I have appreciated the wonderful diversity of perspectives that folks have contributed in this week’s blog via postings and emails to me. I also want to apologize to my readers of the male persuasion – hindsight is always 20-20 and I realized yesterday that the way the second part of the question was phrased it essentially excluded the male voice, yikes! My apologies and certainly not my intent… it certainly would have been interesting to get the male perspective on the role of chivalry in male-female interactions, period. And so now I offer my two cents – a rather lengthy two-cents on this topic, lol.
But before doing so, I want to share with you some insightful and funny comments I found on the web as to whether or not chivalry was, perhaps, already dead:
“No, chivalry is not dead; however, some say it has taken a leave of absence.”
“No, but it is on life support.”
“No, but it is misplaced.”
“Yes, and women killed it.”
“Chivalry is not dead, it just doesn’t matter anymore.”
“It’s not dead, it’s just dormant.”
“Chivalry isn’t dead, it just lost its value; not to say that women don’t appreciate it, but it’s not expected anymore.”
Interesting! It certainly left me wondering that since we seemed to share a common understanding as to what chivalry is, then do we also have an understanding about its relevance in society… Just what is chivalry supposed to accomplish?
Many a debate took place between me and a dear friend of mine on this very topic, and it is because of these discussions I was able to take my thinking beyond the realm of everyday male-female interactions. But initially, I must confess, I felt very confused and flustered about his position that chivalry actually hurt women in the long run.
WHAT? How could that be? How could chivalry – that which required men to treat women with respectful and courteous behaviors – be harmful for women???
In order to answer to that, you have to examine the societal context in which chivalry exists. The behaviors that characterize chivalry generally denote respect and courtesy from men to women. However, these behaviors have not, nor have they ever been defined by women; they were defined by men. We have all been raised to believe that when a man exercises these behaviors towards a woman, he is a decent man, and a man who does not is generally seen as rude or a jerk. Thus, chivalry is optional.
This dynamic, in my opinion, is quite sinister because we all get caught in the minutia. The bigger issue lies in the fact that chivalry is a matter of choice for men: one can either choose to exercise it or not. Thus, if chivalrous behavior is an option, then what is the societal norm? Is it plausible to argue that the social norm regarding the treatment of women does not require respect and courteous behaviors? Hhhmmm….
If chivalry is optional, then it’s no wonder we can find evidence of how that mentality manifests itself: Like the fact that women still experience pay inequality in the 21st century or that women experience the highest rates of intimate violence and rape or that single-female headed households suffer the highest rates of poverty rates in the U.S., and so on.
Getting caught up in the small stuff has detracted us from seeing how larger issues do not reflect a society that sees or treats its women in a respectful way. On the contrary. In my opinion, chivalry masks the breadth and depth of the real issues so that we don’t see the big picture. We are placated by the niceties exchanged, but cannot see the hypocrisy of our current societal framework.
So perhaps the answer as to chivalry’s relevance lies in our beliefs about respect and human dignity for each other. Maybe this is more about civility than chivalry. Maybe we should be talking about our desire for civility (i.e., mutual respect and equality between the sexes) to be the societal norm rather than an optional one... so that we don't have a special word in our vocabulary that highlights the special treatment of one group towards another... it's just expected.
Perhaps when civility is the general norm, then chivalry will rightfully loose its place and relevance… maybe then we might all happily kiss chivalry good-bye.