The damsel in distress and the brave hero are the two main characters of so many of our fables and stories. Not only do they suggest that women need saving and men should be doing the saving, the fairy tales we read as children would have us believe that women want to be saved by men on white horses, and men know that it’s their duty to don the shining armor.
The concept of chivalry has dominated popular culture for hundreds of years. But have things changed?
There’s certainly been a movement in the last 30 or so years toward women’s equality. Women are demanding equal pay, equal legal rights (some laws are biased toward men) and equal treatment in the workplace. Which is awesome. And I completely agree with it all.
The part that I’m confused about, and men, I’m sure you’re feeling the same way, is where this leaves chivalry. In my view, chivalry is based on the idea that there is some fundamental difference in status or circumstance which necessitates that men treat women in a way in which women are not expected to treat men.
I’m not saying that chivalry is in any way sexist, or that it suggests a bad difference between women and men. Chivalrous actions suggest that we as a society believe there is some reason why men should hold doors, pay for dates, and pick women up, and that we believe there’s a reason why it doesn’t go both ways.
So in a society where women are receiving increasingly equal treatment, is chivalry wanted anymore?
I’ve heard stories of men who would have made their mothers proud by opening a door for a woman, only to receive a harsh retort of “I can hold my own door, thank you.” It seems that some women believe chivalrous actions suggest that they are somehow incapable of doing these things themselves, or that actions like paying for a date are subtle ways for men to exert power. Men are left confused, wondering what they’ve done wrong.
The issue gets especially complex when it comes to money. It’s traditional that men pay for dates and other outings, and while there may be exceptions within relationships, that’s always the default. Most women would find it rude if a man asked to split the bill on the first date, and being asked to pay for the whole date would be considered an egregious violation of social norms.
If things continue to change in salary and earnings, women will be conceivably earning as much as men someday. So is it really appropriate to expect men to pick up the tab?
Women are seeing social norms as they’ve always been, but I think men are hearing, “Yes, I am your complete equal and can do everything you can. But yeah, about the bill…..no thanks. Let’s keep things the way they are when it comes to that.” This is not only confusing, but I think it can feel unfair to men. “So you’re making as much as I do if not more, but it is by default my responsibility to pay for everything….?”
For me, chivalry is more about motive than it is about money. I don’t mind paying for dates, or splitting the tab. Chivalry is an expression of respect, as I see it, and having someone open the door for me doesn’t mean he thinks I can’t do it myself. Holding a door is an sign of respect, the same way as a hug is a socially established sign of affection. I think those signs of respect won’t lose relevance even when the pay gap is zero.
In thirty years, it might no longer be considered necessary for men to hold doors or pay for dates, but what will always be in style is respect. So men, I apologize now for the confusion we’ve caused you. Until the traditional women and the dont-hold-my-door ladies can agree, my advice to you is to speak softly and carry a big wallet.