Is Chivalry Sugar Coated Sexist Behavior?

01 Jul 17

Recently, I walked into a very interesting conversation regarding chivalry being sugar-coated sexist behavior stemming from those that believe woman are the weaker sex that need to be taken care of and protected. Conversation ranged from the opening of doors indicating a woman’s inability to open the door herself to a male defending her honor when she is being harassed being an indication that she cannot speak for herself or defend herself when in these situations. The person arguing that chivalry is sexist behavior in disguise was citing studies related to Hostile Sexism versus Benevolent Sexism Hostile Sexism is what we see on a daily basis in which women are being degraded or treated unequally based on gender – catcalling, being paid less in the workplace, being forced to take on traditional female roles of caretakers and housewives, etc. But benevolent sexism is not as easy to identify; it is delivered in a positive disguise so instead of forcing you into traditional roles the person may choose kinder words like why don’ t you do the household chores since you are better at it. The person having the argument stated that chivalrous behavior is actually benevolent sexism: a man getting upset on your behalf when someone is treating you poorly, insisting to pay for dinner when you go out, or opening doors for you when you walk by is practicing benevolent sexism.

As I listened to this topic, I was somewhat amused and started to think what my opinion on those actions is – do I feel like I am offended by someone taking me out to dinner and paying for it, fighting with someone disrespecting me, or opening a door for me as I enter? These behaviors in themselves are not offensive but can be depending on the situation. First and foremost, the person doing this on my behalf may make all the difference on whether I am offended or not. If someone’s not respectfully listening to me at work and someone steps in to speak up on my behalf, in that case I may be offended because I am perfectly capable of doing this for myself and definitely don’ t want the message sent that I can’ t fight my own battles. If I am out and about with my husband and someone’s making rude comments, I am not going to be offended if my husband fights back with the individual. I know he is doing it out of care and love and not because he thinks I can’t. And, last but not least, if I have requested that this not be done and the person insists this needs to be done for me, I will definitely be offended at that point. And the reason for that is not the behavior but the simple fact that this person did not respect my choice.

At the end of the day, it is all about personal choice. If a woman chooses to be a housewife, it does not make her weaker or less of a feminist and it does not automatically make her husband a sexist. Now on the other hand, if she is forced to do that against her will, this is where that same situation can be construed as sexist: in hostile sexism, a person would use anger or fear to force that behavior while in benevolent sexist behavior a person may just say you should play this role because you are better at it. The words are kinder but ultimately have the same impact: taking the decision out of your hands. It is possible that this is being done out of ignorance which is why it is very important for woman to speak up about what they want. If I want doors opened for me, I need to convey that to my loved ones and also respect their opinion if they feel likely they shouldn’t have to do that because just like I don’t want to be forced into something, neither do my male counterparts. If I want you to stand up for me when someone is treating me unfairly or being disrespectful, I need to let you know that or vice versa, if I don’t want you to do it. I still need to let you know. In today’s world, you never know how your actions will be perceived: as chivalrous or discriminatory so it is best to speak your mind about how you want to be treated and if that voice is ignored, you will know whether the intention was chivalrous or sexist even if it is disguised as benevolent.