Fairly regularly I read items (sometimes in tweets directed at me, other times they're opinion pieces in blogs) ridiculing the idea of chivalry at a time of gender equality.  How DARE I promote something that carries the message of male superiority and female inferiority?  The way I see chivalry, as you may surmise, is not based on any such notion.

The offering of chivalry and the notion of equal rights for women can co-exist quite easily.  The dividing line becomes something that’s more nuanced.  It’s a recognition that there are differences in how people get treated in a professional/ workplace environment and how they are treated when in a social situation.
When it comes to the workplace, women and men have the same rights to compete for jobs, to receive fair treatment, to get paid the same if they do the same work in the same circumstances etc.  Both men and women benefit when companies hire the best qualified people to do whatever needs to be done.  I also would say that there is a space for what would be common professional courtesy in a workplace whereas gestures of chivalry would not be apropos.
Woman CEO
As an example, although a chivalrous gesture when dining socially with women is for men to stand when a woman rises to leave the table, I would not suggest that men at a business meeting around a conference table stand when a female CEO or other colleague gets up.  It would be out of context.

Equality in the workplace does not mean that in social situations men and women are the same.  It seems that when the issue of women’s rights got elevated during the late 1960s and early 1970s it became conflated with an idea of “sameness.”  But as social beings the genders are far from being the same.  There are many ways in which our different tendencies and ways of thinking are now more clearly understood and accepted.  It’s now clear that we have some different chemical reactions going on in our bodies when the same type of stimuli are encountered. 

For example, I heard John Gray speak to a group of men and women and talk about what a man should do when he hears his wife in the car (or girlfriend if he’s not married) say something to the effect of “I’m getting hungry.”  He told the men that their primary mission was to find the first place that had food available and stop there.  It got some laughter but a recognition that it was true.  I have heard speeches talking about the differences in selling to men and women because of how each goes about the process of deciding whether to buy something (speeches presented by women and by men).  We're not simply the same creature with slightly different body parts.

Man holding chair for woman to sit
Socially there are some differences in the roles among men and women.  Of course chivalry isn't mandatory, and if a couple chooses something different, they're certainly free to interact however works for them.  In fact, one of the pillars of feminism is for a woman to be able to choose that -- so why would people deny women the option to welcome and accept it?  For the large majority of women, chivalry is still a desirable trait to see in men.  For men, it gives them a bit of a roadmap of behavior after a period when it seemed that all patterns were tossed out the window and guys were scrambling to figure out what was expected of them.
If people think that somehow my practice of chivalry carries with it an undertone of male dominance and keeping women as second-class citizens, they don't know how I feel about my wife.  Nor do they know how I feel about the many female entrepreneurs with whom I've studied (I have had quite a number of female business coaches and mentors and as such have been at many meetings where men made up 5% or so of the room).  I know what all these women can accomplish and they'd stack up against the accomplishments of many men I know. My wife draws my admiration not just in the home but when I see her traveling on business and making big things happen.  All that doesn't stop me from opening her car door.  It's not because I think she can't do it or needs my help.  It's a gesture of caring.
As Angela N. Blount wrote: "“His attentive treatment of her had nothing to do with the presumption that she was weak, and everything to do with the conviction that she was valuable.”
In situations where I have the chance to display a bit of chivalry toward a woman, it’s with the spirit of brightening that moment, eliciting a smile perhaps.  Why wouldn’t we want more positivity in the world?
Younger men and boys face a challenge of knowing how to treat women with respect in social situations in particular.  You don’t hear rap lyrics about women not deserving to be paid the same as a man, nor her right to be a CEO.  But many negative messages about women socially come through in too many songs, whether the words used to describe women or talking about sexual acts in perverse and demeaning ways.  It’s on the social side that better role models are perhaps more important than ever.
Young men walking
If more chivalry brings back a degree of civility and some elegance into day-to-day life, society could do with more of that.
 


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05/31/2014 8:43pm

What a great post! I particularly like when you say that a chivalrous act is an act of caring. Man and women can be equal without having to be identical. Great food for thought.

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06/02/2014 6:35pm

Thanks, Pam. I am glad you like the article and the way I present this viewpoint. I want to keep the conversation going so more men and women realize how much can be gained by incorporating chivalry into their personal style and relationships.

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06/09/2014 2:54pm

I absolutely agree especially with rap music and the disgraceful way it portrays women.

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06/16/2014 5:44pm

I think parents need to make their voices heard to their children that if they listen to this kind of vile stuff being spread about women that they will lose their electronics. Government can't step in, it's in the hands of us all.

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12/27/2014 6:09pm

Chivalry goes both ways: men open doors, let her go first, etc.; women provide food, sex, etc.

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02/15/2015 7:24am

Elliot, thanks for weighing in. I disagree if you are writing that there's a quid pro quo for gestures of chivalry. They are offered by gentlemen for the sake of the offer and their ow character, not for what they get in return. If it becomes a way to con women into sex or feeling obligated to cook etc., then it becomes a tool that has a sleazy aspect. If used the way you imply, it's lost all its meaning to her, and the potential for building his own self-esteem. Of course a thank you for chivalry is nice but something in return should also be offered freely and not out of a sense of "have to." Read more on the subject of thanks and appreciation at http://bringchivalryback.com/1/post/2014/11/is-a-thank-you-mandatory.html

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