It seems we’re perpetually trying to answer this question: Is chivalry truly dead? And if not, should it be?
In Jenna Birch’s recent article, “10 Chivalrous Acts That Make Women Melt,” she discusses the long-lost art of chivalry. Basic acts, such as holding doors for women, have become all-too rare, according to Birch.
She encourages men to consider being a bit more chivalrous, not because it’s necessary or because women are unable to do things for themselves, but because it’s sweet when men go out of their way for us. It makes us feel special. Plain and simple.
In response, one male reader wrote this: “So, women want to be treated just like men — except when they don’t.” He questioned the legitimacy of her request, and concluded that women aren’t happy unless they have it both ways.
Today, women want the same treatment as men in many respects; equal pay, equal opportunities, equal rights. So they can’t desire equality and romance. In other words, they can’t demand their independence, yet still expect men to pull out chairs and open doors for them.
In the age of feminist thinking, women can only choose one avenue or the other.
As a young, modern woman, I had a mixed reaction to his words. It was the same mixed reaction I experienced throughout my adolescence, and it made me wonder if this male reader was around the same age as me.
Perhaps, he was in his 30’s, just as I am, and was the product of an ever-changing society where gender roles weren’t concrete, and where men and women weren’t entirely sure how to act in relation to one another.
Perhaps, like me, his senior year of high school included dancing to Destiny’s Child at prom, and listening as the three ladies whine in their hit song, “Bug-A-Boo,” about how annoying it is when men call them too often.
Perhaps, he then turned on the radio and heard Destiny’s Child, once again, proclaiming the glory of being “Independent Women” who are “always 50/50 in relationships.”
“I depend on me!” Beyoncé declares, over and over, in that chorus.
As a teenager listening and dancing to those songs, I often felt an odd sense of ambivalence. On the one hand, the idea of girl power was exciting and fun. It made me grateful to think that generations of women had fought to give me the right to vote for president, earn a college degree, and make the same salary as my male colleagues.
Yet, on the other hand, I was a romantic, just like Birch, and I highly enjoyed it when the men I dated would open the car door for me.
Was I allowed to want both, and if so, how did the two desires fit together?
Author Elizabeth Gilbert discussed this subject in a talk she gave for the 10th anniversary of O Magazine.
She said the following: “We are at the beginning of a vast and completely unprecedented socialscience experiment. We are in the first generation of women in the history of mankind who have had freedom, autonomy, literacy, education, access to their own economic well-being, access to their own power… And we do not have thousands of years of strong, autonomous female role models to look to for how to solve our lives. We are all doing it for the first time, ourselves.”
Granted, Gilbert was speaking to a predominately female audience, yet her words are equally relevant for the men who date these newly independent women. They don’t have role models, either.
Men don’t have past generations of males who can guide them in how to act and respond to shifting cultural milieu. Dozens of male figures throughout history didn’t marry women that made more money than they did — women who were the primary breadwinners of the household.
As Gilbert mentioned, this is new territory we’re embarking on, and men and women are all in it together.
So, what can we do to help each other out?
Perhaps a good starting point for this journey is resisting the urge to lump anyone of the opposite sex into one, single category. Not all women are radical, male-bashing feminists, just as not all women are born romantics with an appreciation for old-fashioned gender roles.
The spectrum is wide and long, and each woman falls at some varying degree.
When the male reader commented on Birch’s article, he addressed her as though she was a male-bashing feminist—yet she is far from it. On the contrary, Birch takes pleasure in relying on men for certain things.
She says as much: “I want a guy to court me a bit… Grand gestures are wholly unnecessary. I just want someone I can count on. I want him to do the little things to make me sure he is the real deal.”
She wants to date leaders, and doesn’t mind foregoing some independence if it means that she gets to feel special and taken care of as a reward.
Does this also mean Birch wants to turn back the clock and live in a time when women couldn’t make their own choices in life, or have a voice in determining the political state of the world? No. Probably not. And that’s the key. We don’t live in that world anymore.
I think there is a primary distinction between wanting independence from men, and wanting equal rights. In the 1960s and 70s, the feminist movement couldn’t see this distinction, because it was men who ran the world.
Men were the ones in positions of power. They held government offices, owned major companies, and ultimately decided everything; therefore, they were the ones holding women down. They were the enemy.
Today, this is not the case. We’re on a much more level playing field, which makes it easier to revert back to gender roles in some instances, especially in romantic relationships.
Some may disagree and argue that women still need to continue fighting for equal pay and various other opportunities. To those women, I give the same advice I gave to men: resist the urge to lump anyone of the opposite sex into one, single category.
It’s true that some men are misogynistic and are prone to sexist power trips, but it’s also true that many more are not. And even the nicest, most romantic of men have been listening to all our anthems of independence.
They’ve seen us wear t-shirts that claim, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” And then we wonder why chivalry is dead.
Yes, I do understand where that male reader was coming from when he said we couldn’t have it both ways, but also understand this: If the guy I am dating wants to open the car door, lend me his jacket, or fix something broken at my house, I’m sure as hell going to let him.
Why? Because that’s what real freedom and equality is. Real freedom means I no longer have anything to prove, so I’m free to allow myself to be taken care of once in a while—especially by men who are only doing it to be thoughtful.
What do you think? How was the shifting nature of gender roles impacted your relationships?