Does Chivalry Need A Resurrection?
One night, a fateful one that is, I began lamenting over my dating history as I do every so often when I’m in the mood for a self-inflicted emotional rollercoaster. Most were good, some were bad, and a few were so unworthy of recognition I struggled to recall them. Picking away at the crusty scabs of my love life I unveiled, to my surprise, minimal-to-no chivalry. This frustrated me, evidently, as here I am aggressively puncturing my keyboard in distress.
WHERE DID CHIVALRY GO? Is it doomed? 6-feet under in a sealed coffin we’re unable to excavate to fulfill my own romantic ideals? Would it be absolutely, utterly, and undeniably incomprehensible of me to ask to be woo’ed in a quintessentially romantic way? You know, whisked away on a horse-drawn carriage by a man who ever-so-smoothly lodges a rose stem between his teeth, while somehow still being able to whisper sweet nothings into my ear? I’m not asking for too much am I?!? (. . . don’t answer it’s a rhetorical question).
As I awingly replay movie scenes of knights in shining armour protecting their women at all costs, going above and beyond to ensure their utmost safety and comfort, a pestering feeling of guilt brews inside me.
Am I, a self-proclaimed warrioress spouting chants of equality, in a position to demand such courteous, self-less, saviour-like behaviour from a man? I'm not, clearly, as I am an independent woman and chivalry is all about the placement of women on a pedestal, RIGHT?
WRONG! Ish. Wrong-ish. No...but yes. Okay, let me explain.
Does the age-old saying “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” ring a bell? Well lo and behold gentle reader, chivalry is no exception! A simple Google search reveals that chivalry is, essentially, sexism – benevolent sexism that is.
Now, I know what this looks like. Here she goes again, a man-hating, fire-breathing feminist in her prime, storming her way through the world ready to shred the remaining good things in life to bits. But hear me out. I, too, initially thought feminism was going too far when we began scrutinizing harmless acts, such as men opening doors for us or pulling out our chairs (“UmMm I cAn Do ThAt MySeLf ThAnK yOu VeRy MuCh”). Were we so desperate to seek out faults in men’s behaviour for the sake of feeling oppressed, handpicking instances in life to feed our victim mentality? I considered that aspect as well. But things are often far more complex and multi-faceted than they initially appear, as I will come to show you (if you allow me, of course).
Benevolent sexism – unlike the hostile sexism we can inarguably point out as being unjust – stereotypes women as affectionate, delicate, sensitive, and in need of protection and provision.
The bewildering paradox of benevolently sexist behaviour is that, instead of despising it for underhandedly promoting the idea that we’re weak and incapable of taking care of ourselves, women seek it – Exhibit A being me. A recent study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed that women were attracted to benevolently sexist behaviour, irrespective of high or low self-identification on the feminist scale. Furthermore, although these women understood that a chivalrous man would potentially come at the expense of them being undermined as people, they still sought out these behaviours. Hm. Perhaps I’m not the only one struggling to wrap my head around this existential crisis-inducing catch 22.
You may wonder why, despite its shortcomings, chivalrous (benevolently sexist) behaviour is still attractive to women. It is so for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is that we perceive these actions as something a nice, decent human being would do! They're viewed as being nothing more than acts of prosocial behaviour, and most of the time, that’s precisely what they are. I highly doubt that a man offering a helping hand to a woman carrying heavy luggage does so with malicious intent in mind. If anything, it comes to their own detriment.
The other (much more thrilling) reason emerges from an evolutionary copulatory standpoint. Let’s plunge head first into some Mating 101, baby. One of my favourite papers on this topic by David M. Buss postulates the undeniable truth about sex: women bear far larger consequences for having sex than men do (think internal female fertilization, pregnancy, lactation). So, the costs of making poor sexual decisions are much graver for women than they are for men. As such, women would ideally be choosing a mate of high value. When a man displays acts of benevolent sexism, it alludes to the idea that they are willing to commit to, protect, and invest in us and our potential offspring. In prehistoric times, this was crucial given the many surrounding predators and our physical weakness during (and after) pregnancy.
Now let’s say that you, as the strong, empowered, CAPABLE woman that you are, decide to – just like I have – submit to your primitive yearning for chivalry. “What are the consequences?” you might ask. Well, apparently "plenty" is the answer. In the unlikely event that you think I’m full of shit, I have even more research that’s guaranteed to spiral you into an even deeper identity crisis to back up my claims!
Benevolent sexism is bound to affect women’s internal thought processes as claimed by a plethora of research articles. Women holding benevolently sexist beliefs are less ambitious education and career-wise, likely to depend on their future husband for financial support, and more prone to self-objectification. Agonizingly enough, these women also self-report greater life satisfaction.
To further rub salt to your (and my very own) gaping wound, Glick & Fiske’s theory states that we often rely on benevolent sexism to protect us against other men’s hostile sexism. This is especially the case in highly sexist societies, where sexism is both the threat and the solution. However, there's a pitfall. It isn't all women that have the pleasure of reaping the "benefits" (and protective prospects) of benevolent sexism. According to one study, only women who abide by traditional gender roles (e.g., housewives, mothers) do so, while those going against these gender norms (e.g., sexually promiscuous women, feminists) are treated with a standard dose of hostile sexism. All that glitters isn’t gold, however. By using one form of sexism as a guard against another form of sexism (for our very own survival), we perpetuate our own disadvantage in society. Fuck me, right? We can’t seem to win.
So ladies, given this likely uncalled for amount of information, what will it be? Are we to succumb to chivalry and seek it out for personal satisfaction, or restrain ourselves for the greater good? Savour the blue pill, or gulp down the red pill? Pick your poison wisely.