I consider myself a feminist. I believe in the eradication of sexism and treating all men and women like human beings deserving of respect based on their humanity, not their gender. But I also appreciate when men, especially those I’m dating, open doors for me or unconsciously walk on the outside of the sidewalk.
I understand these behaviors may have originated in a time when women were seen as helpless, weak individuals unable fend for ourselves, but these days—when most people know that couldn’t be further from the truth—I just think it’s nice.
In a recent essay on the thought-provoking blog Everyday Feminism, Kelsey Lueptow examines whether or not chivalry reinforces rape culture.
Chivalry is one of the most misused and misunderstood terms today– which is understandable because it dates back over 800 years and spans many Western cultures.
In short: Chivalry originated as a synonym for knightly, meaning that it – quite literally – described the behavior of knights. From there, it developed into a code set by precedence for how knights should behave.
So, basically, chivalry is a word someone made up for stuff knights did.
Once that became a part of the culture, it was used to instruct knights and future knights on how to continue the legacy of stuff knights do to be knightly.
Over hundreds of years and many cultures, it developed to be understood as courtesy and politeness – an act of control over naturally wild and dangerous male nature.
First of all, the idea that men have to prove that they’re not barbaric beasts is incredibly insulting to every human on the planet.
But also: Perpetuating the stereotype of men as inherently beastly, uncontrollably violent monsters that need to tip their hat or bow down in order to tell women they will not rape or murder them is crazy!
Can we just back this train up one second and identify the fact that if men need to vocalize or otherwise communicate their non-rapist identity, it is insinuating that the natural state of man is rapist and violent aggressor?
Therefore, if chivalry is meant to encourage men to tame their barely controllable violent and sexual urges, it directly correlates with narratives of rape culture.
So, now that it’s clear why feminists (or humanity in general) might be offended by this legacy of chivalry, it’s important to understand something else: “Kindness”and “chivalry” are not synonyms.
It is frequently assumed that feminist women want to do everything for themselves. As a single mother/student/waitress/feminist, I can tell you that is notat all the case. It is really nice when people pitch in here or there. And when I have the chance to help other people, I embrace that as well. I’m all about kindness.
That is: We, too – feminists! – also want guys to be nice to women.
I totally get Lueptow’s sentiments. She—like I—wants men to treat women respectfully because we are humans (and vice versa), not because we are women.
But does allowing (or even expecting) a man to open a door, carry heavy bags, or God forbid, pull out a chair for you mean you are participating in the continuation of rape culture?
I’m not so sure.