sponsored post: is chivalry sexist?
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When I was in university, taking my first Gender Studies classes and writing for Lip in my spare time, word got around pretty quickly that I was a feminist (and still am, I might add). I earned myself a bit of a reputation as a supposed ‘man-hater’, and dudes started acting a bit strange around me at times. Specifically, they’d say things like ‘I’d open the door for you, but I don’t want you to think I’m being sexist!’, or ‘Don’t worry, I’ll let you pay’, at the end of a coffee date.
I assume some of this was just gentle ribbing, but there was an underlying assumption that being a feminist meant that I automatically hated any chivalrous actions, and that this made guys feel a bit awkward and defensive.
Well, according to the Society for the Pyschology of Women, small acts of chivalry could have bigger, dangerous implications for the status of women more broadly. Put simply, chivalry is sexist. In an issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly, a group of researchers put forward a list of potentially ‘damaging’ acts that men could commit, that are actually insidiously sexist and affect the status of women in society.
Included in this list were such things as offering to carry heavy things, offering to drive on a long distance journey, or telling a woman you ‘can’t live without her’. Now, here’s the thing – I am definitely a feminist. I can see how some perceived acts of chivalry are actually a bit insulting and imply weakness in women (like some of the other acts listed by the researchers, including helping a woman choose the right computer etc). I can also see how many acts of chivalry are steeped in old-school sexism that stretches back centuries and is based on ideas of gendered difference that imply women are vulnerable, physically weak and generally incapable of taking care of themselves.
However, when it comes to modern life, and especially modern dating, I just don’t think that the occasional act of chivalry is going to derail equality between the genders.
No, I don’t think that men should always have to pay on a date. However, if I guy I’m on a date with offers to pay, I’m not going to slap him in the face, cry ‘sexism!’ and storm off. Yeah, I can carry my own groceries. But if a male friend offers to grab a bag for me, I’m not going to struggle alone just to prove a point.
In the context of the 21st century, chivalrous acts are less about sexist implications, and more about courtesy and politeness. Especially in the context of dating, chivalry is a well-understood way to demonstrate interest and generosity through gestures rather than words.
The Society for the Psychology of Women claim that chivalry is benevolent sexism – I can see how it’s a complex issue, but I can’t help but think that there are enough malevolent forms of sexism out there (like sexual assault, discrimination in the workplace, and the pay gap to name a few) that I can let a bit of door-opening or dinner-buying slide.
Does that make me a bad feminist?
Just in case, here are some chivalrous moves that I don’t think are sexist, and that would pass the test for me on a date:
- Offering to pay for dinner: I just don’t think this has to be sexist. I think it’s only sexist if it’s expected that the guy pays every time. I think most couples will switch between each other when it comes to getting the bill, and to me that’s perfectly ok.
- Carrying the groceries: Alright, maybe I just really hate carrying groceries. But frankly, I would always offer to carry things for a friend if I thought they were struggling, and I would be a bit perturbed by any date (male or female) that didn’t at least offer to help – it’s just polite.
- Offering a coat or jumper on a cold evening: Even if I don’t need it, it’s always nice to feel that a date is concerned for your comfort. Offering to loan me a coat doesn’t mean that my date thinks I’m pathetic and weak – it probably just means he thinks I look cold.
Like with anything, chivalrous gestures are only sexist if the person offering them is sexist – the act itself can just be a polite, friendly and caring thing to do. And trust me, if the guy you’re dating is sexist, you’ll be able to tell from far more obvious traits than the occasional door-opening.
Brought to you by eHarmony.com.au
By Zoya Patel