- the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, namely courage, honour, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak.
Chivalry has been a social expectation since I can remember. I have been raised on ‘ladies first’, and have been compelled to pay for girls’ things. On the surface, neither of these have particularly stood out to me as a problem in the past – but they are an obstacle for feminism.
Chivalry comes from the Medieval era; a term that covers the expected qualities of a capable knight – courage, honour, and readiness to help the weak. Over history, the term has diluted to a post-modern guise of male politeness and heterosexual romanticism. You are chivalrous today if you pay for a girl’s dinner, or if you let her go through a door first despite the fact you were going to go through it first originally. The issue here is not with these acts – it is with what these acts may imply. Do they imply that a woman is not as able as the man to pay for the meal herself? Can she not afford it? Do they imply that women deserve to get through the door before the man does. Why?
If, in a case where the girl is less financially stable than the man, and he had taken her to The Ritz, then him paying the bill is understandable – he chose an expensive place and can afford it more than she can. If, in a case where the girl has broken her leg and has no coat on and needs to get inside quickly, then letting her through the door first is understandable. These objections are obvious, though.
In a talk with dating expert Matthew Hussey called Get the Guy, a female audience member, when talking about who should pay for meals on dates, says “We’re dating. You’re the gentleman here. You’re supposed to pay”. Similarly, on Channel 4’s show First Dates, a man did not offer to pay the full bill at the end of the meal, and the woman said that was the reason she would not see him again.
These are examples of ingrained beliefs that set up a paradigm that gets in the way of feminism. It seems, for some, set in stone that examples of chivalrous expectations like the above are essential to a man’s dating qualities. This sets up a terrifying double standard; should a woman clean up everything by herself every time they both eat? Of course not.
At this point it is worth raising a key point – I am not dismissing the urge one might have to pay for someone’s meal – that is kindness. I am dismissing the urge that men get to pay for a woman’s meal. It seems that the difference here is that the man is paying for the woman’s meal because he is a man and she is a woman. You may say that he pays because he is her friend and wants to be generous – and that is fine. But I will be extremely surprised if most men reading this do not empathise with the fact that there is an innate urge to be chivalrous. Ask yourself – when was the last time you paid for your same-sex friend’s meal because you were feeling generous?
It is clear that men and women are biologically different. You may argue that they should be treated as such – the odd grocery-lifting assistance or box carrying are of course expected. I don’t think these things are chivalry – and if they are, they aren’t a problem. But it is certain gendered behaviours in romanticism that pose a threat to the equality-striving movements of today’s culture.
We live in a country where there are hardly any women in top positions in big companies compared to men, and where the government is male-dominated. We have a long way to go until our genders are treated as equal, and that is why feminism is still relevant. This is where the issue of chivalry gets in the way of this. If a man is expected to pay for a woman’s meal, is she less able to pay? If a man is expected to change the car tyre, is the woman too ‘delicate’? Is she then too ‘weak’ to run your company board?
In order for our society to be transparent and empty of gender-bias, we have to let go of any presuppositions we hold about that gender’s traits and expectations. Chivalry imposes an innate, subtle, and potentially subconscious superiority paradigm, where, in the example of dating, men are expected to pay for all of something for literally no reason at all. Even examples as apparently harmless and minor as this can transpire into bigger environments such as the workplace. Gallantry is in danger of generating the notion that women are less than men, and might need special help to succeed.
Gestures are great. Gestures in the name of chivalry are not; they are detrimental to the deep roots of feminism.
words by William McCartney