It is common to hear young women bemoan that, “Chivalry is dead! Why are there no good men anymore?” I believe that these women do not actually know what chivalry is. Chivalry is an outdated form of “etiquette” that supports male dominance. I’m glad men today don’t practice chivalry.
Chivalry is about controlling women. Why is it considered polite for men to open your door when you get out of a car? For the man to drive his lady? These seemingly innocuous niceties are meant to contain a woman’s movement only to approved spaces.
I consider myself to be a pretty polite person. I enjoy holding the door open for people. I have a chronic habit of saying “thank you” when leaving a room, even if it is empty. It’s important to notice the difference between being kind/polite and actions attempting to regulate a person’s actions. While I’m holding the door open for people I often have an older man try to take over the job. “Oh, no!” they’ll say. “You’re a young lady! I should be opening doors for you!” They then proceed to physically invade my space, forcibly (if gently) move me away from the door, and smugly think themselves the height of manners.
Many of my dates have thought it cute of them to insist they pay when I almost always say I want to pay “dutch.” Look, guys, I know you’re just as poor as me. You don’t have to break the bank just to go out with me. By paying dutch, or even just establishing to switch off who pays, we can go on more dates! It isn’t cute to give my money back to me and hand the server your own. It’s not polite to harp about how I “shouldn’t have to pay” simply because of my gender.
In movies it always frustrates me when the man asks the permission of the father to marry their daughter. Yes, of course it’s good to make sure you’re on good terms with the parents, but by asking the permission of the father you are insinuating that the woman is a commodity that has to be taken from the father. In historical Europe, a woman was considered a burden to be passed down from father to husband. Dowries were given to future husbands to try and “ease the burden” of obtaining a wife. By asking your father’s permission for your hand, your boyfriend is perpetuating a sexist system of oppression.
I’m not trying to say that all men use manners to control women. Using outdated manners does not inherently mean a man is actively trying to oppress the women in his life. Many men are genuinely trying to be kind, and have no clue that they are inadvertently utilizing historical techniques of oppression. None of these things are inherently problematic. The problem arises when there is an expectation. An expectation that all men must follow this outdated code of honor. An expectation that all women must enjoy being treated this way.
The moral of the story is: communicate with your partner or date what you enjoy, and what you don’t like. Does someone walking you to your front door creep you out? Tell them. Do you feel awkward because you never pay for dates? Tell them. Do you absolutely love it when someone holds open the door for you? Tell them! Manners aren’t polite unless they are consensual, and they are not consensual if there is an agenda of oppression.