Tiffany Madison rants on Chivalry (and maybe we should too)

My friend and colleague, Tiffany Madison, author of the upcoming novel, Black and White, posted an opinion piece on her website today about the concept of Chivalry. I thought it was it was interesting, and would be curious to hear your feedback. You can find Tiffany’s original post (and comment there, if you like) here at her blog.

The below is reproduced with the author’s permission.

Ranting on Chivalry, a post by Tiffany Madison, 3 September 2010

A while ago a respected friend of mine posted a discussion note on Facebook titled “Chivalry should be DEAD,” and so naturally, I stopped to read. Shortly after beginning, I learned that the post was in response to an article she had read titled On Chivalry and Internalized Misogyny, written by Amanda Hess of WashingtonCityPaper.com.

Normally, based on the title alone, I would have cast this off as another propaganda piece from a dilettante Internet-sociologist touting the counter-productive virtues of
fanatical feminism, but my respected colleague’s remarks gave me pause. She agreed with the author, making the following statement:

“Chivalry puts the protection of the woman’s honor onto any man associated with her. Chivalry is NOT something to strive for. Chivalry assumes that a woman cannot do or think or act of her own volition because she needs to defer to a man in those situations. It breeds misogyny of women because it assumes women are inferior to men.”

So I read further, discovering that in the article, Hess uses a combination of historical horror stories and circular logic to levy charges of inherent sexism against the practice of chivalry, shedding a damning light on the Western behavior entirely. She implies that men are historically selfish brutes and in their desire to control women, have manifestated their desires through chivalrous acts. Failing to realize her own hypocrisy by making such sweeping generalizations about the entire male gender, the author assumes we should strive to eradicate the concept all together, claiming it perpetuates misogny.

True reason was scarce, but there was a definition. The author characterizes chivalry as follows:

Ah, chivalry: That old code of behavior that men must follow in order to protect the “honor” of women they know. Through chivalry, a woman’s honor becomes a man’s responsibility; her honor brings honor to him, and her shame brings him shame. Chivalry isn’t just offensive because it forces men to protect women, but also because traditional ideas of what brings  “honor” and “shame” to women are often highly sexist. And so, chivalry also works to encourage women to internalize misogyny in order to preempt shame from befalling men.

Maybe it’s cultural, but in the South we have some of the strongest women I’ve ever encountered and our men revere that strength and nobly seek to honor us in small chivalric gestures, which almost denotes a superiority. I can’t remember the last time I opened a door for myself, and if a man doesn’t attempt, I think he’s rude. Of course, I am perfectly capable of opening the door myself and could probably do it quicker than him even in my four-inch stilettos, but it is a polite courtesy to me—to show me such respect, and not a testament to his feeling I’m incapable of opening a door.

Furthermore, at the end of the day, we can develop these ideas and constructs for mental sport, but if we’re throwing in equality, the fact is that men and women are not equal. Women, through thousands of years of socio-evolution are caretakers by nature, men protectors, etc. Women have their inherent strengths and men have theirs, and I wouldn’t trade mine for theirs any day. Seeking equality in regards to importance is noble and good, and I am thankful for the strides the women before me have made, for the fight they endured to give me the independence I have today. But we should honor their struggle by being secure in our differences to promote better gender relations. That doesn’t mean pretending those differences don’t exist!

That article is the product of critical theory; the practice of deconstructing social concepts to a most ridiculous degree, frequently with a violator/victim mentality. Men aren’t courteous! They are chauvinistic, unenlightened brutes for assuming feeble women can’t open doors for themselves!  The sad thing is, that hostility sets women further back than most of us realize, because so often men go out of their way to accommodate us, to earn favor, to show us respect, and in turn, we make broad generalizations about respect, equivocating archaic references of feminine subjugation to simple courtesies meant to honor us.

It is the opinion of this dilletante Internet-sociologist that chivalry is what sets apart cretin from gentleman. To honor a woman is to act in service to her, to hold her highly in regard and to go out of one’s way to accommodate her. Just as a good woman does for a man. It is respectful, courteous and the mores of an advanced society. As a woman secure in my feminine power, I see chivalry for what it is, and appreciate it.

And for the record, the most prominent definitions of chivalry, are as follows:

A set of ideas about how a good knight should behave. These included treating women with respect, defending the weak and the poor and fighting fairly. www.abdn.ac.uk/english/lion/glossary.shtml

The rules for polite and honorable behavior that knights were expected to follow.

castleandpalacehotels.com/home_pages/glossary.html

Being attentive to women like an ideal knight.

wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

Honorable, especially to women; involving chivalry.

en.wiktionary.org/wiki/chivalrous

No wonder men are confused about what women want. So am I! Because one thing is for sure: chivalry might be dead for the women that have killed it, but it’s alive and well in Texas! And if there are any gentleman reading this post, thank you for opening my doors. Please continue to do so, or I’m going to think you have no manners.

4 Comments  to  Tiffany Madison rants on Chivalry (and maybe we should too)

  1. Saewod (Vi_ZoMi) says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I enjoyed the read and even went over to her website and left a comment, but can’t resist posting here too. 🙂

    I do not believe Chilvary should die, be placed as a male only characteristic, or considered a bad quality in anyone.

    Now, I don’t expect a man to do things for me, but it feels damn good when a man, or anyone for that matter, opens a door or offers me a seat. Male of Female. It’s respectful and kind.

    There have been plenty of times where a woman has opened a door, a female friend has grabbed my bag to carry it for me, and she has saved a seat for me or offered hers. Does this mean she is stating I can’t do these things for myself? Of course not, this means the person is kind and respectful. If I offer my seat to an older person, male or female, does this mean I am insulting the ‘aged’ population?

    I think Tiffany had it right. Chilvary should not die. If anything can we please examine why we only associate chilvary to a man, and don’t look at the ways women display chilvary?

    My husband opens my door for me, grabs my purse or bag, saves or offers me a seat, and works to ‘protect’ me. I do the same for him; carrying his keys and wallet for him, opening a door for him, and wanting to be his protector as well. I will be the first in line to defend my man and this doesn’t mean he cannot do it himself.

    Bravo Tiffany and thank Killian for sharing.

  2. killianmcrae says:

    Just to be fair, I should post over here what I also posted to Tiffany’s post:

    Sounds like a classic case of (foolishly) trying to out think biology.
    FACT: We are primates, and within the primate classification, males are responsible for ensuring the physical safety of their females. True, we are also highly intellectual primates, and unlike our ape and monkey cousins, we are more cognizant of gender roles. I believe that this particular author of the original article and the response would like to believe that in pursuit and task of our evolution, the next step for human females is to re-create social order and pitch it high matriarchial. Clearly, this a narrow-minded pursuit of ultimately self-defeating goal. Eventually, when our powers of mental greatness fail us, some problems can only be dealt with by brawn.
    But insofar as the medieval conception of chivalry, I will agree. That system made victims of both men and women, because it assumed that men must function to protect the physical and emotional wellbeing of their female. And females, when the locus of control of their own emotional compass was denied them, became co-dependent on a man who was unable by the very tenets of his biology to fill that role. That is why that particular set of values went away.
    Now, as to modern chivalry, this is wholly appropriate and desirable. Yes, there are women who defer to their overbearing males who may also be old fashioned in their approaches, but relation does not prove causation. I appreciate the comments above of men who treat their women with respect, and even small gestures such as opening the door or paying for dinner have biological routes. When a man finds a woman of worth, he needs to prove to that woman that he is a provider who protect her and their (eventual) young. Thereby, as a display of his need to prove himself worthy of her, he will perform these small gestures. And because we are the type of mammal who will jump ship to save ourselves if we see a relationship is sinking, he will continue these gestures into to relationship (if he is wise to prove that he remains worthy of her trust in him. It’s our species version of building a nest or mating dancing.
    But, hey, if the author wants the type of relationship where she needs to feel she can one up her guy, I wish her luck.
    Anyways, those are my initial thoughts in brief.

  3. Thank you both for such delightful, thoughtful commentary. I am interested in hearing what women have to say! God Bless the Internet.

  4. bklover08 says:

    My belief as I read this, is that it is all in the intention and manner in which the chivalrous actions are performed. I am as likely to hold a door for someone as they are for me both male and female, younger and older (sorry, I live in the northern part of the country!) and have taught both my male and female children to do so as part of common courtesy. However, if someone were being solicitous in such a way as to have me feeling that he doubts my abilities, that is when chivalry becomes chauvinistic – in the fashion of “here let me help you out, little lady…” As such, chivalry should not be dead, just don’t mistake the one for the other! Interesting thoughts, btw – 😉

Your two cents appreciated: