Feminism and Chivalry

chiv·al·ry   [shiv-uhl-ree]
1. the sum of the ideal qualifications of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity in arms.
2. the rules and customs of medieval knighthood.
3. the medieval system or institution of knighthood.
4. a group of knights.
5. gallant warriors or gentlemen: fair ladies and noble chivalry.

I was just talking with a co-worker about the various shows that I haven’t ended up watching (“Game of Thrones,” “The Walking Dead,” “True Blood,” and “Mad Men”), all for different reasons. I guess Mad Men has its season premiere tonight, and she (along with millions?) of other people, are stoked. I told her that I remember when Mad Men came out, I was reluctant to watch it because I feared that as a feminist, I would be discouraged/depressed/enraged by the depiction of women/treatment of women on the show. She agreed that although she was no feminist — “she liked doors being held open for her and stuff” — it was awful how the women were treated, and that her mom said it was a really accurate portrayal of the atmosphere at the time.

It struck me how she disassociated herself from feminism because she liked to have a door held open for herself. I can’t say I entirely misunderstood, because I think in my younger years, I thought that feminism meant taking nothing from a man — I’d get my own door, I’d pay my own way, I’d make sure I jumped in front to maybe make sure that I held *his* door — to show how strong and capable I was. I still don’t mind holding a door for anyone, and I’m always inclined to split a check, especially if the situation is sexually unclear. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand some things.

Chivalry is a good thing. Courtesy and generosity and valor and being a gentleman is a good thing. It’s when it tips over into condescension that it becomes faulty and dangerous. It’s when it starts to become cocooning women; wrapping them up in cotton balls so they will never be damaged or chip a nail that it becomes a method by which men and society start to constrain and control. It’s when showing the same traits back to a man is seen as uncouth or unwelcome or unacceptable that we’ve got a problem on our hands. But the general principle of a man holding a door or letting a woman go first on the bus or making sure she gets a ride home — that’s not a bad thing at all.

And feminism? What is this thing, and why do so many young women distance themselves from it? Why do they see it as some sort of evil? I’m not exactly sure. Part of me thinks it’s because the media and society has done such a good job of demonizing the concept. Instead of it being about equal rights for all, about being for everyone having a fair playing ground, for everyone being able to be afforded the same rights and privileges, it looks something like this:

Feminists should never wear makeup. They don’t want kids. They hate men. They’re all lesbians. They are all want to only be with and hang out with women. They are here to make our lives miserable.

Which, in my mind, couldn’t be farther from the truth. Wear makeup. Love your men. Have kids. Love life. I want there to be chivalry and feminism for all. The two can co-mingle quite nicely, ladies. The “f-word” isn’t feminism. I think it might be fracking.

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One thought on “Feminism and Chivalry

  1. Aaaaaaaaargh! I was just thinking about this very thing as an intro to a Not In a Creepy Way podcast story. I remember my first year of college not holding a door open because i was so used to feminist folks being weird about it, then having a woman (she was no lady) actually swear at me because i didnt stop and hold a door and it evidently had hit her because she wasnt paying attention. It never occured to me that she was a lesbian man-hater, it just occured to me that she was something of a bitch who wasnt paying attention and couldnt accept personal responsiblity for watching doors.

    Now i tend to hold doors open for men, women,children, and pets (but not in a creepy way). And yeah, i’d give up my train seat for a pregnant lady or a elderly guy. That’s just polite. Unless they are wearing a hoody, of course.

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