Apprenez à faire le bien, recherchez la justice, protégez l’opprimé; faites droit à l’orphelin, défendez la veuve. Esaïe 1: 17
Je vous le dis en vérité, toutes les fois que vous avez fait ces choses à l’un de ces plus petits de mes frères, c’est à moi que vous les avez faites. Jésus (Mattieu 25: 40)
La religion pure et sans tache, devant Dieu notre Père, consiste à visiter les orphelins et les veuves dans leurs afflictions, et à se préserver des souillures du monde. Jacques 1: 27
Une civilisation est testée sur la manière dont elle traite ses membres les plus faibles. Pearl Buck
Cette chose absurde et magnifique, entre haut mal et bien suprême, qu’on nomme si légèrement amour. Denis de Rougemont
Ce qui m’a choqué, c’est de voir que des hommes ne laissaient pas monter les femmes et les enfants en premier dans les chaloupes. Michel Pavageau (naufragé du Concordia, 2012)
Les femmes et les enfants d’abord ? Cet adage semble ne pas se vérifier lors des naufrages. Des scientifiques suédois ont ainsi analysé 18 catastrophes maritimes et ont publié leurs conclusions lundi 30 juillet. Il en ressort qu’au cours de ces accidents, les hommes se sont principalement préoccupés de leur propre survie avant celle des autres passagers. Mikael Elindera et Oscar Erixson, de l’Université d’Uppsala, en Suède, ont ainsi étudié le taux de survie de 15 000 naufragés entre 1852 et 2011. Il en ressort que le naufrage le plus célèbre du siècle dernier, celui du Titanic, fait figure d’exception à la règle, en comptant 70% des femmes et des enfants qui ont survécu contre 20% des hommes. Terrafemina
The real big issue is that Mitt Romney is a terrible, terrible date, and single women, who are forced into the perpetual ghastly state of potential date appraisal, sensed that immediately. (…) chivalry is the opposite of good manners. It’s infantilizing. It’s contempt masquerading as politeness. The chivalrous guy is establishing roles; he is the protector, you are Limoges. Your job is to let him be masterful. In my experience, when you are standing on a pedestal, there’s not much room to move around. That’s by design. Gina Barreca
Previous research suggests that benevolent sexism is an ideology that perpetuates gender inequality. But despite its negative consequences, benevolent sexism is a prevalent ideology that some even find attractive. To better understand why women and men alike might be motivated to adopt benevolent sexism, the current study tested system justification theory’s prediction that benevolent sexism might have a positive linkage to life satisfaction through increased diffuse system justification, or the sense that the status quo is fair. A structural equation model revealed that benevolent sexism was positively associated with diffuse system justification within a sample of 274 college women and 111 college men. Additionally, benevolent sexism was indirectly associated with life satisfaction for both women and men through diffuse system justification. In contrast, hostile sexism was not related to diffuse system justification or life satisfaction. The results imply that although benevolent sexism perpetuates inequality at the structural level, it might offer some benefits at the personal level. Thus, our findings reinforce the dangerous nature of benevolent sexism and emphasize the need for interventions to reduce its prevalence. Kathleen Connelly and Martin Heesacker
Madame, by tipping my hat I was telling you several things. That I would not harm you in any way. That if someone came into this elevator and threatened you, I would defend you. That if you fell ill, I would tend to you and if necessary carry you to safety. I was telling you that even though I am a man and physically stronger than you, I will treat you with both respect and solicitude. But frankly, Madame, it would have taken too much time to tell you all of that; so, instead, I just tipped my hat. Samuel Proctor (pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church in the 1970s and 1980s)
I don’t think most women actually want to live in a world where men don’t offer to help them lug heavy suitcases up staircases or hold doors for them or propose marriage — never mind going down with the Titanic. Katherine Connell
When social scientists discover something that increases life satisfaction for both sexes, shouldn’t they at least consider the possibility that they have come across something that is positive? Healthy? Something that might even conceivably be grounded in the nature of Homo sapiens? Charles Murray
We should have a clear notion of what chivalry is. It was a form of preferential treatment that men once accorded to women generations ago, inspired by the sense that there was something special about women, that they deserve added respect, and that not doing so was uncouth, cowardly and essentially despicable. Pier Massimo Forni
Chivalry arose as a response to the violence and barbarism of the Middle Ages. It cautioned men to temper their aggression, deploying it only in appropriate circumstances—like to protect the physically weak and defenseless members of society. As the author and self-described « equity feminist » Christina Hoff Sommers tells me in an interview, « Masculinity with morality and civility is a very powerful force for good. But masculinity without these virtues is dangerous—even lethal. » Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes, she explains. Given that most men are physically stronger than most women, men can overpower women at any time to get what they want. Gentlemen developed symbolic practices to communicate to women that they would not inflict harm upon them and would even protect them against harm. The tacit assumption that men would risk their lives to protect women only underscores how valued women are—how elevated their status is—under the system of chivalry. Emily Esfahani Smith
A l’heure, où après leur démolition en règle pendant des décennies et au nom de l’abolition de toute différence en laquelle est en train de dégénérer notre passion de l’égalité, le mariage et la maternité (pardon: la procréation) sont maintenant devenues des valeurs à imposer à tous …
Retour, avec quelques attardés sociaux, sur une autre des valeurs promise, elle aussi, aux poubelles de l’histoire …
A savoir la galanterie, issue, comme l’indique bien le mot anglais, du code multiséculaire de la chevalerie …
Lui-même inspiré de cette singulière et étrange obsession judéo-chrétienne du souci du plus faible et de la victime …
November 29, 2012
Here’s the latest from the Psychology of Women Quarterly. It’s an abstract of an article by Kathleen Connelly and Martin Heesacker on benevolent sexism. If you’re wondering what “benevolent sexism” is, think gentlemanly behavior. I offer the abstract partly as a window onto the wonderful, wacky world of modern sociological prose and partly in despair at the use of the word “thus” to open the final sentence. I have put the key passages in bold.
Previous research suggests that benevolent sexism is an ideology that perpetuates gender inequality. But despite its negative consequences, benevolent sexism is a prevalent ideology that some even find attractive. To better understand why women and men alike might be motivated to adopt benevolent sexism, the current study tested system justification theory’s prediction that benevolent sexism might have a positive linkage to life satisfaction through increased diffuse system justification, or the sense that the status quo is fair. A structural equation model revealed that benevolent sexism was positively associated with diffuse system justification within a sample of 274 college women and 111 college men. Additionally, benevolent sexism was indirectly associated with life satisfaction for both women and men through diffuse system justification. In contrast, hostile sexism was not related to diffuse system justification or life satisfaction. The results imply that although benevolent sexism perpetuates inequality at the structural level, it might offer some benefits at the personal level. Thus, our findings reinforce the dangerous nature of benevolent sexism and emphasize the need for interventions to reduce its prevalence.
When social scientists discover something that increases life satisfaction for both sexes, shouldn’t they at least consider the possibility that they have come across something that is positive? Healthy? Something that might even conceivably be grounded in the nature of Homo sapiens?
Emily Esfahani Smith
It’s been unfairly maligned as sexist, but women and men alike would benefit from bringing it back.
This past spring marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. On April 14, 1912, as the ship was on its maiden journey from Southampton, UK, to New York City, it hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic. About three hours later, it sank. Three-quarters of the women on the ship survived; over three quarters of the men, by contrast, died. In Washington DC, there is a memorial to these men. The inscription on it reads: « To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic…They gave their lives that women and children might be saved. »
About a year ago, a group of today’s men were tested the way that the men on board the Titanic were. When the cruise ship Costa Concordia hit a rock and capsized off the coast of Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, last January, men pushed women and children out of the way to save themselves. One Australian woman on board reported at the time:
The people that pushed their way on to the boat were then trying to tell them to shut the door, not to let any more people on the [life] boat after they had pushed their way on…We just couldn’t believe it—especially the men, they were worse than the women.
This contrast is indicative of a larger trend—the decline of chivalry and the rise of boorish behavior among men. According to a 2010 Harris poll, 80 percent of Americans say that women are treated with less chivalry today than in the past. This is a problem that all women—especially feminists—should push back against.
After the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, which insisted on the equal treatment of women in all domains of life, feminists dismissed chivalry as sexist. They still do. A new study, published in the feminist journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, questions the entire enterprise of male chivalry, which, in an Orwellian flourish, it calls « benevolent sexism. »
Chivalrous behavior is benevolent because it flatters women and leads to their preferential treatment. But it is sexist because it relies on the « gendered premise » that women are weak and in need of protection while men are strong. « Benevolent sexism, » Kathleen Connelly and Martin Heesacker of the University of Florida write in the study, « is an ideology that perpetuates gender inequality. » They advocate interventions to reduce its prevalence, even though, they found, chivalry is associated with greater life satisfaction and the sense that the world is fair, well-ordered, and a good place.
Charles Murray, the libertarian social scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, summed up the study with tongue-in-cheek, writing « the bad news is that gentlemanly behavior makes people happy. » He goes on to ask, « When social scientists discover something that increases life satisfaction for both sexes, shouldn’t they at least consider the possibility that they have come across something that is positive? Healthy? Something that might even conceivably be grounded in the nature of Homo sapiens? »
In an interview, Connelly tells me that despite Murray’s points, the problem with chivalry is that it assumes « women are wonderful but weak. » This assumption of female weakness puts women down, Connelly says.
Perhaps because of women’s ambivalence about chivalry, men have grown confused about how to treat women. Will holding doors open for them or paying for the first date be interpreted as sexist? Does carrying their groceries imply they’re weak? The breakdown in the old rules, which at one extreme has given rise to the hookup culture, has killed dating and is leaving a lot of well-meaning men and women at a loss.
Historically, the chivalry ideal and the practices that it gave rise to were never about putting women down, as Connelly and other feminists argue. Chivalry, as a social idea, was about respecting and aggrandizing women, and recognizing that their attention was worth seeking, competing for, and holding. If there is a victim of « benevolent sexism, » it is not the career-oriented single college-aged feminist. Rather, it is unconstrained masculinity.
« We should have a clear notion of what chivalry is, » argues Pier Massimo Forni, an award-winning professor of Italian literature and the founder of the Civility Institute at Johns Hopkins. « It was a form of preferential treatment that men once accorded to women generations ago, inspired by the sense that there was something special about women, that they deserve added respect, and that not doing so was uncouth, cowardly and essentially despicable. »
Chivalry arose as a response to the violence and barbarism of the Middle Ages. It cautioned men to temper their aggression, deploying it only in appropriate circumstances—like to protect the physically weak and defenseless members of society. As the author and self-described « equity feminist » Christina Hoff Sommers tells me in an interview, « Masculinity with morality and civility is a very powerful force for good. But masculinity without these virtues is dangerous—even lethal. »
Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes, she explains. Given that most men are physically stronger than most women, men can overpower women at any time to get what they want. Gentlemen developed symbolic practices to communicate to women that they would not inflict harm upon them and would even protect them against harm. The tacit assumption that men would risk their lives to protect women only underscores how valued women are—how elevated their status is—under the system of chivalry.
A story from the life of Samuel Proctor (d. 1997) comes to mind here. Proctor was the beloved pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. Apparently, he was in the elevator one day when a young woman came in. Proctor tipped his hat at her. She was offended and said, « What is that supposed to mean? »
The pastor’s response was: « Madame, by tipping my hat I was telling you several things. That I would not harm you in any way. That if someone came into this elevator and threatened you, I would defend you. That if you fell ill, I would tend to you and if necessary carry you to safety. I was telling you that even though I am a man and physically stronger than you, I will treat you with both respect and solicitude. But frankly, Madame, it would have taken too much time to tell you all of that; so, instead, I just tipped my hat. »
Some women are trying to bring back chivalry. Since 2009, for instance, a group of women at Arizona State University have devoted themselves to resuscitating gentlemanly behavior and chivalry on a campus whose social life is overwhelmingly defined by partying, frat life, and casual sex. Every spring for the past three years, these women have gathered for the « Gentlemen’s Showcase » to honor men who have acted chivalrously by, for example, opening the door for a woman or digging a woman’s car out of several feet of snow.
The event has spread to campuses nationwide. Its goal is « to encourage mutual respect between the sexes, » Karin Agness tells me in an interview. Agness is the founder and president of the Network of Enlightened Women, the organization that hosts Gentlemen’s Showcases at colleges each spring.
« The current framework is not generating healthy relationships, » Blayne Bennett, the organizer of ASU’s first Gentlemen’s Showcase, has said. « I believe that chivalry provides the positive framework to maximize the overall happiness of men and women. »
Women, she said, « want to be treated like ladies. »
Bennett and her fellow chivalry advocates have the right idea. « If women give up on chivalry, it will be gone, » Sommers tells me. « If boys can get away with being boorish, they will, happily. Women will pay the price. »
If feminists want to level the playing field between men and women, they should find common cause with traditionalist women, like those at ASU, on the issue of chivalry. Both groups are concerned with how men treat women. They just differ in what that means: Feminists want men to treat women as equals; traditionalists want men to treat women like ladies. Are the two mutually exclusive?
Chivalry is about respect. It is about not harming or hurting others, especially those who are more vulnerable than you. It is about putting other people first and serving others often in a heroic or courageous manner. It is about being polite and courteous. In other words, chivalry in the age of post-feminism is another name we give to civility. When we give up on civility, understood in this way, we can never have relationships that are as meaningful as they could be.
If women today—feminists and non-feminists alike—encouraged both men and women to adopt the principles of civil and chivalrous conduct, then the standards of behavior for the two sexes would be the same, fostering the equality that feminists desire. Moreover, the relations between the sexes would be once again based on mutual respect, as the traditionalists want. Men and women may end up being civil and well-mannered in different ways, but at least they would be civil and well-mannered, an improvement on the current situation.
Through a tragic event that occurred last summer, our nation was jolted into recognizing chivalry’s enduring power. During a screening of the Dark Knight, a deranged gunman opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado, theater, murdering twelve innocent people. Three men, all in their twenties, were in the audience that day with their girlfriends. When the shots rang out across the theater, these men threw themselves over their girlfriends, saving the women’s lives. All three of the men died.
At the time, Hanna Rosin noted that what these men did was « deeper » than chivalry. It was heroic. I agree. But heroism and chivalry share a basic feature in common—the recognition, a transcendent one, that there is something greater than the self worth protecting, and that there is something greater than the self worth sacrificing your own needs, desires, and even life for. If we can all agree that the kind of culture we should aspire to live in is one in which men and women protect and honor each other in the ways that they can—and not one in which men are pushing past women and children to save their own lives—then that is progress that women everywhere should support.
Emily Esfahani Smith
A lot of women and men are dissatisfied with hook-up culture. Here’s a way to encourage an alternative.
In the spring of 2008, when I was a junior in college, I was sitting in the student center, waiting to meet up with a friend—let’s call her Nicole—for coffee. Nicole was a freshman girl who had graduated from an elite northeastern high school at the top of her class. She came to school hoping to study economics. In the nine months that had passed since she first stepped foot on campus, she had become a different person. She talked less. She stopped exercising. And she started walking around with her eyes to the ground. The lively girl I had known in the fall, who reminded me of so many freshman girls I had met as editor of a campus publication and vice president of my sorority, had recently been placed on suicide watch by the university health clinic.
What had happened?
Not long after she arrived on campus in September, Nicole had started hooking up with a guy who belonged to one of the more popular fraternities on campus. As she explained to me over coffee that day, one night in the fall, she got drunk and ended up having sex with this guy in his dingy frat room, which was littered with empty cans of Keystone Light and pizza boxes. She woke up the next morning to find a used condom tangled up in the sheets. She couldn’t remember exactly what had happened that night, but she put the pieces together. She smiled, looked at the frat brother, and lay back down. Eventually, she put her clothes on and walked back to her dorm. Mission accomplished: She was no longer a virgin.
This was a routine she repeated for months. Every weekend night, and on some weekday nights, she would drink so heavily that she could remember only patches of what happened the night before and then would have sex with the same fraternity brother. One night, she was talking with someone else at the frat when the brother interrupted her and led her upstairs to have sex. On another occasion, they had sex at the frat, but Nicole was too drunk to find her clothes afterward, so she started walking around the house naked, to the amusement of all of the other brothers. She was too drunk to care. Eventually, everything went dark. Next weekend, she returned to the frat.
On that spring day, as Nicole told me these stories, she didn’t make eye contact with me.
When I asked Nicole if she was still hooking up with the same frat boy, she shook her head. She explained that the entire time she was having sex with him he never once spoke to her or acknowledged her outside of his fraternity’s basement. Not in the library, not in the dining hall, not at the bookstore.
« One time, I waved at him in front of the food court and said hi, but he just ignored me. »
« Was he with anyone? » I asked—as though that would make a difference.
« A bunch of his friends. »
I later told Nicole’s story to a close guy friend. « What a jerk, right? » My friend, also a frat brother, objected: « After the first time, it starts becoming the girl’s fault, too. » Nicole and the frat brother were just hooking up, after all—what didn’t I get?
In her Atlantic article « Boys on the Side » (September 2012), Hanna Rosin argues that the social progress of women depends on the hook-up culture. Women in their 20s and 30s are, for the first time, more successful than their male peers. These alpha females not only outnumber men on college campuses, they have also overtaken men as the majority of the work force. This would not have been possible without sexual liberation, which has let women delay marriage and child-rearing to pursue their educational and career ambitions without worrying about the emotional burdens of a relationship. Women are better off in part because of the hook-up culture, the argument goes.
But are they really?
On most college campuses, the hook-up culture is the norm; there is little to no dating. Various academic studies have found that anywhere between 65 to 75 percent of undergraduates nationwide have participated in the hook-up culture. Part of the reason the culture is so widespread is, as Rosin correctly notes, because women are choosing to have casual sex. But in another respect, they don’t have a choice. Women make the hook-up culture possible, but men are the beneficiaries of it.
The balance of power in the hook-up culture lies with the men, an issue that has become more pronounced as women outnumber men on campuses, creating a surplus of girls and a scarcity of guys. According to a 2010 report by the American Council on Education, 57 percent of all undergraduates are female. Robert Epstein, a professor of psychology at Harvard and an expert in relationships, said in an interview with me that the more women there are on campus, the more prevalent the hook-up culture is: « You have a situation in which relationships are bound to fail and men keep switching off from one woman to the next, » he told me. What motivation do men have to ask women out on a date when sex is so widely and easily available?
The feminist sociologist Lisa Wade, based at Occidental College, who did a qualitative study of 44 of her freshman students (33 of them women), found that most of them were « overwhelmingly disappointed with the sex they were having in hook ups. This was true of both men and women, but was felt more intensely by women. » College women today, as Wade points out, feel « disempowered instead of empowered by sexual encounters. They didn’t feel like equals on the sexual playground, more like jungle gyms. » According to a 2010 study by Carolyn Bradshaw of James Madison University, only 2 percent of women strongly prefer the hook-up culture to a dating culture.
Miriam Grossman, author of the 2006 book Unprotected, reports that women long for emotional involvement with their partner twice as often as men following a hook up; 91 percent of women experience regret; 80 percent of women wish the hook-up hadn’t happened; and 34 percent of women hope the hook-up develops into a relationship. NYU sociologist Paula England, whom Rosin cites, says that 66 percent of women and 58 percent of men want their hook up to develop into « something more. »
When it doesn’t, problems arise. A 2010 psychology study out of Florida State University found that students who have casual sex experience more physical and mental health problems, defined as eating disorders, alcohol use, stress, depression, suicidal feelings, than those who are in committed long-term relationships. Put bluntly, the ethos of the culture is: « Hook up now; get therapy later, » as one of my fellow students, writing in the campus newspaper her sophomore year, declared.
Rosin admits that the hook-up culture is not satisfying to all college women, who eventually want relationships, not just a string of meaningless sexual encounters. But overturning the hook-up culture comes at too great a price, says Rosin: « The hookup culture is too bound up with everything that’s fabulous about being a young woman in 2012—the freedom, the confidence, the knowledge that you can always depend on yourself. »
As a young woman in 2012—and as a feminist—I think that the hook-up culture has the opposite effect as that described by Rosin. Sexual liberation may be indispensable to female progress, but the hook-up culture is not empowering for all women. This isn’t to say that early marriage or abstinence is the solution. But these are not the only alternatives to the hook-up culture, either. There is a middle way: meaningful sex in the context of a non-marital relationship.
In other words, the solution is a dating culture, which still allows women to delay marriage and pursue their careers, and also lets them have those intimate relationships with men that they don’t want to delay. « I’ve tired of hookup culture’s dictatorial reign over modern courtship. It doesn’t feel so free when it doesn’t feel like an intentional choice, » writes Tracy Clark-Flory in Salon. Clark-Flory, who spent her 20s hooking up, has discovered that courtship is not such a bad deal: « I’m a feminist, but I really like flowers. Next time, I’m getting him some, » she says, referring to a guy who asked her out on a date and brought her a bouquet. While Clark-Flory is not interested in getting rid of the hook-up culture, she wishes that traditional courtship were more of an option for young women and men. As she writes, « I’m an outspoken defender of casual sexual culture, but there are times—like when encountering more traditional courtship—that it seems less about a pursuit of pleasure than an avoidance of actual intimacy. »
The problem today is that it’s not clear how to get a dating culture now that the hook-up culture is the entrenched norm. Should women ask the guys they like out on dates? Should they wait for men to ask them out?
Curious about how campus authorities view the hook-up culture, I spoke to a woman who works at the Center for Women and Gender at Dartmouth (where I went to college) and acts as an advisor to female students. Her official line is that the point of hooking up is « for both people to get something out of it. If it’s to get off, then that’s great. . . . If it’s to work some issue out—like sexual assault—then that’s great. It’s basically to get pleasure and enjoyment out of it . . . the hook-up culture is good for experimentation, and what someone does for experimentation is up to them. »
I ask her, « What role does love play? »
She said, « I don’t think [love is] necessary. Yeah, you know—it’s nice. But if you’re talking about sex and the hook-up culture, it’s not needed. The point of the hook-up culture is not to get attached—no strings attached. »
« Is that possible? »
« I know people who think it is. My personal experience—no. » Then she added apologetically, « but I might be different. The point of sex is to get something out of it. For me, hooking up was not the best way to do it, if you’re asking me personally. » She added: « When I have that kind of a bond with somebody, I’m not capable of not thinking ‘I don’t want him to be with somebody else.' »
She concluded on a different note: « Women need to take some responsibility—they’re allowing themselves to be used. It can lead to sexual assault. »
Hooking up, in fact, shares the defining feature of a sexual assault: using another person for your own sexual gratification, without any regard as to what that person wants or how he or she feels. The philosopher Immanuel Kant—who warns against using another person as a mere means to some end—was closer to the truth than many of today’s sexual health experts when he wrote that sex « taken by itself … is a degradation of human nature. »
While sex necessarily involves another person, in the hook-up culture, it is predicated on the disregard of another person. « If all you are is your sexual nature, » a male student tells me, « you’re not a human anymore. You have no dignity. » If you only think of your hook-up buddy as a sexual object, then you have deprived that person of dignity, too.
Is it possible to move beyond the hook-up culture? Not back to 1950s-style courtship, parietal rules, and early marriage—but forward, to sex founded on friendship, dating, and relationships?
Most of the women I spoke to have resigned themselves to the fact that the hook-up culture is here to stay. They don’t see the social and cultural landscape of college campuses changing anytime soon.
One friend tells me that the girls on campus would prefer a culture of dating to one of hooking up, but they would never admit it or ask for it. If girls demanded dating before hooking up, guys would be unmoved, she explained. « There are always going to be other girls for them to hook up with so we’ll just get left behind. »
These women are looking at the problem the wrong way, I think. They need to realize that, in spite of campus sex ratios and prevailing cultural trends, they hold the power when it comes to the hook up culture. They hold the power when it comes to sex.
This was the insight of Lysistrata, the shrewd heroine of Aristophanes’ marvelous play by the same name. Lysistrata was able to diagnose a problem in her society and to take actions and overcome obstacles to solve it.
In the heat of the Peloponnesian War, Lysistrata gathered the women of various Greek city-states at a meeting and proposed that they withhold sex from their husbands until these men end the war. The women, though reluctant at first, agree. Throughout the play, though they desire sex just like the men do, they resist the temptation to break their oath with Lysistrata. The Athenian and Spartan men eventually become so desperate for sex that they begin peace talks. The women’s strategy works.
Lysistrata, a tough and independent woman, understood how the sexual marketplace works, and harnessed that knowledge to get what she wanted. Many men want sex with women. As Lysistrata knew, women have the power to say yes—or no (assuming men respect their wishes, of course. There are far too many examples of times men disregard women’s « no »s). They set and execute the terms to which the men surrender.
Today’s American women have reached a stage where they can be sexually free, and also selective and strategic in how they deploy their sexuality. But many of them are missing this critical second piece.
If women refused to spend time with men who disrespect women, if they refused to hook up with guys who don’t acknowledge them the next day—then they could begin to resurrect a culture where dating and romance, not casual sex, are the norm.
The question is, will they?
Editor’s note: Two Dartmouth administrators have responded to this story here.
January 25, 2012
This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.
Those of us who openly identify as feminist must be prepared to encounter misconceptions and stereotypes. The « f-word » has been unfortunately dragged through the mud in an attempt to break the strength our message has. In this spirit, I’d like to take a moment to focus on a specific realm of anti-feminism: chivalry. The two biggest criticisms I see thrown at feminists regarding chivalry fall into two camps:
The « cake and eat it too » complaint: This anti-feminist argument says that women want to be independent and strong when it’s convenient for them, but they don’t want to lose the option for men to buy them dinner, open doors, and all around make them feel special. We want all the rights afforded to men, but that we also want to be treated better than men. Feminists want special, not equal, treatment, or in other words, they want their cake and to eat it too.
The « feminists hate manners! » complaint: Other anti-feminists have chosen to smack-talk feminism by claiming that any stance which truly speaks out against chivlary is actually an affront to good manners. (At this point I was going to link to a « men’s rights » group–which was actually an anti-woman group–and quote them. However, they way they offhandedly referred to women bitches made me realize, I have no interest in contributing anything to their page views, even if it would substantiate my claims.)
I’d like to dismantle these complaints. I, of course, cannot speak for all of « feminism » as a monolith, because no such truly unified theory exists. However, I can speak to my perspective on these issues.
The core of my disdain for chivalry is that it’s rooted in a gendered premise. Its very notion is that women need special assistance and wooing, which I flat out disagree with. Given this, I can say fully that I do not want or expect chivalry. In that way, the « cake and eat it too » complaint is nonsense to me. I do not want any person to look at me and treat me differently based off of my gender, even if that treatment is favorable. The same goes for stereotypes of all sorts–just because something is « nice » (ie Asians are so smart!) doesn’t make it any less racist. So with chivalry, just because it’s « friendly, » doesn’t make it any less sexist.
The second complaint (feminists hate manners!) is equally nonsensical to me. There is a big difference between behaving in a generally polite and respectful manner to your fellow human being and chivalry, which is rooted in that gendered premise. I’d like to use the opening-a-door-for-someone example to illustrate the differences as I see them.
Scenario 1, opening a door for someone to be polite: Two people, a man and a woman, approach a door. The person who gets to the door first opens it for both of them. They both enter. Versus, scenario 2, opening a door for someone as chivalry: Two people, a man and a woman, approach a door. Despite the woman being closer to the door, the man reaches out in front of her to open it for her. She enters, he follows. And scenario 3, again opening a door for someone as chivalry: Two people, a man and a woman, approach a door. The woman is closer to the door so she opens it for both of them. The man will not enter, but instead grabs the door and says « No. After you, » waiting for the woman to enter.
In these cases, I’m saying that scenario 1 is fine. Scenario one is polite and displays manners and supports a kind, respectful society. Scenario one has no gender charge. However, scenarios 2 and 3 are sexist (and sometimes annoying.) I have scenario 3 happen to me regularly and it is just weird. I mean, I try to do something polite for another person and we end up having to go through some production of him eventually taking control of the door. I think that’s one thing that really gets me about chivalry; it’s manifested in a way which reinforces male control of the situation. He’s driving the actions and the woman is passive–receiving his gestures and being coddled or protected.
I know that talking about door holding at length seems nitpicky and meaningless, but these small examples are tied to bigger issues. As Jill said at Feministe several years ago in a very detailed account of chivalry,
There’s a difference between being chivalrous and being nice or polite. Opening a door for someone because you got to the door first is both nice and polite; making a huge production of opening a door for a woman in the hopes that she’ll see what a chivalrous dude you are and fuck you (and then getting all pissy when she doesn’t respond how you want her to) is not polite or nice. And that’s the thing with chivalry: It always demands something in return. If you’re being nice to me because you like me and you’re the kind of person who is nice to people you like, then that’s great. If you’re being nice to me because you’re hoping to get something out of it, or if you think you’re entitled to sex or a relationship with me because you were nice and “chivalrous,” you can go fuck yourself. See how that works?
She’s brought up a great point. Often chivalry is founded on a quid pro quo/entitlement mentality, which carries expectations that were not welcomed by the woman involved. That’s a huge problem which further illustrates both the gendered nature and differentiates it from pure politeness (which doesn’t demand something in return.)
One last thing I would like to make clear is that asking for the end of chivalry is not the same thing as ending romance. In my view, healthy romantic relationships are reciprocal and equal in nature. Both parties should make loving gestures for the other, and that’s great! Most of us want to be treated romantically by a significant other, but why should the favorable treatment only flow in in one direction? There is great happiness that can be achieved by giving. A traditionally chivalrous situation would result in a female partner who would be robbed of the joy of making gestures for her male partner. (It would also rest on the premise that the woman is lesser and deserving of protection, which puts things at an unequal balance from the start.) I advocate for relationships which don’t rest on predetermined roles and allow each person to express their feelings naturally and individualistically. Besides–there are clearly many relationships which do not contain one man and one woman, and they are equally valid and romantic.
All in all, I simply feel that chivalry and feminism are inherently incompatible. I would never expect to be treated both equally and special. That’s an oxymoron. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that there are women who actually are advocating for both. Yes, some women want chivalry, but I would suspect they do not typically identify as feminists. To me, it seems a to be a straw man situation, as is the claim that feminists are really attacking manners. Nevertheless, it is important for us to understand the arguments used against our viewpoints, no matter how trivial.
But seriously friends, if I impart nothing else, let it be this: just hold a door for someone when you can. And when it makes sense to have the door held for you, walk through it.