Chivalry: try being polite instead!

I’ve been dwelling on this post about chivalry, which I mocked briefly in my epic “feminism Google Alert” blogaround earlier. The dude in question is anti-chivalry, a stance which I applaud, but seems to have a very poor grasp of what that actually entails. For example, consider the following quotes:

Now don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I’ll play the doorstop.

If anyone — regardless of sex — carries something heavy, I might take a second out of my day to help.

Some doors are more easily opened from one direction or another, and I might give a well-timed nudge when a stranger is on the wrong end of hydraulics.

To be clear, I do these things, not because I have to, but because I want to.

And occasionally if I’m on my way to class — and an especially good-looking female follows — I’ll snap the door shut behind me and sing, “fatty, fatty, two by four, can’t get through the schoolhouse door.”

Not because I have to, but because I want to.

Yeah. Not really sure he’s getting it, here. Chivalry is bad, yes. Politeness is still good, though. They’re, um, not the same thing. Which is why chivalry is bad– it promotes the infantilization of women by turning perfectly ordinary, polite acts into “special privileges” for women.

In the interest of re-education, I have composed… a quiz! Yes, I shall describe a variety situations, and ask you to tell me, is the behavior described polite, rude, or CHIVALROUS?

On holding doors:

You are approaching a building that you wish to enter. Ahead of you is a woman, not carrying anything, ambling along pleasantly, also in the direction of the building. You run ahead of her to reach the door first, then pull the door open and stand to the side, holding it. She is still a fair distance from the building, and jogs the rest of the way to enter.

Are you, in this situation, being…

  • Polite?
  • Rude?

The answer here is rude. Also, CHIVALROUS! You can tell because you’ve gone out of your way to “help” someone, despite the fact that she has demonstrated no need for such help, and have actually inconvenienced her in the process by making her jog towards the door so you’re not left standing there for too long! For extra chivalry points, refuse to walk through any doors that she may subsequently hold for you, therefore reinforcing the idea that your sense of her helplessness is more important than convenience or politeness for either of you!

But Eloriane, you cry, I was only doing that out of the goodness of my heart! I wanted to be nice! Too bad. It’s not nice to make a big to-do out of running ahead of someone to get the door, and it’s downright rude to refuse to go through a door they may hold for you. What would nice behavior look like? Try the following:

You are entering a building at a busy time of day. Someone else is right behind you, also wishing to enter through the same door. You hold the door open behind you as you walk through, allowing the person behind you to easily grab the door and also walk through.

This time, you are being polite. You can tell because it’s the sort of thing one ought to do for any person, regardless of gender or other factors. Also, it would be actively impolite to refuse to hold the door, since that would allow it to slam shut in the face of the other person. But this isn’t quite the same as holding the door open for someone. Is there a polite way to do that?

You are approaching a building that you wish to enter. Ahead of you is a person who looks potentially desirous of aid– perhaps he or she is carrying something heavy or bulky, or is pushing a stroller or dolly. When you are both near the door, you step ahead of him or her, pull the door open, and stand to the side, holding it. He or she passes through with greater ease.

The key difference is that your decision to hold the door for someone is not determined by their gender, but by the likelihood that they might have difficulty with the door. Mothers pushing strollers qualify, but so would men pushing dollies, for example. A person with a disability aid might qualify, although they are much more likely to have already developed a good way to open doors. If you are particularly close by, I would suggest opening the door, but be aware that the person in question probably does not particularly need your help. (Would anyone with a disability like to weigh in on the most polite way to approach this situation?)

In no case should you make the act showy, or run ahead of someone to open the door, or create one of those awkward situations where the person being “helped” must run because they are not close enough to immediately pass through your opened door. The goal must be to serve the person in question, not your own vanity, and so anything that makes a fuss about how nice you’re being is probably not nice at all.

On carrying bags:

This one really falls under the same rules as opening doors. If you see someone obviously struggling with more items than they can easily carry, it’s polite to offer to carry something for them, regardless of your gender or theirs. However, though chivalrous, it would be rude to offer to carry something for a woman when she is not having trouble carrying it. Look for visible grunts, funny faces, or items being dropped. A single bag is not going to qualify. When you offer to carry something needlessly, it’s indicating that you believe, based on your respective genders, that you are inherently more capable to carrying whatever-it-is, despite evidence to the contrary. Which, though chivalrous, isn’t altogether polite.

On paying for dinner:

This one seemed to give our poor original poster particular trouble. Let’s take a look at his suggestion:

Gentlemen, the next time you sense a girl wants you to take the check, lean back in your seat and pre-emptively thank her for treating you.

Have fun with it.

Yes. Very polite. Unfortunately, if you think “a girl wants you to take the check,” it is probably because you have somehow indicated you intended to pay. As a general rule, the one who suggests the outing pays for the food, unless you have a prior agreement to split the bill. What does that mean? Well, don’t worry, I have another instructive quiz!

You say to your romantic partner, “Hey, why don’t we try that new restaurant downtown?” Your partner says, “I don’t know, it’s a little expensive.” You say, “But it looks really good! We can make it a date.” Your partner agrees, and you have a lovely, if slightly expensive meal that that new restaurant downtown. As you finish your dessert, you say, “Thanks so much for treating me, honey,” and nudge the bill towards your partner.

Are you, in this situation, being…

  • Polite?
  • Rude?

The answer should be obvious: you are being rude. However, if you are female and your partner is male, you may also be being CHIVALROUS!

But what if it was actually your idea to pay for the date that your partner proposed? How does that change things?

Your romantic partner says to you, “Hey, why don’t we try that new restaurant downtown?” You say, “I don’t know, it’s a little expensive.” Your partner says, “But it looks really good! We can make it a date. My treat.” You agree, and you have a lovely, if slightly expensive meal that that new restaurant downtown. As you finish your dessert, your partner says, “I had a great time,” and reaches for the bill. You take it out of your partner’s hand, and absolutely insist upon paying. Your partner tries to argue, saying, “Dinner was supposed to be my treat. I wanted to do something nice for you,” but to no avail. You pay for the dinner.

Are you, in this situation, being…

  • Polite?
  • Rude?

Hey look, you’re being rude again! And also, if you’re a dude dating a lady, CHIVALROUS again! It’s shocking how often those two things coincide. If you refuse to allow your partner to pay for the date that he or she proposed, you are being impolite. Now, if it was unclear who had initiated the date, which certainly happens in established relationships, then a bit of polite “I’ll get it,” “No, I’ll get it” discussion is to be expected when the bill arrives. In that case, it doesn’t really matter who pays, though over the course of the relationship it ought to work out about 50/50.

Key here is the dialogue from your partner (whom I am assuming is female for reasons of chivalry): she clearly indicates throughout that it had always been her intention to pay, and that she wanted to do so specifically as a kind of gift. To refuse to allow her to pay turns what should have been a happy moment for both of you (since people enjoy giving gifts in addition to receiving them!) into a power play that serves to assert your dominance. It says, not only, “I don’t want to receive the gift that you wish to give,” but also, “I don’t think you are or should be capable of providing this gift.”

On pulling chairs out:

This is an act that I don’t really understand regardless of gender. I find that having someone pull my chair out for me greatly increases the chance that I will fall straight to the ground. As in, I don’t think I have ever “missed” my chair on my own, but I land smack on the floor about half the time when people “help” me. I only ever manage to sit without making a fool of myself in cases where I am at a fancy restaurant, and the waiter seating me pulled out the chair before I got to the table. Any time it’s been an acquaintance, rather than someone working at the restaurant, I’m right on the floor.

Maybe I need to get better acquaintances, who won’t pull out my seat in silence. Or maybe it’s not actually a particularly helpful thing to do for another person. Regardless, it’s yet another display of patronizing superciliousness that really doesn’t need to exist any more.

On standing until women are seated:

I don’t even get the theoretical politeness of this one. I know a few people who do it, but I find it always makes me feel awkward. When a group is eating together, it’s desirable for everyone to sit at something close to the same time, so you don’t want to sit while everyone is still at the other end of the room mingling, but you also don’t want to stand while everyone else is going about the process of sitting. If you have picked your chair and are standing behind it while you wait for “the ladies” to be seated, the odds are good that you’re actually an obstacle to those of us still trying to get to our seats. And when the majority of people are seated, but there’s one straggling woman, your standing draws attention to her in a way that, let me tell you from personal experience!, sure doesn’t feel polite.

It’s like opening the door open for someone and then standing there, holding it, expectantly: it draws attention to that person’s activity, and can easily make them feel pressured to enter the building or sit down at the table more quickly than they would otherwise, so as not to leave the other person hanging. That induced worry seems to me to be a subtle way of reinforcing the idea that men’s concerns are more important than women’s. Theoretically, a woman could continue on at her pace and pay no mind to the man waiting on her– but is she likely to? No, because it’s rude to make people wait. And it’s rude to draw ostentatious attention to the fact that you are waiting. No matter how “chivalrous.”

On walking on a certain side of the sidewalk:

We’re getting into more obscure acts of chivalry, I think. In theory, men are supposed to walk on the road side of the sidewalk, to shield women from, uh… cars careening off the roads? I’m not really convinced there’s anything to protect us delicate flowers from any more, even if someone did want to go the chivalrous route. I always walk on the right, because my dad is deaf in his left ear, but I don’t think this is anything that deserved having much attention paid to it.

On leading a woman through a room with a hand on the small of her back:

I had no idea this was considered acceptable, let alone chivalrous-in-a-good-way, but in the comments to this article (one of my first google search results for the sidewalk-walking rule above), one woman says,

i love it when a guy puts his hand on the small of my back and leads me into a room. I am always nervous about being around a crowd of people, especially strangers, and the gesture just seems to make me feel that even if i mess up, he will be there to catch me when i fall. MY HERO.

A second woman agrees:

I LOVE the hand on the small of the back!

So, apparently this is a thing men do, and it is considered polite. Or something. Um. Really? I can kind of There is absolutely no way to make this into a gender-neutral general-politeness thing. A man physically moves a woman around according to his own will, via contact with a semi-intimate area of her body. Even in the context of romantic relationship, I can’t see that as anything but a patronizing show of power, making it really chivalrous, but not particularly polite.

Which is really what the whole thing is about. Chivalry is about reinforcing the idea that women somehow have to be looked after, and that men need to coddle them; it’s about the power imbalance. Decent manners are about treating fellow human beings with respect and kindness; it’s about equality.

And that is why chivalry deserves to die.


31 Responses to Chivalry: try being polite instead!

  1. Alice says:

    On walking on a certain side of the sidewalk:
    I’ll deliberately walk on the roadside of the pavement (er, sidewalk) if I see someone coming towards me with small children. It’s possibly slightly pointless, but it’s kind of an instinct from working with children. They tend to be on the inside of the pavement anyway, so it’s easier for me to move to the outside, especially if they are pushing a stroller.

    I tend to be overly polite, particularly when openning doors for people, but somehow that manages to extend itself to being aware of when people would have to run to go through the door I’m oh so politely holding open. Odd that.

  2. eloriane says:

    Well, with small children, you’re shielding them from the possibility that they will run out into the middle of the road. That’s a bit less likely with grown women. 🙂

    And yeah, I do a lot of “chivalrous” things because they actually are polite when applied gender-neutrally, as long as you keep the focus on actually helping the person in question rather than on how nice you’re being. Which means, yeah, just letting the door close if the person in question is far enough away to have to run for it.

  3. yinyang says:

    I love this post so much! 😀

    For extra chivalry points, refuse to walk through any doors that she may subsequently hold for you, therefore reinforcing the idea that your sense of her helplessness is more important than convenience or politeness for either of you!

    I know a guy who did this all through middle school. It irritated me so much. At one point we had a stand-off, because I was so tired of him and his stupid chivalry, but we ended up standing there for so long that eventually I had to go through first.

  4. eloriane says:

    Oh man, yes! That sort of behaviour is exactly why I always find it hilarious when people try to say that chivalry is “just being polite.” It’s just… really? Standing there, holding both of you up because you’re too self-important to walk through a door held for you by a woman, that’s polite? I’d hate to see what qualifies as rude behaviour.

  5. Eng says:

    I read somewhere that the standing-on-the-outside thing originated way back in the day, when people would often dump unsanitary things from their windows, and so the chivalrous one was expected to stand on the outside because he was more likely to get it, whereas the partner would be shielded by overhang and the like.

    What would you say about someone who was *already* at a door, holding it open for someone who then started jogging to catch up? It’s a little less extreme than the running-ahead-to-get-it case. And being on the receiving end of such gestures…personally, I don’t mind the running – it’s a nice thought, even if it’s not, on balance, all that useful.

    (In terms of a cost-benefit analysis, I’m sort of in an unusual situation since at college, the dorms require a card-swipe to get into, which makes it that much more useful to have a door already open, and maybe even worth running. I dunno.)

  6. eloriane says:

    I mean, if it looks like they’re going to have to run, I’d say don’t hold it, but if you’ve already started to hold it and it turns out they’re going to run, it would be obviously impolite to just let go of the door again. It would seem like, “oh, I was willing to do this for you, but not if it’s going to take you a long time.” But especially at school where the card readers make opening doors inconvenient, if you’re at the door and someone’s pretty close behind you, like maybe a few quick steps, you should hold it.

    When I talk about “running to the door,” I mean something that has happened to me a couple of times, where I am still at the bottom of the (short) staircase and the guy ahead of me holding the door is at the top, or I am otherwise a significant distance away. And they weren’t even card-reader doors.

    It’s sort of a gray area. If your intentions are good and you’re not actively racing the person in question to the door, it doesn’t matter if there is still a little bit of awkward distance. Just don’t be a dick about it.

    Also, please do not check out a woman’s ass as you are holding the door for her. It is impolite times a bazillion.

    (Not that I think you, personally, you do this. Just, you know. In general.)

  7. eloriane says:

    And yeah, the whole sidewalk thing may once have been useful (though still patronizing!) “back in the day” but it’s not even that, any more. Just patronizing.

  8. Eng says:

    Oh, yeah, the sidewalk thing is useless now. Just an interesting historical side note of dubious credibility.

    Also, yes, the situations you are talking about are much less useful to the person who is supposed to be…helped by it.

  9. dirtyrose says:

    I would only disagree a little bit about the small of the back thing – I know the implications of what it symbolizes, but sometimes I (just me, personally!) find it sexy to be held there. It’s not a “MY HERO” type of reaction, but I’m naturally a more submissive partner and I suppose it doesn’t bother me as much in a private, romantic setting.

    In a public setting, though, I think it would be different. Contact like that, to me, is more of a personal interaction. In public, obviously I want to be free to move wherever I’d like to go. So that’s where I draw the line, it seems 🙂

  10. eloriane says:

    I mean, yes, it’s a sexy place to be touched, and maybe if my partner was leading me into a bedroom for a sexy surprise it would be nice, but in public? Around strangers??

    Maybe it’s just because gay public displays of affection are so much “worse” than straight ones, but I can’t imagine ever being so blatant in public unless I was totally sure of the crowd– in which case, what’s the purpose of being guided?

  11. dirtyrose says:

    I did clarify that the public setting is where I’d draw the line..

  12. eloriane says:

    Yes, sorry! I was agreeing with you! Just, um, not with great clarity, it seems.

  13. jemimaaslana says:

    Hehe, about the holding of doors: I had the great luck to experience some hilarity in connection with holding of doors.

    I was sitting on a bench in the square outside a building with public offices and such (Our city hall functions are spread over several buildings). A woman was walking towards the entrance, a man noticed this and held the door open – waaaaaay long time in advance. When she reached the entrance she put her letter into the mail box, turned her back and left. I don’t know if she was silently laughing at the idiot, or whether she thought he was holding the door for someone on the inside. As far as I could tell there was no interaction between her and the door-holder.

    Me? I was in stitches all day. She must have been several metres away when he opened the door, he stood there for quite some time – even I was beginning to wonder if she’d jog to the door, but nope… she was just heading for the mailbox 😀

    Now I’m just wondering if he’d done the same if the woman had been 30 years older and not as good-looking as she was.

  14. eloriane says:

    Oh man, that’s FANTASTIC! Hilarious. I would’ve been laughing all day.

    Hmm, maybe the next time someone opens a door for me way, way too soon, I could come up with a similar excuse to avoid the door altogether?

    I really hate being forced to act like I appreciate it when it only happens on the days I’m wearing skirts or showing cleavage, but I also, well, hate rudeness! Avoiding it altogether would be preferable. I could pretend to get a cell phone call, and stop walking…

  15. jemimaaslana says:

    Yeah, it does inspire contingency plans of avoidance. If nothing else then only to remind certain males that seeing a woman’s direction doesn’t impart her errand.

    In my case it’d be only to ridicule the chivalrous male. It’s fine to hold doors for people if you’ve just entered or exited yourself, or if said people of either gender are encumbered by bags, babies, strollers, disabilities or something else, but to just stand there and wait… bleargh, get over yourselves, guys.

    Also, if a bloke holds a door for you at the top of a stair-case, just walk past and continue up the the next one. Why do some guys think they can predict where women are going? Oh yes, because naturally the woman would be seeking out the beauty-clinic on the 2nd floor, there’s no way she’d be continuing up to the karate dojo on the 3rd 😉 That sort of thing, you know? This I haven’t experienced with the door holding, but with elevator button-pushing.

    I was going to my Kung Fu class, in that building there were several different kinds of sports clubs, most of them martial arts, I entered the elevator and the bloke who entered along with me assumed I’d be going to the club that wasn’t a martial arts place – and before I’d responded he’d pushed the corresponding button, thinking himself immensely helpful.

    I raised an eyebrow and smiled at him and while we stopping over at a floor neither of us needed I said, no, actually I’m going to go practice my Kung Fu, see I have a competition this weekend, so I’m here for the third time this week – just to be sure I’ll nail it.

    Boy, was he embarrassed – and perhaps slightly scared of the dangerous martial arts-y woman. 😀

    This is just one of those types of situations, where you can so easily turn it around resulting in great hilarity. And perhaps change a few minds, one male at a time.

  16. Eng says:

    Yeah, that is pretty ridiculous, assuming that he knows exactly where you’re going to go, clearly simply based on gender.

    Good luck on your competition, by the way!

    (This is straying from the whole feminism thing, and I apologize, but what sort of things do you do at a competition? Sparring? Demonstrations of forms?)

  17. jemimaaslana says:

    Oh, that was actually direct speech as it happened waaaay back then. I must have been 15 or something like that.

    Yes, we demonstrate forms – and I won 😛 but that was way back then. I don’t even do Kung Fu anymore, for reasons unrelated.

  18. Quercki says:

    On standing until women are seated:
    I stand if I think someone might need my seat (aged, pregnant, disabled), but I try not to be in the way.

    I PULL CARD-SWIPE DOORS SHUT if someone I don’t know is running to catch them. I don’t want to be trapped with someone who shouldn’t be there. It’s a security problem. I sure wish people hadn’t let the man who was stalking me into my dorm regularly when I was in college.

    On walking on the outside of the sidewalk:
    It’s probably more useful in places where cars splash water on pedestrians, but we have reasonable drains here.

  19. eloriane says:

    Quercki, that’s a good point on the card-swipe doors.

    I’m a little conflicted– I’m on medical leave from my university, so my card got deactivated, but I’ve visited my friends for several-day stretches and been reliant on people opening doors for me the whole time. Usually my friends were around, but I had to have strangers let me in more than a few times. No one was ever anything but willing to let me in, possibly because I look nonthreatening (college-age, female, short, etc.), and I’m grateful.

    But looking nonthreatening isn’t the same as being nonthreatening. And none of the people who let me in had any guarantee I was actually safe– especially those who could tell, by the fact that I was hanging out waiting, that I didn’t have a card of my own. I want to say for my own convenience that it was nice of them to let me in, but I’m thinking that it really wasn’t. The niceness of letting in a hundred people with legitimate need is immediately overwritten by the terribleness of letting someone in who will cause harm.

    So I agree wholeheartedly that people shouldn’t have let your stalker into your dorm. That’s terrible, and I’m sincerely sorry that you had to go through it. (That might not sound sincere, but I promise, it really, truly is.)

    I think in terms of social rules, the door-slamming is likely to come across as impolite? Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, just that I don’t think it’ll catch on. I think it’s usually OK to hold the door a second for someone who is walking behind you, especially if they’re getting out their own card, and especially if you know they belong in that dorm. Basically, people who probably could have gotten the door for themselves.

    But if you see someone waiting to be let in, or someone who was “hanging out” nearby and then suddenly wanted in as you approached (basically, waiting, but with subtlety), walk quickly past them. If they try to ask to be let in, an ordinary person ought to be understanding if you politely say that it’s not really safe to just let in people without cards; they exist for a reason, after all. If whoever-it-is really knows someone inside, that person can let them in.

    I don’t know if this would have kept you safe. It’s not an absolute societal rule– just where I, personally, would draw the line regarding letting in risky persons. I think you are probably wholly justified in not wanting to let anyone in. Anyone with a good reason to be inside will be able to get in without your help, and anyone who doesn’t ought to stay outside.

  20. […] This post compares and contrasts the traditional idea of chivalry with what they consider ‘rudeness’ and ‘politeness’ – I’m not even going to get into all the examples they gave and my opinions of them (those of you who know me, know I’m a fan of chivalry) because I realize that whether something is ‘polite’ or ‘rude’ depends entirely on opinion.  What I might find rude others would consider polite, and vice versa. […]

  21. jemimaaslana says:

    *snort* have you read the post that pinged you? OMG, she accuses you of willful ignorance and proceeds to read only the last part of your post.

    LMAO Pot. Kettle. Black. Anyone?

  22. eloriane says:

    Oh man, no, I didn’t take a look! Clearly, I was missing out.

    From the post:

    They also subtitled it “three hairy-legged feminists get hysterical over superficial trifles” and while I can’t attest to the hirsuteness of their legs, I can say that while they might have intended to be ironic, the ’superficial trifles’ bit is spot on.

    Sincerely calling a feminist blogger hysterical over superficial trifles? Adorable! Although it makes me wonder– should we put up photos of our legs to prove our Hirsuteness Cred?

    First off I want to address the “gender neutral general politeness thing” – chivalry (as used in the modern sense, not the knightly code sense) is NOT about gender neutral politeness. It’s more or less a certain way a man can treat a woman. So criticizing chivalry for not being gender neutral is completely missing the point.

    No, criticizing chivalry for not being gender-neutral is the point. The entire point. Of this post.

    Her post title is hilariously apt, really: Willful Ignorance. She showz u it.

  23. jemimaaslana says:

    Yep. Well, let it never be said that demonstrating your point doesn’t make it perfectly clear 😀

  24. ishyB says:

    chiv·al·rous (shvl-rs)
    1. Having the qualities of gallantry and honor attributed to an ideal knight.
    2. Of or relating to chivalry.
    3. Characterized by consideration and courtesy, especially toward women.

    1. courteous behaviour, especially by men towards women
    2. the medieval system and principles of knighthood

    cour·te·sy (kûrt-s)
    n. pl. cour·te·sies
    a. Polite behavior.
    b. A polite gesture or remark.

    I must say that I don’t agree with your post here.
    Note because I think that the point you are making is wrong -I do think it’s very rude for some people to do some of the things you have mentioned- but because of your fault in terminology.

    English isn’t my mother tongue, so the first thing I do when debating something like this is take out the dictionary. I’ve posted the definitions above and as you can see: the behavior you describe as being rude AND chivalrous is in fact ONLY rude and not chivalrous at all.

    By it’s very definition, chivalry is behavior that is considerate and courteous. Because it’s courteous is is also supposed to be polite, again by it’s very definition. The rude behavior you describe is thus by definition NOT chivalrous.

    If you look at the definition again, you will also note that it says ESPECIALLY towards women, thus implying that, though it is more often used with women, chivalry is NOT a only gender based thing. The definition implies that is just is done more often towards women. Personally, the only aspect about this that I find a little offencive is that it also implied that is is something that can only be done BY men. Note that the definition doesn’t state this literally, but the implication is there that if men behave courteous towards a woman it is chivalry, and when women do the same towards men it is not.
    I can only assume this is because of the origin of the word, from medieval knightship and the way English as a language has evolved.

    Now back to your examples about the rude action. As I said before, they are by definition not chivalry, so it would seem to me that the problem is not with the behavior in itself, but with the MISGUIDED idea some men/people seem to have about chivalry.

    Like the buy that was mentioned a few comments above who refused to walk trough a door held by a women. That behavior isn’t courteous, it’s belittling and degrading towards women. It is in essence saying: you are not good enough to hold my door, you are of a lesser class. Behavior like that isn’t chive rally, it’s chauvinism.

    chau·vin·ism (shv-nzm)
    1. Militant devotion to and glorification of one’s country; fanatical patriotism.
    2. Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one’s own gender, group, or kind

    Another note I would like to make is that it is easier to be rude when trying to be chivalrous when it involves strangers instead of people you are with. Like in the example with the women and the mailbox, or the elevator. In those examples, the men ended up being rude -despite intending to be nice- by assuming. If they where accompanying the woman, such a thing wouldn’t have happened because they would have known where she was going.

    The problem seems to be that some men want to go out of their way to make dramatic gestures to confirm their OWN self-image as being a ‘good guy’, when in fact, by doing so, and especially by how they do it, they are completely missing the point and doing the opposite they are trying to do.

    Maybe next time we meet a guy like that we should slap him around the ear with definitions. 😉

  25. eloriane says:

    ishyB, I think we might be agreeing but talking at cross-purposes. When I said that certain actions were chivalrous, I actually used the phrasing “CHIVALROUS” with the all-caps to try to indicate that it was the men involved who were claiming the word. I was trying to point out that although chivalry is supposed to refer to politeness, a lot of stuff that people do in the name of chivalry is actually chauvinistic and impolite. In fact, I have never heard the word “chivalry” to describe behaviour that is polite, which is why I object to the idea that chivalry is, by definition, polite.

    I also think it’s flawed to rely so heavily on dictionary definitions here. The dictionary just doesn’t carry the full connotation of the idea, or its history, or how it plays out in interpersonal interactions– it doesn’t tell us what the word “really” means. This is not uncommon– take, for example, the word “hysterical.” Only one of the dictionary definitions I could find for it mentioned its origin in the idea that hysteria was caused by women’s uteri making them crazy, and none mentioned its history as a gendered insult to silence women. So relying on the dictionary definition to say, “no, it’s not sexist to call a woman ‘hysterical'” would be flawed, because the dictionary doesn’t tell the whole story. “Hysterical” is a gendered, sexist insult, in the way it is used.

    Similarly, the dictionary says that “chivalry” means politeness, but the dictionary doesn’t address the ways that ideas of “chivalry” have historically been used to infantalize women. In its actual usage, “chivalry” is used to justify extremely chauvinistic acts of faux-politeness. So refusing to go through a door when a woman holds it is chivalrous, in the sense that a man doing so would use that word to describe his behaviour. In fact, for most of the examples of chivalry that I’ve given, I have experienced them first-hand, and at least half of those experiences involved the men in question insisting that their behaviour was polite because it was chivalrous, which suggests to me that in its actual day-to-day usage, “chivalrous” means “impolite but I’m going to do it anyway because I want everyone to witness how manly I am.”

    One of the toughest things about learning the language is figuring out these cases where the words don’t mean what they literally mean, because of the way that we typically use them.

    I don’t know, I feel like we’re basically agreeing here, especially since you bring up chauvinism the way you do, which I can’t believe I didn’t think to include in my post– they key difference in a lot of cases between polite behaviour and “chivalrous!!!” behaviour is definitely the chauvinism. But I don’t think it’s the men in question who have mistaken its meaning– I think it’s the dictionary that has it wrong. But I’ve always been more of a descriptivist than a prescriptivist. 🙂

  26. ishyB says:

    I understand your point of words not always meaning what they are supposed to mean. The only objection I thus have in therefore dismissing the dictionary definition is that by doing so, you are allowing the words to mean something other then they mean.

    When faced with the fact that some men use the term chivalry to disguise chauvinism, you could go either way. You can choose to dismiss chivalry entirely or you can insist that those men stop hiding behind false term to justify their own actions.

    Personally, I think chivalry is a good thing. I’m a girlie type girl and most definitely not a feminist and I can appreciate actions like that. BUT… intent is extremely important for me.
    To take the mailbox example. If I where the woman in that situation, I wouldn’t take offense at all. I wouldn’t consider the action to be rude, because of the intent the guy probably had. He wasn’t trying to proof that he’s stronger, or more powerful, or better or anything like that. Just trying to be nice.
    My reaction to it would thus be to give him a weary smile with and to think to myself: he’s kinda endearing, in a stupid, goofy, clueless kind of way.

    However, with the example of the guy refusing to walk trough the door, things would be different. I don’t see that guy as trying to be nice, but as trying to proof that he is superior, stronger and that is chauvinistic and can be extremely insulting. I therefore don’t think it’s good that we accept that guy using chivalry as a defense for his actions. He is using a word that has the intent to mean one thing and justifying his actions by it even though his intent is the complete opposite. I think that’s wrong, but that doesn’t make chivalry wrong, at least not in my opinion.

    I don’t belief in letting a basket of apples go bad, just because there are a few rotten ones in it. Just like I don’t belief taking insult every time a man is trying to be nice and instead makes a goofy screw up just because there are a few men out there who don’t have the intent to be nice but are trying to be controlling instead under the disguise of being nice.
    I think those men should be held accountable for their actions by pointing out to them that they are not being nice at all, but instead are being pompous pricks who don’t have a clue about what is a chivalrous way to treat a lady.

    Instead of accepting that some behavior is classified under chivalry and the term thus becomes more synonym with chauvinism, I think we would do better to remind men that behavior has changed over time. And that what was considered polite in 1609 isn’t always polite in 2009. Sometimes these days, it simply much more chivalrous and polite to let a lady open her own door, or even let her open one for you, then it is vice versa.

    Anyways, I still liked your post and I think we are generally in agreement (and I can’t belief I’m saying that because I am só not a feminist, in fact I personally like very dominant men myself.)

  27. dirtyrose says:

    Just a quick note for ishyB, I think feminism is far more than what you prefer in a sexual or friendly partner. 🙂 I won’t go into detail but there’s plenty of things about me that are “non-traditional” in terms of what feminism is perceived to be. Do I still think women deserve to be treated with respect, justice, and equality? Absolutely. Do I think injustices and sexism need to be called out? Hell yes! Do I call myself a feminist? You bet I do.

    For me, it’s about finding strength in myself as a woman in a world that typically doesn’t want me to do so. That’s an oversimplification of the theory that came before me, but it’s the easiest way I know how to describe it. Feminist is not a dirty word, and I’ll argue THAT point till people believe me again. 🙂

    • ishyB says:

      Hi dirtyrose,

      I understand that feminism is about more then your choice in partners and I didn’t mean to imply it was a ‘dirty word’, I apologize if it came across that way.

      Actually, while I can agree with a some of the values that feminists stand for, there are other values that they have which are just completely the opposite of mine. This makes that usually when I’m in a discussion with a feminist (which rarely happens anyways), she and I both feel like we are on opposite ‘teams’ and then it’s very hard to find a common ground and agreement on anything at all.

      Again, I didn’t want to sound insulting, by what I said.

  28. dirtyrose says:

    I didn’t think you meant it to be insulting. 🙂 I consider myself a feminist but I think you and I can definitely be on the same team. And I think there are definitely variations of values among individual feminists, which is important to remember when we talk about any belief system – it’s made of people, not a collective. 🙂 No offense taken or meant either way!

    • Crowfoot says:

      Hello all! I was going to write a comment about reclaiming words but decided to write a post about it instead. Because I can! and because nobody’s posted anything in a while 😦 (including myself! lordy)

      But I hope you don’t take it in a negative light, IshyB – it’s just my thoughts were wandering all over so I went ahead and posted something that could stand on its own 🙂

      But I will respond to this little bit: The only objection I thus have in therefore dismissing the dictionary definition is that by doing so, you are allowing the words to mean something other then they mean.

      I think what’s key here is that the dictionary does not, in fact, encompass what the word actually means. By dismissing, or more accurately critiquing, the dictionary definition, what we’re doing is saying that that definition is incomplete.

  29. […] had started to write a reply to one of our commenters in eloriane’s Chivalry thread but as it was getting so long I decided to make it a post instead! Cuz, it’s a little […]

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