The Daily Gamecock

Column: Men's gestures of chivalry not sexist

Nowadays, with the playing field between men and women much more level than it used to be, women are beginning to re-evaluate chivalry and what it actually means. Some women are prepared to take up arms against chivalry as a misogynistic, anti-feminist practice that stands in the way of gender equality.

Strictly speaking, chivalry is defined as a code of values and behaviors expected of knights in the Middle Ages. In that context, it could certainly be considered a medieval practice, but it is too far a leap to describe good manners as oppressive.

It’s undeniable that there is still a gender gap in the U.S. A 2010 Harris poll found that two-thirds of Americans think women do not get equal consideration for high-level management and executive positions. Even when they get those positions, women often are not paid as much as men for the same job. The same poll found that 81 percent of Americans think “women are treated with less chivalry than in the past.”

The question becomes whether chivalry contributes to oppression, and my answer is no.

Women who oppose chivalry argue that it reinforces traditional gender roles in which the woman must be taken care of and the man is the caretaker. Acts such as pulling out chairs, opening doors and giving up seats imply that women are delicate or incapable of doing these things for themselves. Men paying for dates on principle says that women cannot afford to provide for themselves.

Of course, none of these implications are universally true. Women are perfectly capable of managing their own lives and providing for themselves. Many women provide for themselves and their children without outside help.

Chivalry is not responsible for the unequal status of women. In fact, chivalry is a practice based on the idea that women deserve respect and therefore some measure of preferential treatment.

Not all women want preferential treatment. Some women find it unnecessary for men to insist on carrying the bags or paying for dinner. It is entirely within women’s rights to refuse offers of courtesy, but it is unreasonable to assume that such gestures are offensive.

“The bottom line is that chivalry was a branch of civility,” says P.M. Forni, the founder and director of the Civility Initiative at John Hopkins University.

Forni is exactly right. Many other gestures that we extend are seen as good manners without being oppressive to the recipient. We open doors for our grandparents and serve guests first at social gatherings as ways of showing respect. Chivalry can be as simple as saying “please” or “thank you.”

The fight for total gender equality is not over, and perhaps it might never be. But chivalry is not a sexism issue. In today’s society, chivalry is just another word for kindness.