By Georgina Parkin
There are many misconceptions that women, namely ‘feminist women’, do not like or condone chivalry. The primary misconception is often that chivalrous treatment of women resembles the old fashioned notion that women need to be protected and cared for by those of the ‘dominant’ gender.
Did chivalry die the moment women won the right to vote, demanded equal pay, equal rights and started to be viewed by society as more than just housekeepers and baby makers!?
The concept that a woman who wants to be treated equally cannot also want to be cared for by a man is a notion I would like to dispel.
As a woman who is very much an advocate for equality, I can admit that I am very pro chivalry and the somewhat old fashioned idea of the gentleman. However, the same way women have fought (and are still fighting) to abolish the societal pressures on us to be a certain way, look a certain way and act a certain way, men too should not be held against an archaic standard which instructs them to be dominant, macho and the provider. Chivalry, therefore, is not a requirement or a ‘dealbreaker’.
In the same way it should not be a requirement for a woman to cook or clean, men are not obligated to pay bills, open doors and pull out chairs. It is simply a choice to behave in that way and is a choice that some women, contrary to popular belief, still view very highly and rightly or wrongly, feel flattered and appreciated when a man pulls out their chair. However, I know many women who instead feel offended and belittled, making some men fearful to even attempt to be a gentleman.
In the same way it should not be considered ‘anti feminism’ to be a housewife or stay at home mum, it should also not be considered anti feminism to want or appreciate chivalry. Feminism was about allowing choices and freedom. It was created by the women who wanted to vote, go to school, begin careers and lose the image of the man-pleasing, obedient housewife by day and sexualised object by night. In no way did the movement ever declare that women do not want or appreciate men.
If we look to define chivalry it can be very simply described as courtesy towards a woman by a man. But perhaps it’s more commonly associated with the old timey, romantic image of the gentleman that we often conjure up from black and white movies. Paying for dinner, holding open doors, walking closest to the traffic and holding out a hand to guide his lady out of the car or onto the dance floor. Historically, women were treated as possessions. And as much as we romanticise those old movies and chivalrous men, it could be said that all those actions were another way for a man to show he was dominant, needed and his woman's keeper. Thus, making it understandable that some women believe that chivalry should be left in the past.
I, however, believe that feminism and chivalry should be able to work in harmony if we shift our perspective. Very simply, chivalry is about respect and no longer has to be used or viewed as a way to control or dominate a woman. Women do not need to have their meals paid for or bags held but it can still be looked on as a kind gesture and romantic act. We need not assume that a man is asserting his dominance or in any way implying that we are weak or unable to take care of ourselves. I cannot speak for all men, nor can I speak for any woman other than myself, but I believe that the modern day gentleman acts in such a way out of respect and kindness and should be viewed by women as a kind gesture and not a show of dominance.
In the same accepting notion, women should not be judged by other women for how they want to be treated or how they choose to act. To quote Emma Watson “Feminism is not here to dictate to you. It’s not prescriptive, it’s not dogmatic. All we are here to do is give you a choice.”
I choose to accept chivalry, I choose to walk through the held open doors and take a man's hand when offered to me. I choose to carry my own bags but accept any offers for them to be carried for me. But in the name of equality I also chose to hold open doors, pay for a man’s dinner and treat him with the same amount of care and respect that is shown to me. Chivalry doesn’t have to be one sided nor does it have to become condemned, we just have to refine that way in which we see it and allow it to coexist with feminism and be accepted as a choice.