when chivalry is dead, good riddance
A few days after I started as a freshman at BYU, I was headed into the library when a young man dashed by me and swung open the library door with a flourish. “There you are,” he said with a smile. But suddenly, what seemed like an isolated incident became a pattern, men opening the door for Relief Society sisters, young men constantly opening doors for me.
Annoyance started to build—“good grief, I can get the door”—and I started thinking maybe I was being too sensitive. No guy ever got the door for me before. Roommates told me the reason I was annoyed was because I wasn’t used to it. Those guys I knew before, those were bad boys and I was now with nice guys. That entire term I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I really hated these “nice” guys.
This was solidified when I went on my second date at BYU, the first one that I had been asked on with a guy that everyone had deemed a good guy—a Nice Guy. My car door was swung open and gently closed after I got in. When I opened my car door when we pulled up the ice rink, he dashed over and expressed how sorry he was that he didn’t get the door for me. Nice Guy insisted on helping me into the pea coat I brought, Nice Guy insisted on tying my laces. Nice Guy was actually suffocating and really not all that nice.
It isn’t just door opening – I went on a date where I had asked the guy out. When the check came for dinner, he went to pay. “Oh, I always pay when I asked someone out on a date,” I told him, as I not-so-gently yanked the check away from his hands and slipped my card in it, handing it back to the waitress. I was almost convinced I’d have to get a doctor; I swear he was having a heart attack for a good five minutes.
I’ve expressed openly my hate for chivalry and usually receive horrified expressions and mostly, a lot of questions. In my quest to understand why people still like chivalry, I got a plethora of explanations and a lot of questions as to why I could possibly dislike chivalry. I’ll answer why I disagree with chivalry based on those explanations and questions here:
What’s so wrong with chivalry? It puts women on a pedestal. When chivalry started becoming popular as early as the 12th century, it wasn’t to make women equal (shocking!) but instead it put women as objects to be won by courtly deeds and knightly actions. The idea was the “protect the weak”, who were the women and children. They had no rights, but men would do chivalrous acts so that’s just as equal (right?!)! Even now, treating me or anyone like a delicate princess is not equality. I want to be treated as an equal to men. When opening doors becomes a man’s duty that means ultimately the woman’s duty is to wait for her door to be opened. What a horribly passive role.
Why wouldn’t you want someone to treat you like a princess? I want someone to treat me like a human being and not like a pretty delicate princess being.
So do you want to only date jerks then? Yes, exactly.
No, of course not. I just don’t want someone to put me on a pedestal. You can be a good person AND be all about squashing the patriarchy, believe it or not.
You’re just going to pay for every date you go on? If I asked them, yes. So if I’m broke, I wouldn’t ask someone on a date, it’s just that simple.
I know you are strong enough to get the door; it’s just a nice thing to do. I’m not asserting my strength when I get open my own door. I’m not like, “Hey I obviously worked out, here’s me now opening the car door everyone!”
Here’s the thing, if I’m holding a box, you can get the door. If I’m ten feet from the door, just go in the door and don’t wait for me. But it shouldn’t be only men, of course—women can open the door too.
I did a little experiment where for an entire day, I did the same thing guys always do to me. I waited with the door open when a male was a few feet away, I said things like, “Gentlemen,” when dudes poured in the library while I held the door open (slightly smirking. I even rushed past some guy to open the door for him after leaving the library. Along with their horrified expressions, each guy basically told me the same thing, “I can get the door myself” or “Um, I’ve got it” or as one guy put it, “Don’t you think this is a little much?” Their feelings sum up my feelings perfectly, I mean, don’t you think this is a little [WAY TOO] much?
Why is this even a big deal? Can’t you just let the door be opened and stop whining about it, you crazy feminist? No, I can’t actually, because it bothers me. Also, to tell someone ‘hey deal with something you find sexist and stop whining about it’ is really rude. I can get my own door and I’m not really about continuing chivalric traditions from the 16th century that are so obviously patriarchal in nature. I’ve actually been on a date where there was a sense that I “owed” the guy something because he had paid, been so chivalrous, etc. I don’t own anyone anything, especially on a date. (This is not an isolated incident—I’ve heard stories from other people about “owing” the date something because he was so kind, generally sexual favors).
So, it is a “big deal”. So thanks but no thanks; I’ll get my own door.
33 Responses to “when chivalry is dead, good riddance”
Wholeheartedly agree and so does my wife.
why do u hate the men
Jk, just wanted to say that this is awesome and one time I suggested to the men that if they couldn’t shake their habit of being patronizing douchebags, that they mediate their actions by donating a dollar for every door to a local charity which benefits women. That didn’t go down well, but I still think it’s a viable secondary. Oh you really like opening the door? Cool, make sure you follow it up with a “chivalrous” donation to a good charity to make up for your insensitive, “uncontrollable” micro-aggression you fuck head
I’m a male and a striving, orthodox LDS, just so you can judge my comments below with that in mind.
I think you’ve got a good point, but I also think this whole issue must be refracted through a different prism. You read fed up; I think you can have quite a positive attitude about it – save your impatience (if I read it right) for more cruel expressions of patriarchy.
Many men will hold doors for other men too, at least here at the Y. Coming from a dog-eat-dog, third-world country, I was disconcerted at first. I thought it was silly that I’d be meters away, and someone would hold the door for 6 seconds, waiting till I got there. I still think that, actually.
So don’t think men will do this only for women. In fact, I think these acts of “chivalry,” like holding the door or paying the bill on a date, are assertions of authority, according to some characteristics of the Mormon ideal of masculinity. In a community where outward demonstrations of righteousness are strong social markers of superiority, these little “acts of service” can go a long way to impress that upon others. And it can serve as a courtship flare too.
I think this connection between service and masculinity, added to our social conservatism, explains why Mormon men can’t accept women holding doors or paying bills very well.
Regardless of their motivations, however, stands the fact that kindness will remain kindness. Seek the good in these things. Take Christmas for an example. So many things about it fly in the face of what it represents, yet we embrace the holiday and many of its traditions for the good it brings us – that’s why we choose to celebrate it in December instead of April. So, I think you should denounce the ugly things you find in chivalry (like the objectification of women) but not call for its complete demise.
As a feminist, I trust you’ll speak your mind. I don’t think you should say it necessarily for the guys holding the door, but I do hope you’ll do that for guys you go out in dates with, and do it very openly and clearly. I think we may be surprised how people are willing to change and adapt, and how culture will follow.
I appreciate your thoughts. Have a pleasant stay at the Y and I hope it’ll help you fulfill all your ambitions.
Igor, I really appreciated your tone and think that, out of the majority of the comments from gender and patriarchy cops women get in general, you’re probably one of the more sincere and thoughtful types. That aside, your analysis of this woman’s thoughts and feelings should, perhaps, be refracted through a different prism: mainly one where you don’t police her thoughts and words and just shut the fuck up for awhile. Additionally, for double points, you could direct your very interested views on what women do and say towards more important matters, such as correcting inequality in your community or helping out at local humanitarian causes. Think of it like Christmas. So much of what happens around Christmas probably annoys you or makes you want to speak up and share your opinion on something. But it’s the spirit of the holiday that makes you civil. So I think you should shut up when it comes to your very important opinions about how a woman feels about chivalry and not call for her to do, really, anything other than whatever she would like to do.
Thanks Igor, I truly meant all the nice things I said at the beginning, as well as all the caustic stuff I said after it.
Thanks for your respectful tone. I believe that this type of discussion is actually very important. I feel that it helps the normally thoughtless participants in a patriarchal society to recognize how far the patriarchy extends. Rather than depersonalizing the problem – take genocide as an example – we ought to recognize that the problem really does affect our daily actions. Rather than viewing patriarchy as a distant or even ancient problem, we ought to recognize that even those who identify as feminists still have room to improve. Complacency will not bring about change; it will bring about bitterness, inequality and self-loathing. Activism can produce happiness when sweeping the dirt under the rug can only produce plastic smiles.
Again, thanks for expressing your views. Please let me know if you’d like to understand my own any more clearly.
Totally, Ryan. Just to clarify, I don’t think complacency is the answer either – and I agree we have to engage in activism to shape our reality. If the rights and image of women is what you’re willing to fight for, by all means be engaged and active.
The only point I disagreed with Tinesha is the calling for the end of chivalry, which might have been more implicit than explicit. I think chivalry, in particular, and good manners, in general, can and should persist in the reality she envisions – which I think we share.
Chivalry, of course, is based on the assumption that there are roles unique to each gender, and perhaps that’s what bothers Tinesha. Seeing it manifest routinely, she must feel (and I’d agree) it is the expression of a generalized mindset which she doesn’t approve.
My main point is that these are still acts of kindness, however disagreeable their motivations may be.
Then again, you might feel that chivalry is the sarcasm of a patriarchal society: men exercising their control over women through softness, instead of force – which might be true in some certain circumstances. But I still maintain that it can exist in a reality we both dream of.
Igor, thanks for that clarification. I think you’ve highlighted the fundamental difference that we’re running into: chivalry vs. good manners.
I think we can have a healthy society where humans think to open doors for each other. However, I think that norms that differentiate unnecessarily between men and women and establish women as having a passive role within society are not only insulting extensions of what differences may exist naturally between men and women (e.g., “active” vs. “receptive” roles during coitus), but these norms also place boundaries around the human experience of women (i.e., not being able to open your own door is only a stone’s cast away from not being able to open your own business). To add insult to injury, these boundaries are defined by the actions and preferences of men.
That is why I believe that chivalry, a system of social propriety based on the idea that female societal roles should be receptive and not active, places a damning boundary on human experience.
Yes, I think I got tangled in semantics.
Chivalry, in my language, could be best translated as gentleman-ness. I was taught to be a gentleman, to cultivate kindness, deference, humility and diplomacy, so I couldn’t see how that could be offensive. To me, it’s a natural deference, predicated as it may be upon the woman’s consent, but it never crossed my mind that I could be perpetuating a system of submission and limiting of rights.
As it has been alluded here, though, chivalry still implies a special treatment towards women. I’ve conjured up two hypothetical cases of daily life; would you please let me know if you agree or disagree with my views?
1) My wife and I get back from shopping with a single bag of groceries. We’re both able and willing to carry it, but I offer to take it because I feel women shouldn’t carry unnecessary weight when a man is around. I’d do the same for my mother, sister, etc.
2) I’m sitting in a crowded bus when a woman comes in. She’s not elderly, pregnant, or disabled, and I know she’s able to endure the trip on her feet just like anyone else, but I still offer her my seat because I feel a woman shouldn’t stand unnecessarily in a crowded bus or train when men are sitting.
Women may accept or refuse offers like these, but I still think it’s man’s responsibility to be aware of the circumstances and offer. If well intentioned, I don’t think these offers mean women are less equipped or less authorized to perform such tasks – they simply mean her welfare should be placed above man’s.
In conclusion, I believe in good manners towards all, but I also believe there’s a hierarchy of welfare, where by default women are placed above men, save it be under special circumstances or if it inflicts her personal desires.
Why I place able-bodied women above able-bodied men in this scale might be beyond me: obviously enculturation, but I’d also like to think there are evolutionary forces in play – I’m not sure.
“Women may accept or refuse offers like these, but I still think it’s man’s responsibility to be aware of the circumstances and offer. If well intentioned, I don’t think these offers mean women are less equipped or less authorized to perform such tasks – they simply mean her welfare should be placed above man’s.
In conclusion, I believe in good manners towards all, but I also believe
there’s a hierarchy of welfare, where by default women are placed above men, save it be under special circumstances or if it inflicts her personal desires.
Why I place able-bodied women above able-bodied men in this scale might be beyond me: obviously enculturation, but I’d also like to think there are evolutionary forces in play – I’m not sure.”
Well, I guess it’s good to hear someone just come out and say it so directly.
However, whether it’s created by “evolutionary forces” or not, I find this attitude pretty frightening (though I do realize that it’s not a particularly uncommon mindset.) First of all, evolution is not a prescriptive system and it shouldn’t be used to justify immoral behavior such as ranking the worth of human life based on gender.
It’s an attitude that dehumanizes both men and women – making one life more valuable than another based on nothing other than gender. No, it’s not all right to condemn (or even scowl at) the man on the train who doesn’t give his seat up for the healthy, able-bodied woman. I know we’ve been trained to believe that woman are more “delicate” than men and that they have lower endurance – but we now know that’s not true.
No, “woman and children” first isn’t a moral policy – in life-or-death situations, it should be those who can’t help themselves first (children, the handicapped, etc.) along with their caretakers. And then everyone else, regardless of gender. No, men aren’t more likely than woman to survive hours in freezing waters. In fact, it has actually been shown that, in extreme situations involving things like intense cold and prolonged hunger (such as the events experienced by the Donner Party), women likely have a slight physical advantage and are more likely to come out alive.
But yes, of course it’s very important that everyone should be aware of and consider the needs of those around them.
That’s why I try to hold the door for anyone, regardless of whether they’re male or female. If I invite a friend out for dinner, often times I’ll pay for them – regardless of whether it’s a male friend or a female friend. If a pregnant woman or an elderly man or a father or mother with children get on the bus or train, of course I’ll give my seat up to them.
Similarly, your relationships with your loved ones are a unique situation – presumably you’re each doing kind things for each other all the time. Offering to carry the groceries for your wife is nice – I just strongly dislike the attitude of “I’ll make this sacrifice because you, as a woman, are more important than I am.” That attitude may seem honorable and noble and all that, but it’s not. It’s an archaic attitude that perpetuates inequality. You may see it as something that’s very benign – after all, it’s good to be kind, right? – but when you’re making those sorts of decisions based not on individual differences but on gender, there’s a problem. When you consider it your “responsibility” to make gratuitous offers of help to women – even though you would never think to offer to carry the groceries of a healthy male family member or friend – there’s a problem.
Yes, it is good to be kind. Maybe you’re feeling all right, so you stand up and give your seat to another healthy person who may simply be more worn out. That’s kind and considerate and good.
On the other hand, it’s not kind or considerate or good to think that you’re doing something noble (or “evolutionarily” good) by giving up your seat for that healthy 20-year old woman, while never thinking about doing the same for another healthy 20-year old man. That sort of sex-exclusive “deference” doesn’t really lead to anything good, and it perpetuates all sorts of bad beliefs and traits and behaviors.
Yes, there are a lot of societal and cultural factors at play that influence those kinds of behaviors. Yes, there might be something in our evolutionary past that influences us to think that way. But that doesn’t make it right or morally justifiable.
Thanks again for participating in this discussion so respectfully; I appreciate being able to have an open dialogue.
You’ve said that you’ve been enculturated to place the well-being of women above that of men. You’ve also stated that there may be evolutionary reasons for this treatment.
Most historians believe that patriarchal society formed around the agricultural revolution. The historical record seems to indicate that the status of women deteriorated as ancient societies developed the ability to cultivate food. There are competing hypotheses for why women lost their prominence at this point, but that is what the evidence indicates.
Since that time, women became confined to the home and the internal functions of the family. It might seem natural for such to be the case: after all, it is more natural for the child-bearing sex to rear children. However, we cannot fully justify this shift in the status of women until we wrestle with the fact that women participated in the retrieval of food prior to the agricultural revolution, and they also enjoyed a relatively healthy status in society.
So while it seems like there might have been some functional reason for the change in the role of women (i.e., the child-bearer should manage the home, and the other partner should manage the field), it is unfortunate that the status of women decreased as a result of this change. One of the more obvious explanations for this shift is that the agricultural revolution allowed for larger, more well-established societies; yet within these societies, women stayed in their homes rearing children, while men plowed the fields and met together in public. As these societies grew and formed civil societies, it is easy to see how women could be overlooked, though hardly justifiable.
You can see that this new system would not only deteriorate the rights of women, but it would also make women the less active sex. So yes, the different treatment of the sexes is almost certainly a cultural construct.
Why do we do it today? Perhaps it seems proper. We may even believe very strongly that the chivalrous action of men exalts the status of women in society. I must admit that chivalry would seem much more innocuous in a society with less egalitarian values.
But according to the egalitarian ethic, human beings should be treated equally, at least as far as their nature will allow them. This makes us human, because we are each allowed to perform the actions that humankind is capable of performing. It is humanizing to be able to drive a car, if you live in a society where others drive a car; it is humanizing to be able to vote, if you live in a society where others vote; and I believe that it is humanizing to be able to carry grocery bags, open doors and stand up in busses, if you live in a society where others carry grocery bags, open doors and stand up in busses.
I feel that there is something very beneficial about considering whether or not any distinction between the sexes is necessary. Almost all feminists admit that there is at least one necessary difference between the sexes: child bearing. That is why feminists have worked so hard to get the men in government to let women have rights related to child bearing.
Women may not be capable of working an office job on the day they give birth to a child; but are they capable of carrying groceries, opening doors, standing up in busses and voting? Yes, they are.
In order to provide women with an equal human experience, men should conscientiously shift from being chivalrous to simply being kind; and they should allow women to be kind as well.
Sorry, Igor. This is rude of me to post twice in response to your post. Please forgive me and pretend that this was part of my last post.
The idea that chivalry exalts the status of women not only fails to consider the egalitarian ethic, but it really is based on a sexist structure.
This exalting chivalry is based off of the idea that when men perform actions for women, the status of women is exalted. However, if this is true, it means that the status of women increases as a result of men choosing to be the powerful sex. Men are still in charge of assigning status.
Now, if women had the power of assigning status, this situation would look much different. Women would order men to perform actions for them, and the unequal distribution of power would be easier for men to see.
The only way to escape this inequality is to equally distribute the power of assigning status, which I believe can only be done by assigning equal status to all human beings involved.
I understand that this is a new idea; but I believe it is a very good and important one.
No need to be sorry, Ryan. Those are thought-provoking points and have engaged me into thinking. Thanks for explaining it to me.
May I just add one last thing:
The reason why this is so thought-provoking to me is because it’s a completely new concept to me. I mean the whole issue of chivalry – because I was partially aware of some of the historical causes of patriarchy; and I stand with you in denouncing past and present injustices towards women, and in the quest for an egalitarian world.
There are four women who matter most to me: my grandmother, my mother, my sister, my wife. Each of them expects me to be chivalrous, and not only kind.
For example, if I walk with them, say a stroll in the park or in a shopping center, we either hold hands or they hold my arm lightly, or I have my arm around their shoulders. I would not do that to my brother, my father or my male best friend. These women expect me to carry their groceries; to go up a stairway in front of them, rather than behind them; to pick up something they dropped; and the list goes on. I cannot let these women down – I feel great joy in satisfying their expectations, and I know they’re happy when I do it too.
Their ability to perform these and any other tasks are beyond question. I never think in these terms. If they refuse my help in a situation, I would only find it strange because of the precedents they set, but not because they would be violations of a code of gender-specific responsibilities.
Perhaps it’s, once again, a semantic misunderstanding on my part: chivalry, inexorably the protuberance of an oppressive system, dressed up in conceited and flattering rhetoric, in contrast to simple kindness which takes different guises depending on cultural expectations.
Cheers, and thanks for this pleasant and edifying conversation.
That is a great point. When considering what to do with vestiges of old, unequal systems, it is important to consider the expectations that people have. Activism has to be balanced with functioning in society, so I’m glad that you have a healthy relationship with the women in your family in this respect.
Thanks for chatting!
Igor – “to go up a stairway in front of them, rather than behind them;”
Actually, you should go up behind them, but down in front of them. It’s so you are able to catch them (or at least cushion their fall) if they were to slip.
My mom taught me to go up a stairway in front of them so I don’t look at their legs and beyond if they are wearing a dress or a skirt, particularly if it’s a short one.
I’m a little late into the discussion, but whenever I see the whole “chivalry” thing get brought up, I want to say this: Respecting women isn’t trying to do everything for them without their consent, it’s about respecting their wishes. Some women expect you to take in their groceries, but others will not. Not all women are the same or want the same treatment.
And how do you be respectful? Just ask. An a good and honest woman will let you know if she want’s your help or not. Besides, I don’t think a lot of you want to help an angry, entitled women who demands your service.
I like this because I am a feminist and one of my female anti-feminist friends recently told me, “There is nothing uglier than a woman who won’t let a man open a door for her.” While I really don’t have a strong opinion on that particular issue (my male colleagues and I open the doors for each other), I was bothered by the use of hyperbole. Nothing uglier? How about starvation, hate crimes, the Holocaust, rape, war, etc. Great post!
Taking work away from someone perfectly able (and willing) to do it themselves is not Chivalry. Holding a door open for someone is simply good manners. Wrestling a door (or a check) away from someone is not. Chivalry is supposed to be a set of rules to help protect those who cannot protect themselves, such as widows, children, and elders. Placing women fully into the category of “unable to care for themselves”, or even placing all members of the aforementioned groups into that category, is both arrogant and rude.
I personally enjoy being able to hold the door (not a car door) open for others, no matter who they are. I enjoy occasionally opening the car door for my wife, not because she can’t do it herself, but because I enjoy serving her. She doesn’t wait for me to run around the car for her, and I don’t even think about insisting she do so. That’d just be silly. (It also looks silly, too, trying to quickly whip off your seat belt, get out, and run around the car faster than she could possibly use the door handle.) Maybe if we had a chauffeur, we’d let her do it.
I agree with the 2nd paragraph of Frank’s response. I think it’s just politeness, because I open doors for girls and boys alike.
Although, I did open a door once and a guy behind me almost fell over himself trying to apologize for not getting it first. That passes right-place-right-time politeness and turns into “this is my duty as a man.”
Something that’s always bothered me is how my dad makes my mom wait in the car for him to walk around and open it for her. Well, she chooses to wait, even though she’s exceptionally independent because she knows it makes him happy, and he feels like he’s serving her, but I often wonder if she feels like the paparazzi or bowing servants should await her as she steps out of the car.
I personally like chivalry. It shows he cares. I was married to a man that totally supported feminism…..and so he didn’t help me many times because I could do it myself…sometimes, why a guy does these things is because they are being sweet and showing they care. It has nothing to do with them trying to dominate you..or because they think you can’t do it yourself. It sounds like you have a lot of anger and frustration. What about when other females hold the door for you. You don’t seem to mind that. So, is it no one can hold the door, or just men. Almost sounds like a little reverse discrimination. Anyone that is kind enough to hold the door for me or pay my check…I am so grateful for..but I guess being a single mother brings to light how nice it is for anyone to be nice, no matter their gender.
Dear Igor and Ryan,
You guys are awesome. You demonstrate that there is still hope for civil discussion on the internet.
I’d open the door for anyone but now I think I’ll just let you womyn get your own door. Freud was right.
Some of the most orignal writing I have seen. It’s brilliant, you should write and think more often. Also, chivalry was reserved for women of nobel birth. Most women can’t trace their nobel birth so chivalry is practically dead. Just consider ourselves lucky we’re not in those days!
Thank you for the article. Sounds like the type of girl I’m interested in! Wanna go on a date? I’ll let you pay your part and you can open your doors.
Well that’s not creepy…
agreed Curtis, creepy..
I like it when fellows hold the door open for me. Maybe that’s because I like to hold the door open for people too–male or female. In fact, frequently, when a fellow holds open the library door for me, I hold open the second set of doors for him as a way of reciprocating. To me, it never feels like a power play so much as honest-to-goodness people trying to do kind things for each other. It’s sorta awesome. This article makes me nervous that someday I’ll hold the door open for the author, and she’ll be unhappy about it. If this ever happens, I apologize in advance! PLUS, have you READ this article? http://universe.byu.edu/beta/2011/12/04/dirty-library-books/
“But the most alarming samples came from door knobs in the library.
‘The bacteria on the door handle dish was 100 percent covered in slimy, dark yellow goo,’ Nicholson said.”
*shudder* When someone holds the library door open for you, it’s not an unnecessary show of masculine authority–but a very real act of self-sacrifice.
The simple solution is to just treat feminists like you treat other men. No chivalry, let them open their own doors, buy their own food, carry their own heavy stuff, change their own tires, etc. just like you do for other men. Give them the basic common courtesy that men get, but not chivalry. That solves this whole problem.
I say avoid feminists at all costs.
As soon as an online date i met in a restaurant told me she was a feminist…i wiped my mouth, put the fork down, stood up, paid for my meal, and left without saying a word.
Wouldn’t wanna be accused of sexual harassment by these harpies, so best thing is to avoid them like the plague,
Agreed. I’m tired of the nonsense from these damn feminists. They are the reason for family breakdown these days.
Your article is very cliché and so are your thoughts on chivalry and men. Well fair enough, get your own door and let live, none is forcing you to anything you’re unhappy with.
Please enlight us with what inspires you, the rest isn’t needed.