Is Chivalry Sexist?


I heard a friend say once that she was very offended that men tend to open doors for women.  She felt this gesture implies that women are incapable of opening doors for themselves.  She acknowledged that the act is polite but resented gender as the basis for doing so.  Rather, she argued, men and women should open doors for each other as a general act of kindness.

On the one hand, she had a point.  It’s a kind thing for anyone to do.  But is there a benefit to traditional chivalry?  And does it matter today?

Yes!  And it matters, because these silent gestures speak volumes about our roles in relationship and about our innate gender differences.

Chivalry stems from the fact that men are generally physically stronger than women.  Cultural, symbolic gestures developed as a way for men to communicate to women that they will not harm them and would protect them against harm from others.  It has been a way for men to demonstrate honor, value, and respect toward women.

The feminist movement in the 1960s, however, took a different angle.  Feminists consider chivalry sexist, because a woman is treated differently in a situation than a man would be.  They also say that it perpetuates the idea that a woman needs protection or help from a man.

And here we are today.  In the last decades, feminists’ views have infiltrated our culture.  Young women have been encouraged to shun these types of gestures from men in an effort toward “equality.”   But this really misses the point.  Men and women are different.  Equal but definitely different.  And it’s okay for these differences to be recognized and embraced!  Preventing chivalrous acts implies to men that they can get away with less effort and show women less respect.

Chivalry, however, encourages men to value women more and outwardly demonstrate their respect for our femininity.  That’s a good thing!  And it needs to be resuscitated:

  • By encouraging and accepting these subtle acts of respect, it sets the tone for relationships.  If we’re telling men to stop showing us respect in more trivial contexts, we shouldn’t be surprised when they show us less respect in bigger matters.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the hook-up culture that has developed, which primarily harms women.
  • Graciously accepting chivalrous acts does not mean that we are incapable or inferior.  I think most men recognize that we are fully capable of paying for our own dinners or opening doors.  It’s not at all about that.  It is about respect and fostering our most innate roles.
  • It also provides an opportunity for women to show a man respect by recognizing and appreciating his role as a protector and provider.  I know this sounds old school.  But our natural gender differences are not discriminatory – they are simply part of who we are!

To the men out there who prefer to treat women like ladies – thank you!  Thank you for still being gentlemen in a politically correct world.  Thank you for letting us borrow your coat when it’s cold, making sure we get to our cars okay, picking us up for dinner, holding doors open, carrying heavy things, letting us go first, and for the myriad other gestures of respect.  Many of us are still honored and grateful!

What do you think, ladies?  Is chivalry sexist or respectful?

8 Comments

Valla
Reply September 16, 2015

I love this post, Stephanie! I agree 100%. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Stephanie
    Reply September 18, 2015

    Thank you for reading, Valla!

Dan
Reply September 18, 2015

I agree with all this. I personally think that TV shows and movies over the past decade have purposely made us guys look like wussies. Not true. Some are drinking the Kool-Aid but not me.

    Stephanie
    Reply September 19, 2015

    Thank you for reading, Dan! And good point about movies and TV shows. They have a huge influence, particularly on younger people.

Linda
Reply September 19, 2015

Interesting topic: all of the things you mention (holding doors, etc.) are kind and decent things to do. I would never resent someone for trying to be good to me!

    Stephanie
    Reply September 19, 2015

    Agreed! Thank you for reading, Linda!

Karen Brown
Reply September 20, 2015

I have worked in a male dominated industry for the last 31 years. I still enjoy a man holding the door for me or helping me carry heavy items. I believe chivalry is a sign of respect!

    Stephanie
    Reply September 21, 2015

    Thank you for your thoughts, Karen!

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