding a door is really basic (non-gendered) manners in my book, so hold away (as long as you do it inclusively).”
Amanda Rose Adams: “My take on this is that everyone, regardless of gender, should offer the simple courtesies of holding a door open or occasionally picking up a check. Our society is sorely lacking in manners, so ideally we would all treat others with the same kindness we would like to receive. When behavior is driven by a desire for kindness rather than a prescribed gender obligation, then we are able to glean the best parts of our culture and put the remainder to rest.”
Bex vanKoot: “I think that what most people describe as ‘chivalry’ just boils down to being a decent person. I honestly am not sure how codes of honor telling knights how best to serve their King and their God somehow turned into a concept that basically means having decent manners. My take is this: if someone is kind and courteous to me because he happens to be a kind and courteous person, that’s awesome. If someone is ‘kind’ and ‘courteous’ to me only because he wants to have sex with me, and is an asshole to everyone else, that’s not gentlemanly or chivalrous. So many men who use these words to describe themselves are the infamous ‘Nice Guys’ who are only nice so long as they think they can get something from you. Having manners is more than just performing some kind of rote manhood. I have literally had men wrench doors from my hands and force me to go inside before them, because they couldn’t handle the idea of having a woman hold the door for them, I guess? So when the question is, ‘Can I want a man to be a gentleman and still be a feminist,’ the answer is sure, yes, of course…. but if you expect him to treat you better than other human beings solely because you are a woman, that doesn’t seem very feminist to me.”
Debra A. Klein: “Do I *need* someone to carry my packages? Hold a door? Lay down a coat? (Clearly suggested by a Medieval dry cleaner.) No. But I also don’t reject helpful gestures as patronizing affronts to my gender or place in society. None of us should be forced to view it through that lens. Maybe we have such a difficult time finding chivalry’s place in a modern context because it’s a concept literally held over from the Middle Ages. So let’s scrap it. Let’s rebrand chivalry.
Why can’t the terms we use to define giving up seats and carrying packages be redefined as gender-neutral offers of assistance and then extend them to one another as acts of basic human kindness? ‘Wevalry’ anyone? ‘Uvalry?’ The world’s an increasingly hostile place, so let’s applaud efforts to — and actively engage in ways to — be especially courteous and helpful to everyone.
Sometimes holding a door open is just holding a door open. I do it all the time.”
Do YOU have a question for our cabal of fierce feminists? Email it to Avital Norman Nathman at TheMamafesto@gmail.com.