I'm going to say something that will not likely be very popular among a lot of people. I anticipate a lot of backlash. But here it goes: I think chivalry between men and women should die.
Now don't get me wrong -- I don't mean chivalry in its truest sense (as in a code of conduct in which people treat one another -- regardless of gender -- with courtesy and respect). That is the kind of chivalry I can get behind -- by all means, the world needs more of that kind of chivalry! The kind I am talking about is the kind that is more generally referred to as taking place between men and women. The man-always-opens-the-door, always-pays-for-dinner, always gives me a seat on the subway kind of thing.
And here's why:
I believe these seemingly harmless social norms serve to send a mixed -- and ultimately harmful -- message to men. When it comes down to it, how can we as women demand equal wages when we also expect to be paid for? How can we expect to be treated equally in the workplace when we also expect special treatment in other areas of life based solely on our gender? How will men come to fully see us as equal if they are simultaneously taught to treat us differently?
Now do I like the idea of never having to pay for a drink when out at a bar? Of having someone give me their seat on the subway when I don't feel like standing? Of course. Who wouldn't? But I am also aware that in the long run this goes to undermine the larger important changes I want to see in the world I live in. Namely, for women to be seen as 100 percent equal. I guess for me, I just don't feel right saying, "Things need to change! Oh, but don't change the parts that give me perks."
And I have had intelligent, strong female friends explain to me why they still prefer it when the man grabs the check or opens the door. "It just feels nice" they say, or, "It's not some big political statement." To this I must argue that while a small gesture might not seem like a big deal or a huge statement, it can actually go to reinforce and reveal an underlying assumption about gender roles.
A man feels as though he should pay because he's the man. The provider. The caretaker. Pulling out a chair or opening a door indicates that women are more delicate; they should be catered to and need taking care of. And whether we are saying these things out loud or not, I think it is hard to argue the point that on some level these are the underlying messages behind these actions (and for those of you out there who will argue that, "Well, hey, women are more delicate!" I must counter with the fact that God, or evolution, or whatever you think is behind the wheel of our existence clearly deemed women the ones best equipped to pop a watermelon-sized life form out a centimeters-wide opening. Delicate my tuchus!)
And I don't mean to victim-blame -- to imply that all of the problems women face in our society come down to women just not asserting themselves in the right way. It is obviously a much more complicated and insidious structural dilemma. All I am saying is, ladies, let's be conscious of the messages we send through our actions and expectations and make sure they support -- rather than detract from -- the changes so many of us claim we want to see.