Hi, I'm Julia. Justin is a good friend of mine and he recently invited me to do a little writing here, so I thought I'd freestyle for a bit. Rather than making a statement or arguing a point I'll just pose a question: what's the point of chivalry, and what does it say about us? Not that this is very original---I bet if you did a quick search you could find hundreds of results on a similar theme in just the past few days. But it's worth talking about for what it means for ourselves and our culture.
For the purposes of this discussion chivalry is a collection of behaviors that have historically been used to honor women. It's offering your jacket, pulling out chairs, walking closest to the street, and so on. Granted, chivalry isn't just about women either. The practice of chivalry began with the noble classes, and centuries later it's still something associated with the with the wealthy. Really, all manners are related to social status; even basic table manners signify some level of refinement. It probably never crosses our minds, but we were taught to practice these things because not doing them is rude (ignorant) and we want to be polite (well-bred). This is useful to remember but isn't directly related to our conversation.
So now that we know what chivalry is, why is it so controversial? What's the objection to a harmless gesture? The primary objection is that it's an insult to their own self-sufficiency. Women have spent the past hundred years trying to prove they can operate independently of men, and it's pretty aggravating to be be treated like a delicate flower who can't manage anything for herself. These women might not interpret chivalry as respect but rather an act of dominance. Certainly there are some men who see it this way; we've all been on a date with someone who assumed buying dinner entitles him to certain favors. In this case, chivalry becomes something decidedly less gallant and more akin to hostage-taking. It's another meaningless tradition that lingers from partriarchal, less enlightened times. And many women simply prefer to open their own damn door.
On the other hand are the women who prefer or even require their men to exhibit chivalrous behavior. They like feeling special when he opens the door. It can also suggest that this is some kind of actual courtship, not just a quick one-night stand or ambivalent companionship. I personally tend towards this camp: it's not like you have to open doors for me, but I'm a total sucker for little things like offering your arm when I'm wearing high heels on bad pavement. Personally it makes me feel respected on a more basic level, like I'm being appreciated as a lady and treated accordingly. It tends to make me feel more comfortable as well. If you're taking me seriously I'll take you seriously too. I would also like to offer the completely irrational, subjective and quantitatively worthless assessment that it's super charming.
Are these stances mutually exclusive? Does letting a guy pull out your chair out make you a Bad Feminist? Does chivalry or the lack thereof affect your relationships? My immediate answer is "no, of course not", because I don't feel my status depends on it. And yet I've consciously refused many chivalrous gestures from men who I disliked. What am I saying when I do this? Is it I don't need your help, or I don't want your affection? I'm not sure. It does seem like there's a level of trust involved, a trust I reserve for family, close friends and significant others. So as much as I want to say chivalry doesn't matter I need to acknowledge it does. Somehow.
There are women who choose to assert themselves by stubbornly ignoring chivalry, and that's their prerogative. There's no wrong answer to this question as it ultimately comes down to what makes you feel respected or not, which varies from person to person. I am sure there have been lots of contentious conversations between women who feel bad when he opens the door and men who feel bad when they don't.
Like I said, I don't have any stunning insights to offer here, just a few words to help clear our own heads. Where are you? How do you feel about this sort of thing in an age where no manners are more common than any manners at all? What does it mean to you to offer or accept it? Does it make you feel closer to people? I guess my stance on this isn't as clear as I thought, which tends to happen when writing. I am a capable, financially independent and self-sufficient woman who takes pride in paying for herself. It seems absurd to judge a man based on things like that. But I find it means something to me because I'm picky about when I want it and from whom. Yet I do like being cared for in that way, and makes me more likely to reciprocate said caring.* What are your own sentiments? Where did they come from? Are you chivalrous because you view all women a certain way or because Mom would scold you if you didn't?
(Closing note: Where do we stand on picking up the check? I think nowadays it's difficult to associate this with chivalry as people's financial circumstances are so variable. Now that women have jobs of their own there's no need for a man to pay all the time. Likewise, if I'm dating a guy in graduate school, I would never expect him to pay for me. A special occasion is different but otherwise who cares? If you're in similar positions you can skip the hassle of splitting checks and take turns each time...I'm not the only one who does this, right?)
* = if you know what I mean, GET IT?! oh god I'm going to die alone