There’s this article, “Why Chivalry is Dead, From a Man’s Perspective,” from John Picciuto on Elite Daily that’s popped up in my Facebook newsfeed a lot. It’s been shared by my friends of varying genders with captions like “Amen” and “FTW” and “Finally.”
Up front, I want to say I don’t normally write reactive, angry things, but I guess I finally got pushed to the point where I had to say something, and I now have this wonderful new site where I committed to sharing a thought a day. It didn’t seem wise to pass up a thought that’s reeling around in my mind.
Also, I want to apologize to John for the headline I wrote, because it’s laced with prejudice and preconceptions. I actually took a moment before publishing this to look into John a bit more and see some other things he’s written and said, and I don’t necessarily think he hates women (sorry, John). But I’m leaving the headline as is because this is a response focused on the article itself, and everyone sharing it — and all the horribleness that is perpetuating.
Oh, and I’m not even going to approach this from a non-binary gender, there are more than two genders and two sexes, angle. Because while that’s true, and this article ignores all of that, there’s plenty here to tackle just on the men vs. women front.
Chivalry Was Never Alive
Do you know where the word, and idea, “chivalry” comes from? It comes from the middle ages in a time where knights rode steeds and women wore chastity belts. Fun fact: did you know that historically chastity belts are most notably remembered as devices crusaders would put on their damsels to prevent them from having sex with other men while they were off fighting a holy war? Fun actual fact: did you know there’s not actually evidence to support that? Less fun fact (more of an opinion): did you know that it’s really sad that the metaphor for “being a good man” is rooted in our glorified and incorrect memory of how knights treated women, despite a bad part we made up (chastity belts) that we all know and all the actual bad things they did that we ignore?
But chivalry is about much more than protecting your partner’s junk from the advances of other men, right? Totally. Knights were known for all of their kindnesses. They kindly didn’t allow women to own property, while still kindly forcing them to work 12 hour days doing manual labor, then kindly treated as them chattel (a fancy, legal-y word for property). Nowadays, we talk about how horrible it is that some men treat women like property, which is terrible, I guess, because, unlike our chivalrous knights of the middle ages, they don’t have the paperwork to back it up.
But let’s not just talk about how great of role models knights were for treating their women. That’s doing this whole conversation a disservice. Chivalry is about how you treat all women, right? Kinda. While the language of the Code of Chivalry might suggest that, what it really meant was to treat noble women with courtesy. Poor women? You should totally rape them. But, to be fair, that’s not necessarily because they hated poor women: they hated all poor people.
You probably knew all this, so why am I telling you again? Because we all know all this, yet so many of us still mourn this so-called “dead chivarly” that they believe society is yearning for.
But it’s the idea that counts!
Okay, we can pretend that all those terrible anti-women-but-still-chivalrous things that happened didn’t really happen, and live in this alternative future where knights really did treat women with respect and courtesy and ride off into the sunsets to fight damsel-abducting dragons. I can get onboard. I’ve played Mario games.
The idea of treating women with respect and kindness, with the chivalrous values we learned as kids, is what’s really be argued to be a good idea, and that should be worth something. Well, it is, but it’s not what that article is allegedly arguing.
It’s the idea of all of this that frustrates me the most. Because whenever we say all these nice things, all of the wonderful ways we’re supposed to treat people — by opening doors for them, buying them meals, walking curbside to protect them from splashes or runaway cars (I’m not really sure what that one is about, to be honest) — it’s because they weren’t born with penises. Warning: the following paragraph is packed with a lot of graphic penis-related imagery to make a point.
If you weren’t born with a penis, people who were should open doors for you, because we wouldn’t want your non-penis fingers touching any dirty door knobs. Let me, a person with a penis, help. I’ll also buy your dinner, because thanks to the penis I was born with I have more dollars (but no thanks to my penis, which has been unemployed for most of my life). Oh, and don’t you dare walk closer to the street. If a drunk driver loses control and skips the curb our way I will simply clobber it out of the way. Yes, with my penis.
Yes, that all sounds ridiculous. Because it is. If every time we established our differing sex-based expectations we had of people by including “because penis” or “because no penis” it would help us all realize how ridiculous they are. “Sam, don’t you mean to say ‘because penis’ or ‘because vagina?’” Nope, unfortunately, I think my way of describing it is more accurate, because being perceived to have a penis is all that really matters. Because society.
So We Should Treat Women Poorly?
No. Absolutely not. My argument is that we shouldn’t treat anyone poorly. Or, on the flip side, we should treat all human beings with decency, courtesy, respect, and love. “Well that’s what the original article was saying!” No. Absolutely not.
The general message of the article is the same as all the “back in the good ol’ days” bullshit I hear every day. It’s romanticizing an era that never existed, where men treated women in X great way, and people treated their elders in Y great way, and everyone was happy, healthy, and life was good. Welp, sorry, but things aren’t great now, but they are far, far better than they have ever been in the history of time. For pretty much everyone, other than people who are sexist, racist, classist, heterosexist… just about any form of bigots and supremacists. Sorry, bigots.
Articles like the one I’m responding to here, while they might be well-intentioned, are rallying against all the progress we’ve made, while painting their flag as being for it. “I’m not sexist, but I miss the days when guys bought dinner” is tantamount to saying “I’m not sexist, but I miss the days when differing sex-based behavior and expectations were better curbed and reinforced by society.”
If you’re “just a girl who wants a guy who will buy me dinner and treat me like a lady,” fine. Assuming the “me” there is really you, and you don’t want a guy who will buy me dinner and treat me like a lady, because — actually, now that I think about it, that sounds delightful. Anyway, it’s totally okay to want someone who will take care of you. What’s less okay is for you to impose that want on all the people in the world who happened to have been born with similar genitals to you.
I was brought up by a mom who all but beat “chivalry” into me. This is something I struggled with for a long time, when I realized how problematic it is to treat people how I assume they want to be treated (back when I was starting to try to live the Platinum Rule life). I’ve since translated that chivalry into trying to treat everyone in my life with decency, courtesy, respect, and love. I try to hold the door for people because it’s a nice thing to do for people, not just people I want to have sex with. I’ll buy dinner and drinks, offer my coat on a cold night, and give my seat up on the bus for people, not just people I want to have sex with on the bus.
By treating women “like ladies,” we’re inherently making a TON of assumptions about how they, as individuals, want to be treated, based on a historically oppressive lens that has shaped who we think they are. If you actually care about the women in your life, you’ll stop treating them like women, or ladies, and start treating them how they, as individuals, want to be treated.
For some people, this might align with your assumptions. Try your best not to let that reinforce them. For other people, the way they want to be treated will fly in the face of everything you assume. Try your best not to diagnose these people as “problematic.” And for most, it will be a mix of the two.
If you want to uphold the spirit of chivalry, the best thing you can do is to stop treating women like ladies, and start treating them like people.
But Hook-Up Culture, and Women Being Poorly Treated, and Blurgh Blah Blegh
There were so many individual things about the article that really angered me that weren’t necessarily addressed above, so here they are. Blurgh-by-blurgh.
“In the hookup culture we now live in, it’s pretty obvious that chivalry is completely dead.”
Hookup culture is a clever way of saying it’s not okay for women to have sex with multiple partners, but it’s totally okay for dudes to. Men have been promiscuous forever, but now that women are up for casual sex (and apparently having it all the time, all of them, every night) it’s bad, and it’s a “culture” now. The amount of self-contradictory brain pudding inherent in this sentence makes we want to swallow a pencil with my ear.
“Dating is done. Seriously, who goes on dates anymore? It’s all about hooking up, getting a number, grabbing a drink and getting down.”
I do! And literally all of my friends, those with and without penises, do, too!
“I think I’m the only single guy I know that actually takes a girl out to a restaurant on a first date.”
I think there are two possibilities for what’s happening in your life: you hang out with shitty people, or all of the people you know aren’t looking for emotional relationships, but are still interested in sexual intimacy, which should be okay.
“If you take a girl out and show her you’re more than some douche looking to just get in her pants…”
Oh, cool, so it’s the shitty people thing. You hang out with shitty people. But there’s more to that sentence.
“…odds are, you’re going to get a second date, at least. Call me old fashioned, but a nice dinner is worth the money to get to know someone to some extent.”
And then she’ll let you get into her pants? Damnit, John. Now you’re sounding like the shitty person you’re denouncing in the FIRST HALF OF THAT SENTENCE. It’s this kind of stuff that made me so upset by this piece. And I realized I’m now dissecting this piece line-by-line. It turns out just about every sentence makes me angry. I’m going to skip ahead a bit.
“Women, for one reason or another, have become complacent and allowed men to get away with adhering to the bare minimum.”
Oh, yep, good, because I wasn’t completely sure we were blaming women for the “hookup culture” bit. I guess the votes women have at their annual meeting for “Minimum Effort Necessary To Let Men Have Sex To Us” have been slipping up. Maybe we should rescue them from themselves. I suggest a filibuster. Ugh. I can’t keep re-reading this. I’m going to jump to the end.
“It’s pretty obvious that women own the cards, and when they start acting like it, they’ll finally start getting dinner from places that don’t deliver.”
I’m going to go find that pencil to shove into my ear now.