Thursday, April 23, 2009

NEWSFLASH: Without Chivalry, Respectful Heterosexual Relationships Are DOOMED...According To One Guy

As I have blogged about in the past, sometimes I feel like I am often defined by other people in terms of my politics, especially when it comes to my feminism. It seems like politics and feminism are the first topics people reach for when they talk to me. This has even happened on several occasions with people I didn’t really know.

A few nights ago a friend of mine sent me an instant message. “Guys are bastards,” he moaned, complaining about the type of guy who doesn’t know how to respect any human being, let alone a female. Then this friend started talking about his personal code of conduct when it comes to women. He opens doors for women, walks closest to the street on the sidewalk. He calls it chivalry, and he said he does it out of respect. It’s not that he thinks girls aren’t as capable. It’s just about respect.

I admit that I have not spent enough time thinking about this kind of chivalry that is framed by those who practice it as being beneficial for all those involved, but this is what I came up with that night and I still find validity in.

I believe that he believes that his behavior is to be respectful and to show he cares. I think that was why he was unmoved by my attempts to show him that he was actually being harmful. He is able to justify his behavior because it works for him. He doesn’t need to care how others might see his actions. He is free from the consequences.

To challenge him, I asked my friend if he treated his male friends the same way. Surely he respects them as well. No, he told me. With guys, the behavior was reciprocal, where it was not expected to be reciprocal with girls.

So, it’s really not about respect. It’s about gender. When this guy is with a female, he must do things for her, care for her, protect her…because she is a girl. When he’s with other males, the behaviors are returned because men are not perceived as needing to be cared for, of being protected. It really is just about being a good guy.

As I tried to explain this, my friend proceeded to tell me that I was actually the one being hurtful because it is a lack of this kind of chivalry that leads to instances of “guys being bastards,” such as sleeping (raping) drunk girls, cat-calling, and such. In his mind, chivalry is what teaches men to be respectful of girls. Really, this kind of chivalry only teaches men to see people for their gender, not their ability, not their state of need at a particular moment. Just their gender.

And then this friend ended the conversation by saying that I would never convince him to think otherwise about this topic because I was arguing from the assumption that I was right. I thought for a minute.

Why else would I possibly argue about anything?


lindsay said...

... wasn't he arguing from the assumption that HE was right and therefore, you were never going to change your mind?

Good post... I have real issues with door holding, but I hold doors open for people all the time. I just have to try and put it in the context that they're not doing it because I'm a woman, but because it's the polite thing to do.

space said...

Healthy and respectful relationships do not need chivalry. I'm with a guy who neither holds the door open for me nor rapes me. Hell, he doesn't even pay for my dinner except once in a blue moon. We started out as friends and equals and we've stayed that way.

Change said...

Benevolent sexism? Seeing women as precious objects that need to be protected from misuse by other men.

Amelia said...

@Lindsay: I also hold doors open for people all the time when it's not an inconvenience for me, or when it can help the person coming through the door. That's why I focused on making this a post about this particular guy's ideas about chivalry, not one that necessarily means that holding a door open for anyone means sexism.

@space: I think it's great that you were able to figure out a relationship that seems to have maintained its equality in that way.

Goose said...

Amelia.... wow.... all I can say...

interested observer said...

i beg to differ. what is wrong with a guy being chivalrous? why is that being seen as sexist? actually, i consider myself a feminist; so when i read this article i was confused. why are you mocking this guy for holding these values? he is not being sexist nor is he anywhere implying that woman are inferior to men.

Amelia said...

@interested observer:

As I said in my comment @lindsay, I took issue with this particular friend's view of the topic and not the acts themselves because he blatantly treated men and women differently, and attempted to justify this by calling it "respect for women."

Because he could not make the argument that there was a legitimate reason for him to treat women differently (like they were carrying something, etc.), the only difference, really, is gender.

And treating someone differently in a way that characterized them as less capable, that is sexist. Even if it is the "benevolent" kind as mentioned by Change.

Mike said...

I think you are also not taking into consideration the different relationships between a guys friends and a lady he is trying to woo. With my buddies, we joke around with each other and bust each others balls. I don't hold the door open for my friends, rather we try to go in ahead of everyone and try to hold it shut and see how long it takes 'em to pry it open. We also see who can burp the loudest, chug the most alcohol and emit the most ordorous fart.

But with my wife it's obviously not that way (of course we've become more comfortable around each other so occasionaly I'l insert a loud belch or dutch oven), I also sleep on the side of the bed closer to the bedroom door and loser to the gun and it's absolutely because I believe i would be more capable of protecting her than her me. But as far as holding open doors, it has nothing to do with thinking she is incapable, it does have everything to do with respect. Sure if you're only trying to be friends, then by all means, forget chivalry.

If i only wanted to be friends with my wife, than I would have acted like I do with my buds. I also would have never kissed her, told her I love her, sent her flowers, wrote her love letters, proposed, bought her a ring, married her, or consummated the marriage. The bottom line is that there needs to be a difference in how someone treats his friends and his significant other.

With you guys it seems that there is no winning. Being chivalrous is apparently unacceptable and apparently so is being a dick. It's a lose, lose because you'll never be happy with what guys do. It seems that all you really want is to be left alone.

Amelia said...


You can't prove your point by justifying stereotypes about "manhood" being disgusting, etc. by saying they apply to your particular situation. Sure, that may be the case for you, but I think you make a poor case for men in general. Just as I did not attempt to comment on all forms that chivalry may take.

And I think there are ways to make relationships different between one's friends and one's significant other/partner/what have you that do not involve treating them differently based on capability, as you said is the case for you ("...also sleep on the side of the bed closer to the bedroom door and loser to the gun and it's absolutely because I believe i would be more capable of protecting her than her me.") and the friend mentioned in my post. The level of physical intimacy is one way to differentiate. The kind of information you share and how is another. It has nothing to do with capabilities, and it makes the distinction you seem to crave so badly.

Also, there is the idea of human decency. If you would do something like open doors for women, why not do it for men? The real problem comes down to doing it for one group and not others.

Also, the idea of dutch ovening someone you claim to be chivalrous toward out of respect, that's messed up. At the very least that's completely disrespectful. At the worst, harassment.

just_a_silly_girl said...

AS a female who is not a feminist I don't have a problem with people seeing me for who I am. A WOMEN. I know that there are things that I can do that men can't a vice versa. Why is it that you, the "feminist" who "does not see gender" assume we are the same. I dont know about you personally because I don't know you, but it appears to me that you are the one seeing gender and refusing to accept it. There are some things that guys can do better than women, get over it. Just like there are things that women do better, its a natural balance to life. Only true thing to be proud about as a women is knowing you are not the expendable one in the species because, we, the womenfolk, can only reproduce every 9 months, where as with most guys its ever 9 minutes. Seems to me they are the ones that should be worried.

Mike said...

You completely missed my point. What I do for people is not based on gender, it is based on the relationship I have with them (and I think this is the case for the vast majority of men out there). I open the door for my wife because I love her and I want to make her life as carefree and easy as possible and if opening the door for her makes it even a miniscule little bit easier, I'll do it. i hold the door open for my mom because I know she appreciates that kind of thing. I'll hold the door for strangers who happen to be coming inside at the same time as me because I'm a nice guy and I don't want to let the door slam in their face. I don't hold open the door for my friends because thats not the kind of relationship I have with them. Same with my Dad and my brother. It has nothing to do with gender, but it has everything to do with the relationship i have with them. Is there stuff I do because I know certain people aren't capable, yes! Is there stuff people do for me because I'm not capable, yes! Do you have a problem with chivalry? Apparently so, but it's incredibly off base to assume that guys do these things for certain people and not other based on gender stereotypes.

And the day a good dutch oven is harassment is the day I become Pope! There is nothing serious about a dutch oven!

an interested observer said...

To Mike - i agree with you when you say that there is a different kinds of relationships a guy has between (male) friends and a woman.

To Amelia - i am trying see your point, but i am afraid that i still believe this is a little too far. if guys want to be chivalrous, let them be; there is no need to waste time thinking that they think you are "incapable" of holding doors open or something like that.
and i am sorry, i do not mean this to be insulting, but your title is very mocking.
and i say this out of the fact that i am a feminist. but perhaps i am not the kind of feminist that is being portrayed here, at least through this post.
and also, why do you think that dutch ovening is a form of "harrassment"? Amelia, perhaps you would *think* that would be a form of harassment to you. but there would be plenty of other women and men who would not see it as that way, who would see it as a practical joke, and by saying that it is a form of harassment, you are implying that this guy Mike does not treat his wife well. I do not know if you know Mike, but if you do not, then what right do you have to say that?

Amelia said...


AS a female who is not a feminist I don't have a problem with people seeing me for who I am. A WOMEN.Okay, that's fine that you want people to consider your gender presentation first and foremost when it comes to your interactions with them. That's your choice and there's nothing wrong with that choice. I, however, do not feel the same way. I want to be seen for my abilities and talents without the strings of gender attached to them. This is not because I am a femnist "who 'does not see gender'". In fact, gender is something that I am acutely aware of through my education as a feminist.

I think that you are actually confusing gender and sex when you talk about the differences between men and women. There are a variety of genders with varying ways of expressing them. There are even different sexes that may include physical differences. But I will assure you that no physical difference between sexes makes it so that man should open doors for women, walk near the streets, etc. which is the problem I addressed in this post. Those sorts of differences would not be due to sex, but probably to a physical handicap of some sort.

Amelia said...


Well, it did take a while to get that out of you, the more concrete differences and reasoning for treating people differently based on relationship. I did, however, notice a gender bias when it came to you naming specific people you would do "chivalrous" things for (your wife and mother).

But anyway, I am apparently just an idealist who actually thinks of doing these things for all people something to do out of human decency. I don't think these actions should be reserved for anyone in particular because they need to be cared for or because they are somehow more special to you. They should be done for everyone. And then you can go about making your mother and your wife feel important in other ways.

wondering said...

I hold doors open out of politeness. If someone is right behind me - or was just about to step through the door when I opened it, I'll certainly hold it for them to walk through. It's nothing but rude to let a door slam in anyone's face, especially if they are carrying or pushing something.

If someone holds the door for me, I walk through and thank hir.

I've met no one (save those with a passion for medieval European history) who even knows that chivalrous men walk on the outside. Even the folks who know about it don't do it.

I still hear a lot of "You don't hit girls!" rather than "You don't hit people!"

I'm more likely to pay for meals than my (male) partner, but I make more than he does, so I feel that is only fair.

Chivalry is not respect, although some chivalrous actions may be respectful. If someone feels they must protect me because I am a precious little flower who cannot protect herself, that is demeaning. If someone feels they must help me because I cannot help myself (without my asking for help) that assumes that I am not independent, which is, again, demeaning.

My perspective is coloured by being a woman, leaning towards butch, and being Canadian; YMMV.

VeeDee said...

I have to agree with Mike (on some parts).

I know I might catch some hell for saying this, but I honestly feel that on the whole girls and guys are different. They act differently. They expect different things.

To a fair number (I'm not going to go as far as to say most since I dont have anything more than observation) of women, there is a certain expectation for guys to show chivalry. So we do. Because we respect them.

Basically if you want to play the sexism card, its going to have to go both ways. Sometimes it is the men that expect the women to need help/protection. But I would say an equal number of times it's the women expecting the men to provide it. And if we dont/cant, then we are seen as less of men in their eyes, as well as those of other men.

You cant pin it all on a man being sexist for holding the door open, etc. Its a respect thing for one, and meeting expectations on the other hand.

Amelia said...

@an interested observer:

if guys want to be chivalrous, let them be; there is no need to waste time thinking that they think you are "incapable" of holding doors open or something like that.I have said this repeatedly, but I was only attacking a certain view of chivalry, held by one of my friends in particular. Other people may practice something they call chivalry, but if they do it for all people, it's a completely different story.

And being silent about something such as the views expressed by my friends in this post, is just a way of supporting a system that helps keep women down even in the mundane, every day, we-don't-even-think-about-it ways. So I will not just "let guys do what they want to do" without being commented on by me. This is a discussion that needs to happen if we are going to ever live in a system that is completely equal for all genders/sexes. It's not a waste of time.

and i am sorry, i do not mean this to be insulting, but your title is very mocking.I'm sorry that you do not appreciate my title. I chose it for two reasons: It was more likely to attract attention that something reading "My thoughts on chivalry" or something like that. It also mimics the ridiculousness of some of the claims my friend in the post holds about chivalry being the only way to teach men to be respectful to women.

and i say this out of the fact that i am a feminist. but perhaps i am not the kind of feminist that is being portrayed here, at least through this post.I always find it interesting when people identify themselves as feminists but then go on to say that "this is a waste of time, just stop thinking about it" when other feminists write about things that they don't agree with. That's not being a true feminist, who should believe in people's right to say/discuss whatever they feel is important.

And finally, a dutch oven is rather harassing and incredibly disrespectful because its forcing someone that he claimed to respect (by opening doors, etc.) to be exposed to disgusting odors without consent.

Amelia said...


I also hold doors for all people out of politeness. And if someone offers to hold a door for me, I walk through and thank them, as well.

That's why in my post I tried to be specific that I was irked by this particular guy's definition of chivalry and why he did it. He made no attempt to cover the fact that he did these things for women because they were women. And that's the issue I have with his particular view.

Amelia said...


You make some great points. I do agree that there is an issue with women often expecting actions similar to the ones I described in my post from men. That is an issue that needs to be addressed, I think, but because I was responding to a particular conversation in this post, it didn't come up.

But I also think that when women expect these things from men, they do so because of the system in which they were raised. They are taught not only by family but by the larger society that their femininity is fragile, that it is very important to who they are as humans, and that with it presented the proper way (somewhat helpless, quiet, sexual) they can go far in our male-dominated system.

I think overall, restructuring the male-dominated societal system we live in would be beneficial to people of all genders and sexes.

an interested observer said...

are you saying that because i do not see your point of view through this particular post, that i am not a true feminist? i don't know who you are, you do not know who i am and you are trying to tell me what a "true" feminist is like. but there are so many different types of feminists because there are precisely different branches, (or types) of feminism. and i hope that we can agree to disagree on this particular topic.

Amelia said...

@an interested observer:

No, disagreement has nothing to do with it. I would dare to say that you aren't a true feminist because one of the first things you said in your second-to-last comment was that I shouldn't waste my time talking about/thinking about these issues in the way that I was thinking about them. Telling someone what is and what is not important to talk about when it comes to feminism is not being a feminist. If you were, I'd hope you'd be open to allowing any feminist to explore any topic they felt valid. If you disagree, instead of trying to shut people down, you should illustrate your point as to why they are wrong. That's all.

interested observer said...

i am sorry; did not mean my comment of "wasting time" to come off as shutting people down. my apologies for my poor choice of words.

but PLEASE, you do not know who i am, so you have no right to say that i am not a "true" feminist.

Amelia said...

@interested observer:

You're right. I don't know you. I was basing my opinion on your words. But if you believe that I didn't correctly understand what you meant, then I apologize and will retract what I said.

FeministGal said...

Great discussion here. I think we need to really take into account what "Change" was talking about: Benevolent sexism. "Benevolent sexism is a chivalrous attitude toward women that feels favorable but is actually sexist because it casts women as weak creatures in need of men's protection.

@ just_a_silly_girl: there are different types of feminism and it seems like you are identifying with cultural feminism where you recognize gender differences and celebrate them. However, you wrote, "there are some things that guys can do better than women, get over it" which begs the question: like what? Because i don't think i've ever heard a self-identifying feminist make that statement and i'm curious to your rationale.

and... um... am i the only one freaked out as to why Mike is sleeping with a gun??

Amelia said...

Thanks for the comment, Feministgal!

Just wanted to say that of some of the things Mike has said in his long-time commenting at this blog, sleeping with a gun was not the most worrying.

Anonymous said...

One rather large problem I see with the notion that "I'm treating her with respect... "

Men, until you ask, you don't know if the woman you're holding doors for considers it a sign of respect or sexism. Would you hold the door for someone if you knew that person considered it an insult? Would it be polite? If you like a person, and want to treat her with respect, ask.

Chivalry was a code of conduct put into place because knights were behaving so badly. Men walking on the outside seems to be tradition that protected women from having chamber pot contents thrown at them from windows. Or, it has something to do with being able to draw a sword (walking on the left side of the road) any case, how does blindly following a centuries old tradition show respect? Its a formality, a bit of etiquette, and it has absolutely nothing to do with whether a man respects a woman. Men may open doors out of respect, or because they wish to appear respectful. Anyone can take a minute to open a door. Some of the nastiest people can manage it.