I was sitting through marathon brunch today with some folks and a friend of mine related a story about his arrival in Dallas that morning. Apparently some women were late for the parking shuttle and flagged it down. Upon boarding and finding nowhere to sit, they passive-aggressively wondered aloud if any of the men on the shuttle would give up their seats for a lady. My friend, who does not subscribe to such nonsense, silently declined, and then posted to Facebook, saying that having vagina shouldn’t get you special treatment.
Of course, “this is Texas” where that exact three words are used as an excuse for all kinds of nonsense, from denim jackets to Whataburger. It’s the Great Omega of any philosophical argument. “This is Texas (i.e. we’re backward and stubborn, so just deal).” Once you’ve said that, there is no more supporting the dissent with reason.
But let’s take a look at why chivalry is (and should rightfully remain) dead, no matter how many women throughout the country might wish to use it as grounds for asking for someone on bus to give up their set for them on the basis of their sex.
It’s positively feudal. No, literally, it is. Chivalry harkens back to a time when the “Schlep Factor” was the least of your worries. During the Middle Ages outlaws, bandits, highwaymen and all sorts of other nasties routinely terrorized travelers; especially women, who were often raped and held for ransom. Knights of the age were trained to offer assistance to those weaker than them (children, the elderly, women) and it mainly came in the form of running through the baddies with their sword.
It’s Bourgeois. What began as chivalry in the Middle Ages was later referred to as “gallantry” by the Early Modern Period. Marx identified the class divide late in the 19th Century: the Bourgeois (people whose income came from land whether part of the peerage [i.e. they were in possession of a title] or the landed gentry); and the Proletariat (folks without land who had to work for other people for a living). For the Bourgeois, women’s fashion and expectations for deportment were designed to indicate that she did not perform manual labor, thus distinguishing her from the Proletariat. Prevented in many countries from being completely idle (thanks Protestant morality!), Bourgeois women were expected to take up only pursuits that were essentially useless: playing (but not writing) music, drawing, embroidery, etc.
It’s Kink. Yes, I said it, it’s really kink. Not being able to open doors without breaking a nail (long nails are another sign that you don’t do manual labor), alight from a carriage in your hourglass figure-making corset, or even walk to the kitchen for a Malomar and a glass of milk with tiny bound feet, fashion in the time of gallantry literally necessitated it. Today’s woman can generally manage just fine on their own, even in five inch Jimmy Choo’s.
It’s codependent. When gallantry was alive and well, women needed men. They literally required them. It wasn’t just opening doors and throwing down cloaks (although it was good reinforcement). A home, money, protection; women needed men for those things, which they got first from their fathers and subsequently from their husbands.
It’s sexist. While some women might appreciate being treated “like a princess” (the pinnacle of Bourgeois idle-ness), determining attitude and behavior toward another person solely on account of their sex is textbook sexism. In the modern world, the first person to a door opens it, anybody can easily walk around a puddle, and the odds of getting randomly kidnapped and held for ransom on your way back to your castle are greatly reduced. Also, I’m a man, and I kind of like having the door held open for me too (although I certainly don’t mind doing it if I get there first). Of course, I’m not supposed to like that, because that would be feminine, which is completely unacceptable for men in a society with clearly defined gender roles.
So what do we have instead of chivalry? Well, universal suffrage is a big one. So is the ability to work for her own money (although she’s still not paid as much as men). Maybe the divorce rate is higher, but that also means that women have options (aside from murder or suicide) for leaving an unhappy marriage. Maybe, just maybe, we might end up in world where everyone is treated well – both women and men.
In the meantime, feel free to hold open the door for me, and send me some flowers too.