Chivalry: Opening Doors to Oppression and Privilege // Keely Hirsch
Image from http://cdn1.theodysseyonline.com/files/2016/02/19/635915079772054201-1246344992_chivalry.jpg
Disclaimer: I’m sure that someone who reads that might want to throw something at me. But I am sharing my thoughts to create awareness.
I never had much thought about the idea chivalry growing up. I always thought it was polite when someone held the door for you or if you were chilly and someone offered their coat. To me, that was nice. But I always reciprocated those gestures when the opportunity arose (although, offering my little black cardigan to a giant man, seemed like a silly thing to do).
Recently, I had an enlightening experience with chivalry and uncovered the dark truth behind those courteous acts. I was visiting my sister in New York City and we were waiting for a bunch of her friends to meet up for dinner. We were at a trendy Italian restaurant (however, trendy in this instance meant a very small location). As her friends arrived, we were all kind of huddling around outside the restaurant. It was a little chilly out that night- in the low 50’s. One of the men who were with us decided that “the women should go inside, where it is warmer, and the men will stay outside”. Wait… WHAT? I was immediately struck with frustration and confusion. Why do the women get to go inside and be comfortable while the men have to grin and bare the chilliness? The answer is oppression. I mean chivalry.
While chivalry has medieval roots, it is thought of today as men being courteous to women—holding doors, offering their coat when it is cold, etc. These are all very kind gestures, but when it is expected for men to act in a certain way towards women, it is suggesting that women are weaker and they need help or protection, or on the flip side, women have a lot of power and privilege. For some reason, I keep having a vivid memory pop up from a scene in a movie (or multiple movies), where there is a puddle on the ground and the gentleman puts his jacket on top of it, so that the lady doesn’t get wet. Every time I remember that scene I think about how terrible it is that the man just ruined his jacket so the woman doesn’t get wet, when clearly she could have walked a few feet down to avoid the puddle. Again, men are suffering (walking around with a soggy coat and probably going to have to get that coat dry cleaned) so that women feel taken care of (both oppression and privilege).
I do want to take a moment and play devil’s advocate to my own stream of thought, though. Perhaps, when men engage in these gestures, it is not a matter of chivalry, but just a kind act based on who they are as a person. I mean, I open the door for men all the time (and I see the uncomfortable response some men have…). But, I think it is clear when kind acts can feel more like oppression to women (e.g. “the women should go inside, where it is warmer, and the men will stay outside”). But a man, who opens a door for a woman, might be doing it just to be polite. Perhaps he opens doors for everyone. So I think it is important to not assume that all men who are opening doors for women are trying to oppress, perhaps they are being polite to another human being.
In conclusion, I believe that some men, probably unknowingly, are oppressing women through “courteous acts”. But it is important that feminist, like myself, do not assume that when someone opens a door for me it is oppression, it may just be a kind act from another human. So what I am not saying is that women should not accept a chivalrous act from a man (because remember it just might be a kind act from a fellow human being). But what I am saying is that feminism is about equality, so women have the opportunity to balance the scales and perform kind acts for men.
It’s all about equality, people. Let’s all do kind things for each other, despite gender.