Chivalry in a Time of Feminism

It seems the more I tell people that I am a blogger for the Women’s Center, the more discussions I have about feminism. I know this seems like a somewhat obvious result, but I have noticed that this really only happens, or becomes a major discussion when I am conversing with guys.

About a month ago I was hanging out with a couple of male gymnasts. We started talking about women’s rights and equal pay for women. It was their belief that if a women wanted to be treated equally, then they should have to be treated so for everything, not just the times it was convenient for women. The guy I was speaking with believed that if women wanted equal pay, then they shouldn’t expect a guy to buy them a drink. The woman should buy her own drink.

I have heard this type of argument many times before from numerous guys. And I must admit, I believe that the argument does have a measure of validity to it. Maintaining feminist beliefs can be difficult when majority of the population believe that men should serve as the provider for the family. The question of how chivalry fits into feminism is a tricky one to answer, one that many a feminist have been stumped with. A chivalrous feminist seems like somewhat of an oxymoron, like an evolutionary believing creationist or a meat-loving vegetarian. But can’t a woman appreciate a gentleman holding the door open for her and still want to receive equal pay? Or does believing in equal rights mean the dinner bill should be split?

The answer is a difficult one and clearly opinions will vary. I myself am not fully confident of where I stand on this matter. I am a woman. I was raised as a typical little girl was. When given the option between blue and pink I chose pink until I got to an age when I realized it was acceptable for me to have a blue pencil without being a boy. However I did grow up, as most children do, believing that pink was a girl color and blue was for boys. The implementation of that idea began from my very birth when the nurses swaddled me in pink. I watched sleeping beauty being rescued from the curse put upon her, believing that it was natural for men to be the heroes. In my family, my step-father was the provider and my mother prepared dinner and chauffeured the kids. For me as a child, the distinctions and responsibilities for men and women were made clear: men were the providers and women were the nurturers.

However as I grew up and began to learn more about the exciting world of feminism my view obviously shifted. I have no intention of being a homemaker. Though I can knit and cook I myself need a more stimulating profession than that. I have no concern of finding someone to support me, I am confident that I will be able to handle that task myself. However, I know that when I have a job which allows me to support myself, I will want to get paid as much as my male counterparts. I feel like this right should seem obvious to anyone and yet it still is a problem in the US today.

But when I go out to dinner with my boyfriend, I still want him to pick me up. I still expect him to open the door for me. I still would like him to pick up the bill. Does this make me a hypocrite? Is it wrong of me to want to make as much as men and still be treated like a lady. To me, no, there is nothing wrong with it. I justify this belief by the fact that I think business is separate from your personal life. If my boss was a man, I wouldn’t expect him to hold the door open for me or to pour my coffee. I expect different things from different men because they mean different things to me, and I don’t think this makes me a hypocrite. There are deeper, more significant distinctions between people than simply male or female. But since it is such a divided topic, chivalrie’s place in a feminist society, I’m interested to hear your perspective.



4 thoughts on “Chivalry in a Time of Feminism

  1. I love that you’ve brought this topic up. I have to say that I disagree with you somewhat, though.

    Chivalry and all its codes of conduct arose out of an unequal society, and reflect an unequal relationship, in my opinion. There was a time when men bought the drinks, because men made the income. Women were dependent upon men financially (at least in theory), and the feminine ideal was of a vulnerable and delicate flower in need of constant protection.

    I believe that if we want true gender equality, we have to live it, and that’s as true in our personal lives as it is in our professional lives. If I were dating a fellow who made significantly more money than me, and he wanted to pay for dinner because he can afford it, that’s one thing. But if I make more money, I might want to pay for dinner. Or maybe he’ll get it this time, and I’ll get it next time. Same thing with holding the door: If I get there first, I’ll hold it for him.

    I think it’s high time for chivalrous codes of behavior, which are inherently paternalistic, to give way to polite and courteous codes of behavior, which are gender-blind. That’s just my $.0.02.

    • I’m glad to hear more opinions on this! I must say that I don’t believe we disagree with one another though. I think the confusion lies in the inadequacy of language. When my boyfriend and I go out, we often do switch off on who pays (with him paying slightly more, I must concede) and if stores have those double doors, i’ll hold one for him and he will get the next one. But the English language lacks a word to describe the feminine version of chivalry, which makes it difficult to discuss. But I think you’re right, perhaps instead of looking for a feminine chivalry courteous codes of behavior is more gender friendly.

  2. I think the issue with this topic is in the distinction between expectation and choice. I think it would be unjust to expect a man (or woman for that matter) to act in what are considered chivalrous ways (or follow any gender norm) and then want to claim equality. But I think once a conversation is had in understanding the lack of expectation, if people still want to participate in it that is fine. My partner always opens doors for me and often greets me with flowers, both of which I greatly appreciate, but I would not expect that of him. Just like I wouldn’t feel comfortable if he expected me to wear make-up every day or have dinner ready for him when he gets home. Sometimes I like to do those things, but that is my choice.

    Bottom line, chivalry should be a choice not an expectation. It should be the systematic gender norms that create these expectation that should be addressed as the problem, not the individual people who choose to partake in them.

  3. If a man being preferred to be the one to pick her up, pay the dinner bill and open her doors is compatible with feminism – then so is the woman being preferred to be the one to cook and clean.

    I heard a feminist remark is disgust the other day that a man asked a woman in a laundromat to fold his shirts since she was probably better at it. She considered that shockingly sexist. I asked her if a woman flagging down a man to enlist his help to change a flat tire (since she felt he would be better at it), was not just as sexist. She didn’t think so. Apparently, sexism within feminism for some only flows one way.

    The point is, either you want equality or you don’t. You’ll need to pick one.

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