Chivalry versus Feminism: Can They Co-Exist?

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Chivalry and feminism—these concepts seem like polar opposites. One is black; one is white. One is day; one is night. Chivalry and feminism may seem as though they would be in opposite corners of a boxing ring waiting to fight it out like Rocky and Mr. T; however, I believe they can exist in peace.

Chivalry is often viewed as something that completely refutes the tenets of feminism. It has gained a bad reputation over the years, and is often seen as a way for men to continue to dominate and show their superiority over women. Deeming such behavior as “chivalrous” is seen as a way to keep women from exercising strong, independent wills, and showing that they “don’t need no man.”

Before I launch into my usual rant, let’s have a quick history lesson. Chivalry is a concept that dates back to the Middle Ages. It was a value system for knights to live by and was based on loyalty and honor. It emphasized military bravery, loyalty, love for country, and service to others. [1]

Over time, however, chivalry developed into a more romanticized concept involving courtly love and fair maidens. Fast forward to the 20th century: Chivalry has evolved into a concept in which men are to behave honorably and politely, especially toward women. This notion of it singling out women and presenting them as damsels in distress who are unable to function without a man is what makes feminists irate.

How chivalry is presented today is not in accordance with feminism. A man should not think that solely because he is a man and a woman is a woman, he has to hold doors open for her and pick up dinner tabs. He should not think that because of his biological sex he is expected to take out the garbage or assemble a shelf. A woman is more than capable of doing all of those things.

This outdated notion of chivalry perceives women as incompetent and weak. It says that men need to come to the rescue of women because they are poor, fragile little souls who are unable to look out for themselves. Newsflash: women are just as capable as men, and do not need a knight in shining armor to come to their rescue.

In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, regarded as one of the first feminist treatises, Mary Wollestonecraft, defined feminism as a theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. [2] Feminism asserts that women and men are equal and should be treated as such.

This outdated concept of chivalry is not only unfair for women, but it is unfair for men too. Men are under pressure to be Prince Charming, but when they emulate him, they are often chastised; conversely, if they are not Prince Charming and fail to open doors, bring flowers, and pay for dinner, they are considered jerks. At times, men may feel that anything they do will be met with anger because there are so many mixed feelings toward “chivalrous” acts.

Chivalry should not be a concept that promotes the subjection of women to patriarchal values. Chivalry should be defined as acting honorably and politely. This concept where one is treated with grace and dignity compliments the basic tenets of feminism. Both men and women can behave chivalrously because everyone deserves to be treated with respect and sincerity.


 

Sources

1. “Modern Chivalry,” The International Fellowship of Chivalry-Now, http://www.chivalrynow.net/articles/chivalry.htm

2. Wollstonecraft, Mary, and Candace Ward. 1996. A vindication of the rights of woman. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications.

 

 

 

Katherine Grygo

Katherine Grygo is a first-year student in the Communication, Culture & Technology program at Georgetown University. She serves as the Assistant Director for Web & Blog Services. Katherine completed her undergraduate studies in English Literature at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA in May 2016. She is primarily interested in topics regarding political communications and national security.