A Feminist Perspective on Chivalry

Nothing makes me cringe more than the image of the bra-burning feminist shouting at the gentleman who had the audacity to hold the door open for her; perhaps because this image is completely false. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of feminists are not opposed to gestures of human decency such as this one.

With that out of the way, as a feminist, I do have a bit of a problem with the male attitude that was praised several decades ago as “chivalry.” When a guy offers to pay for my meal when he has invited me out for a date, I am grateful. When he holds open a door, I am appreciative. However, if I continue to see this guy, I also would like to invite him out for a date and pay for his meals. I will definitely hold the door for him when we leave the movies or a restaurant. In my eyes, things like this are gestures of human decency, ways of showing courtesy and respect. Why should we leave these things to men without expecting women to reciprocate? I would appreciate it if I had a boyfriend who wanted to take me out to dinner with his hard-earned money and buy me a nice meal. For this reason, I would also like to be able to buy my boyfriend dinner with my hard-earned money without it being a weird suggestion for me to make because of my gender.

And I get it if that’s the way some men were raised to treat women—with a mindset that holding open the car door and paying for her movie is just an expectation. But the implications behind this mindset make me wonder—what other gender stigmas do you hold as a result of your upbringing?  While chivalry comes from good intentions, I can’t help but shake the feeling that it comes from the same rulebook that mandated women to the kitchen sixty years ago.

When I was in high school, I dated a guy who was classically chivalrous. He held open every door I walked through. He opened my car door for me, even the driver’s side door when I was the driver. He draped his coat over my shoulders without me having to ask. He paid for every meal I ever ate with him, even if I asked him out and picked the restaurant. Though he was just trying to be sweet, this secretly drove me crazy. In modern relationships, many women are looking for a man who will treat them like an equal. In this relationship, I didn’t feel like I was being treated with equality. While my boyfriend’s actions came from good intentions, they left me feeling like a secondary voice in the relationship. Relationships are about give and take, and when one person pays for everything and holds open every door it makes it hard to feel like you are giving as much as you are taking. If I am to be somebody’s girlfriend, I want to take care of him just as much as he takes care of me. This is how I want to show love and receive love: with equality.

Disavowing chivalry doesn’t mean that we need to stop teaching little boys to hold open the door for the little girl down the street. This just means that we also need to teach the little girl down the street to also hold open the door for her neighbor. Maybe fifty years from now, this won’t even be referred to as chivalry anymore. Maybe fifty years from now, these will just be common sense good manners--antiquated gender roles not included.