| 03.20.2018

The F-word – Chivalry, sexism and common courtesy


“You can’t have your cake and eat it too!” he declared. “You can’t ask for equality and then still expect people to hold doors open for you.”

My friend expressed a somewhat common misunderstanding when it comes to feminism. That is, that women want to be equal but still expect men to hold doors open for them and pay for their meals. Generally, that isn’t true on a couple of levels.

First, there is the school of thought within feminist circles that any form of chivalry by men toward a woman is a form of internalized sexism predicated upon the idea that women are the weaker sex and men are the protectors and champions in shining armor. And this is perfectly valid. If a man is carrying bags and holding doors open for a woman primarily because she is a woman, that is form of sexism. Nice sexism, maybe, but sexism nonetheless. In this way, most feminists don’t expect chivalry.

What we do expect is courtesy. And for me personally, not letting a door slam in someone’s face is a pretty common courtesy. Going dutch or taking turns paying for a date is common courtesy. Offering to help carry something when someone’s arms are full is common courtesy. It’s stuff I do for others every day, and I am generally cool with people doing the same for me.

What makes the difference is why traditionally chivalrous acts are performed. Do you, as a man, only perform courteous acts for women merely because of their gender and neglect to do the same for other men? In that case, your actions are hinging on the idea that women are fragile, delicate creatures who require special treatment. I assure you we aren’t.

If, however, you hold doors open, pick up something someone else has dropped or offer to carry a box or two for everyone, regardless of gender — congratulations. You are practicing common courtesy.

A culture that encourages men to be chivalrous toward women and women to be passive in their acceptance of chivalry is damaging to both sexes. Men are taught that it isn’t manly to accept someone holding the door open for them. I’ve had more than one icy comment from men who were offended I held the door open for them. Women are taught that it’s not ladylike to be the one doing the helpful thing.

Let’s start being courteous to everyone, regardless of their gender. And thankful when someone shows common courtesy, regardless of their gender.

Kaitlin Moroney can be reached atarg-opinion@uidaho.edu

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