Why Chivalry and Feminism can co-exist

Serbian Poet and Businessman Dejan Stojanovic claimed, ‘to risk life to save a smile on a face of a woman or a child is the secret of chivalry.’ This does not have to be taken quite so literally, as someone putting oneself in a dire situation for the sake of chivalry, instead the key to this definition is its symbolic implication – that is to put a smile on someone’s face without any selfish motivation behind the act. Before we go any further, the chivalry that will be discussed is not exclusive to the preconceived exchange of a man’s actions towards a woman, rather it will be approached as an un-gendered notion that can be applied to either women or men.

There are many misconceptions regarding the notion of chivalry and how it may fit into our societal standing as a culture that is rapidly evolving its attitudes towards a gender equal social conduct, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. The original concept of chivalry dates back to the 12th century, when the medieval code of conduct was imposed amongst knights’ and gentlewomens’ social codes. Most notably, cavalrymen, you know the whole knight and shining armour deal, with a brave man on horseback who comes to rescues the poor damsel? Well, we are centuries ahead of that time, so the terminology has become somewhat of a convoluted notion regarding the manner of how a gentleman conducts himself toward a woman he is courting. Although this may be true, it is not singled down to solely this train of thought – it can be about any individual being chivalrous toward another, regardless of gender. In our contemporary society, chivalry should not be subjected to a specific gender dynamic, rather it can be diversely applied in any relationship, and that does not have to necessary mean a romantic one, or directed solely from men to women.

Recently an older colleague expressed his confusion with the notion of chivalry and how it fits into feminist ideals rather than opposing the independence and equality women seek. It is simple to see where the root of this problem comes from. The over-simplified notion that chivalry is men holding doors for women, men having to pay the bill, men having to pick up and drop off women at their homes, or other preferred locations. It is the association that men are using this as a power play rather than showing respect to their female counterparts.

As a feminist, none of these things offend me, as I do not hold only men to this respective standard, but everyone I encounter. For example, making sure someone has safe transport to get home, and if not, doing something that would ensure this – and vice versa.

More than anything it is the intention behind the action that reveals whether one is acting courteous or in fact domineering. This is where a romantic situation can get tricky, as a man can insist on paying for the lady he is seeing, however if he sees this as a business transaction where he expects gratitude in the form of a sexual favour or does this to make the women feel indebted to him this is wrong and not chivalrous. In no way should either party stand to gain something from another for simply making a kind gesture. More accurately the accumulation of chivalrous gestures should stand to build a strong foundation of respect between two parties. Equally if someone takes you home to ensure your safe arrival, this should not require an exchange. In other words, leaving a lady at her door does not automatically mean you should or will be invited in. This is where intention comes into play. If you are only taking someone to their door for the hope of having sex and on any other occasion would not mind leaving someone to make their way home alone (when you have the means to take them), although consciously recognising it could be unsafe, then this is not chivalrous, this is selfish.

Let us for a second imagine, chivalry put plainly means ‘a sign of respect’. Why, is this not what feminists are fighting for? Are we not as women taking a stand and saying we deserve the same respect as men, because as people, we are all equal? So then some food for thought – why shouldn’t chivalry and feminism not co-exist?

The real problem is the association that only men can be chivalrous towards women. As a woman myself I do these things for my own friends, regardless of whether they are female or male. I do not see a gender when I am by a door, instead if I come in closer proximity I choose to open the door for who ever it may be, young, old, woman, man. I do this as a gesture of respect to other human beings.

Similarly, with getting the check sometimes we all have a system, I get the meal this time, a friend gets it the next, we split 50/50. It’s always a nice treat to give, or receive a cup of coffee from someone, whether it’s a work colleague, friend, romantic interest or family member. These are all small gestures that show care and respect for another person. Lets even take money out of the equation, have you ever just picked a flower and given it to a friend, seeing their face light up with joy. Next time you are out, give a stranger a smile. Tell someone to have a lovely day. Compliment them. Exchange a nice wish or light-hearted joke on occasion and this will only spread positivity to others surrounding you. Who knows, you could even make their day. This is kindness, a small pick-me-up. Write a poem, draw, paint, comes up with a song, use your creative talents to show someone you care, regardless of gender or type of relationship. The greatest signs of affection are born out of thoughtfulness.

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