What is the role of a chivalrous male in a society where men and women are equals?
My wife still chuckles from time to time, even now, 34 years later – about how I would want to go halvsies with her when we used to go out. Even though then she was a single mother with two children and I had a lot more money than she did.
Right (I can hear you saying) – I didn’t get it, didn’t get it at all. So what was my excuse? (I was perfect, after all, in every other respect.) What was going on?
I was suffering from a misplaced sense of gender equality. A distortion, a caricature of feminist thinking. My thought, back then, was (believe it or not), I don’t want to insult her by picking up the whole tab. After all (I reasoned), she is an adult, fully independent, my equal in every way. What would I do if I was eating with a male friend or colleague? Exactly. Why should this be any different?
When she mentions it these days (which is rare – she is a kind woman), I feel embarrassed. I do not even try to defend myself.
Full disclosure here: I am a male who came into adulthood in the sixties. I still consider myself a feminist. I believe in full equality for women, in public and private life. I believe in participating together in household tasks (not “helping” – sharing: we both live here), finances, and decision-making.
And I open doors for women, open the car door and help her in, and I walk on the street side, hold the umbrella over her head when it’s raining. I go downstairs first in the morning, make coffee, and bring her up a cup. If we leave a place separately, I walk her to her car, then go to mine (or she drives me).
• First and foremost, women like it. In particular, she (my wife) likes it.
• Second, I like it. I enjoy pleasing her and doing what I can to make life good and pleasant for her. I like that she likes it.
• These chivalries are symbolic – they are surface representations of the caring, commitment, and deep respect I feel towards her and want to express. Hence though these may seem to be mere superficial rituals, they embody deeper meaning.
• Protection: women in our society (and in all that I know of) can be in peril, especially when isolated in poorly lit places. Most women recognize this and appreciate your presence. It’s not just you being stronger (if indeed you are!): you are with her, there are two of you, she feels safer. (And you do too, don’t you?)
There is absolutely nothing about women’s rights or equality that demands complete symmetry in relationships. Whether we, women and men, are in some sense fundamentally different at the core or not (I come down on the not side), we do recognize some differences, social, cultural, and physical – why not delight in that, appreciate and enjoy it (as long it’s not limiting or oppressive)?
And if by some chance you should encounter someone who doesn’t want you opening doors for her, well then, don’t do it. (Never ask, by the way – if that is important to her, she will tell you. But you won’t find many of these.) The basis of any positive relationship, at any level, is respect. And women, do expect this kind of behavior from the men you are with, and give yourself full permission to enjoy it. You are worth it. Most of us males enjoy doing these little things. And if you find one who doesn’t, um, call my wife – maybe she has a tip or two for you. Oh yes: once in a great while, she will open a door for me. Nice!