Friday, April 18, 2008

Chivalry's Dead Beacuse YOU Killed It

I firmly believe that the main reason why feminism isn't taken seriously is that it's so often oblivious to its own double standards. If there's one complaint that men have made loudly, clearly, and consistently about feminists since the 70s, it's that they are singularly incapable of playing fair about "liberation." For example - although there are notable exceptions, it's a rare thing for a feminist organization to seriously campaign for the inclusion of women in Selective Service registration. Another thing you rarely hear is complaints from feminists about the "underrepresentation" of women in professions like trash collection and sewer line maintenance. Again, no doubt there are some feminists of integrity who consider this an issue on par with the corporate glass ceiling, but for the most part it's hard to divorce oneself from the idea that women's organizations are simply gunning for more privilege.

In pop politics, we usually hear this complaint in the context of chivalry. Men are rightly confused here: women get angry when we whistle at them, and yet they still expect us to do the asking for dates. We're not expected to pay for everything anymore, but generally speaking, you're expected to pay for the first couple of outings. What gives?

This attitude was on full display in today's paper. The link goes to a column by Rachael Goldberg that is a muddled mass of contradictions essentially amount to "I want chivalry when I want it, not when I don't."

She takes as her starting point an incident when she was shopping with one of her male friends. He'd put some water bottles on the bottom ledge of the shopping cart, and she politely asked him to lift them for her. He politely asked her to do it herself, which she did - much to the chagrin of the checkout girl, who commented that chivalry was truly dead.

"Honey, did that boy just make you put that up there?" I nodded sadly. "Yes, yes he did." And the cashier replied, "Wow. Chivalry really is dead."

Now - let me go on record saying that I definitely don't mind lifting water for girls. My problem here isn't with the assumption that men should do these things, but rather with the double standard Goldberg goes on to express.

Being chivalrous can include all these horrible masculine stereotypes of men needing to be strong and needing to protect and save women. This in turn implies that women must be weak and need protecting. And you know me: The eternal gender-rights advocate does not support any of that.

Well, one wonders, if you're an "eternal gender-rights advocate" who can't abide those "horrible masculine stereotypes of men needing to be strong and needing to protect and save women," then WHY THE HELL DID YOU ASK THE GUY TO LIFT THE WATER FOR YOU IN THE FIRST PLACE?

While I don't mind lifting water bottles - my arms are strong enough for it - an offer to help out would have been appreciated.

Why? If you don't mind lifting water bottles, then why not just do it? On what basis should he have offered to help? Apparently, if this is to be believed, because it's "common courtesy."

It's not about being weak or strong. It's just about being a nice person who is considerate of others. And in such a misogynistic society, being considerate of women is something that's always needed.

In other words, what we're in the presence of here is someone who wants her water bottles lifted for her without the assumption that men are stronger than women.

Well, sorry, but NO. It doesn't work that way. If we're in a situation where a man and a woman are in the grocery store, and the woman is closer to the water bottles, and we have no underlying assumptions about the relative body strength of men and women, then we go to the default system: the closest person in a state of physical health does the lifting. That's how it would work among an all-male group, that's how it would work among an all-female group, and if we're true believers in equality, that's how it works in mixed groups as well. If, however, we're in a mixed group and the rule shifts from "nearest person does the lifting" to "nearest male does the lifting," then we're implicity adopting social roles. Again, for the record, I don't have any particular problem with these social roles. What I have a problem with is my having to keep up the shit end of the stick while Miss Princess gets to pretend that we're completely equal.

Equality means "same standards apply." It doesn't mean "standards apply and don't according to the whims of the female." It CERTAINLY doesn't mean "standards apply and don't according to the whims of the female, and she reserves the right to make moral judgements about her friends based on standards she hasn't made clear to them."

So - Rachel Goldberg: get over yourself. I think you'll find that chivalry is far from dead - it's just that it's dead for you. And that's as it should be: chivalry is a system for people with manners - something that derives from social expectations. If your social expectations are "people do nice things for me, and I am inconsiderate of them," then you have completely failed to internalize the system. We - all of us - get to pick one of two attitudes to chivalry. Either we like and expect it, and thereby consent, to some non-trivial degree, to the social roles that give rise to it, or we don't like and don't accept it, and thus we carry our own water. Even the women.


At 2:18 PM, Blogger X-er said...

Here! Here!

Well said. Well written.

Growing up through a thick part of this movement (the 70's). I for one am completely sick of hearing about it.

It isn't about equality it's about convenience. The people who put forth the idea that men shouldn't be men except when we want them to be men are completely misguided and usually very self-centered.

Play the role/gender games and have fun with it or don't. But pick one and stick with it.


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