By: Elizabeth Iwunwa
Last week, classes began for me as well as most of the UPEI student population. I had signed up for a course with an identity crisis and was trying to find the building where it had been scheduled to hold.
As I stood before the map of our school situated in front of the SU building, I spied with my little eye a sight that prompted this piece. A gentleman held the door open for a lady. Upon further inquiry into this matter, I discovered that the fellow in question was the romantic partner of a dear friend. This greatly gladdened my heart, as it appeared that she was in great hands. It reminded me a little of a man I met during my travels this summer. With my heels in hand, I walked barefoot to retrieve my walkabout shoes from a vehicle until it dawned on me that I had lost my way. With a little smile across his face, he jogged past me. Upon realizing what had just taken place, I found the nearest bench and slipped on my shoes. The sweet stranger made his way back, and to cut the not so long story short, he offered me his shoes. A complete stranger offered me his shoes when he saw that my feet were sore. That was the sweetest little moment I could never forget.
I imagine that a hundred years ago, a man holding the door open for a woman would not be such an astonishing sight. Men were expected and encouraged to give women honor by little gestures including pulling out seats, holding doors open, and much more. It is a new world and some things have vanished from the social sphere of things. It is also a feminist world, at least on the surface. Note here that I do not attach negative connotations to the word “feminist”, neither am I oblivious of some misogynistic cultures that exist in various parts of the world. In the context of this conversation, North America is largely feminist in that it has made advances in women’s rights and visibility in the workplace. Heck, the U.S is on the verge of electing its first female president a few months from now.
So chivalry, what is this thing? Is it still relevant in our age? Will/does practicing chivalry equate to regarding women as incapable? When on a date, who foots the bill? If faced with a heavy load, does a gentleman offer kindness and run the risk of being called a sexist pig? (I have heard such tales I tell you). If in a physical confrontation and a lady hits a gentleman, is it okay if he hits her in retaliation? Do the answers to these questions depend on context, or is there/should there be an overarching principle?
While some have blamed women for the death of chivalry, others have blamed feminism, third wave to be exact. A comment I once read said, “women wish to combine 21st century rights with 19th century privileges”. Yet another said, “chivalry isn’t dead, it just followed wherever being lady-like went”.
My personal opinions have probably slipped into this piece and I make no apologies for them. The point of writing this is to throw open the doors for dialogue about living in our times. While researching this topic, I came across the term “benevolent sexism”. To me, it is almost as though the menfolk are trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea. They are deemed sexist if they offer help and tagged douches if they don’t. Can’t chivalry and equality coexist? Are these questions and experiences fickle? Are we forgetting the actual issues feminism tackles? Have we forgotten that due to this movement, women can vote and be voted for? Isn’t this all a bitter irony?
I realize that I may have made generalizations in the production of this article and hope that at least you can see through them and provide honest responses. I await them at firstname.lastname@example.org.