Chivalry Isn’t Dead, But I Wish It Were

I wish chivalry would just kick the bucket already.

Not just any chivalry. In particular, the unsolicited acts of male strangers that they seem to think are expected of them that I have no use for. Somewhere down the line someone must have told them that’s how to impress, woo, or generally act around members of the female persuasion. But I’m so over it.

I’m not saying I don’t think it’s nice when a man I love (or at least know) holds a door open or walks on the street-side of the sidewalk. In those moments I often feel like he is “expressing that he wants me to feel seen, appreciated, [and] taken care of,” which can make it a feminist act, writes Courtney at Feministing.

As long as these grand gestures nurture the relationship rather than belittle me for being female, I’m all for them. However, too many of them are not so much chivalrous as simply sexist. I’ve been fighting back against those types of “chivalrous” acts for as long as I can remember, once even volunteering for my first grade teacher after she asked for a few strong boys to help carry some boxes.

Every once in a while I’m forced (kicking and screaming) to come face-to-face with the reality that some men are simply stronger than I am and there’s little short of popping steroids that will change that. I nearly threw a fit after I realized my air conditioner was simply too heavy to install all on my own. Where feminism is realistic—I know how to accept help when I need it—sexist chivalry would have me believe I have no business trying to lift heavy things in the first place.

So to the man who tried to catch me when I stumbled in the subway this morning, I understand where you were coming from, but no thank you. I steadied myself with the pole—that’s what they’re there for. Chivalry is no excuse for you to touch me against my will.

To the man in the elevator leaving work: Why should you let me leave first? We’re both in a rush to get out of the office and you’re closer to the door! And why do I get the creepy feeling you’re watching me leave?

To the (old) man offering his seat in the subway: I’m not so weak and feeble that I can’t stand for a 20-minute commute. You, on the other hand, look like you could use to take a load off.

Because I don’t know how to react in these situations, I often offer a quiet thank you and move along. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but I’m not sure how to shout “You don’t need to hold the door for me” down the office hallway without disrupting everyone else’s work. It’s not painful or severely, emotionally disturbing; mostly it just doesn’t make sense. If we could get rid of chivalry, maybe we could spend some time cultivating actual compassion.

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