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Chivalry Or Benevolent Sexism? We Need Manners, Not Misogyny

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There’s something about movies and series set in medieval times: the charm, the grandeur of outfits and architecture, the old English that sounds so incredibly sexy, the elaborate hairstyles, and all that. We’ve only watched content revolving around thrones, aristocratic families, and ladies in hats, having their hair brushed by maids. Truth be told, I find the chivalry of the men in those times, quite sexy. But a little into the movie, you realise that the chivalry is extended to the woman, as long as she is submissive, wears a pretty dress, and knows how to be a propah lady! Oh damn, why have I been loving this chivalry business so much?

It’s not black and white, actually. What are the common acts of chivalry? A man should open doors for the lady, pay for dinners, treat her like she’s fragile, etc. There’s a certain brand of chivalry that treats women like fragile creatures that need to be protected and respected, of course. That respect however is reserved for women who will remain docile and fit in the stereotypical gender roles.

But I don’t want to go on a date and have the guy pay because I am a woman. I mean, I make money too and I can split the bill. In fact, if I am dating someone, instead of splitting the bill, I prefer taking turns to cover the dates. They say there are no free lunches and if you’re constantly getting those, it’s probably costing you some of that equality you’ve been fighting for.

When I was 19 and the guy I was seeing was older than me and richer, I had no problem when he paid for dates because if I didn’t let him, he’d have to only eat at our college canteen! But as I grew older and made money, I don’t see why a man paying for dinners, for every single of them is chivalry.

Chivalry and Benevolent Sexism

Studies say that such kind of chivalry is basically sexism wrapped in glitter paper. A study found that this benevolent sexism actually sweet talks women into believing that adherence to outdated gender roles may be a good thing. That behaviour is rewarded after all! “In the current study, male and female participants completed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (Glick & Fiske, 1996) and a new measure of paternalistic chivalry, that is, attitudes that are both courteous and considerate to women but place restrictions on behavior considered appropriate for women during courtship. Consistent with our hypotheses, benevolent sexism was significantly positively related to paternalistic chivalry,” reports the study.

Say, for instance, at some point, I was talking to a guy who was so incredibly chivalrous. Initially, I’ll admit, it was a bit all too convenient for me and it’s just difficult to resist that kind of luxury! He’d drop me, pick me, and be all gentleman-like. But oh boy, did he not like me having any sort of intelligence! All that care and treating me like a lady came with conditions of me treating him like a superior – in terms of intelligence, capability, and everything else. It came with the condition that I must treat him like a superhero, and be enchanted by his bravado at all times. Criticism was not handled well and he loved to mansplain me. Benevolent sexism is used to systematically train women to accept gender roles.

Such chivalry promotes gender stereotypes

“One of the mechanisms through which benevolent sexism contributes to gender inequality is stereotyping. Within the framework of benevolent sexism, males and females are stereotyped with opposing strengths and weaknesses,” an NYU study reports. “Men are given agentic stereotypes, such as being independent, ambitious, and competitive. They are viewed as highly competent, and therefore, well-suited for high-status workplace positions,” it adds. “In contrast, women are assigned communal stereotypes, such as having nurturing, interdependent, and considerate characteristics, which are suitable for the duties of a proper wife and mother. While these domestic roles are important to society, they enforce the idea that women are subservient to men, as well as incompetent and incapable without their financial support,” the study explains.

Such social conditioning is difficult to break from, especially since there are so many layers of it already. While women who don’t adhere to these stereotypes are punished with hostile sexism, those who do are rewarded with admiration and respect. That makes women admire these men, encouraging more men to accept benevolent sexism as a measure of chivalry while dating. What does that entail? Men and women happily accepting gender inequality because on the surface, it’s benefitting both. It’s amazing, right, for doors to be held open for you? It’s so convenient when anything you want gets done because a man wants to make your life all about being worry-free and looking pretty, like a flower vase. No, men don’t do it intentionally and women don’t accept it knowingly. But there’s damage that is not visible to the naked eye.

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Chivalry shouldn’t be gendered at all

Strictly speaking in terms of the word, it was a code of conduct developed in medieval times, which gave men all the authoritative roles and women, the weaker ones. Women didn’t earn back then, wore large gowns and corsets, and were quite fragile. Today, we have the knowledge, education, experience, financial stability, and independence.

I like chivalry, it’s basically good manners and making things convenient for the other person. So why should it have anything to do with gender? I open doors for my female friends, for men, and definitely for an older person. My friends open doors for me too. I guess it’s about manners and not closing the door behind you on another person!

A man must not walk ahead of his lady, they say. Well, if I am walking with someone, I’d not walk ahead and leave them to follow me. It’s just about a code of conduct everyone needs to follow. So can we make chivalry just being well-mannered and how attractive that makes a person? I like being treated nicely but not because I am a woman but because I am a person. I would treat the guy the same way and that shouldn’t hurt his ego!

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