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?