Chivalry! Expert historians assert that this venerable concept has been with us for many a year, dating as far back as the 1995 Richard Gere picture First Knight. But what does it mean to be chivalrous? Does it mean, for example, carrying things that I personally find too heavy for my frail and womanly arms? (Sure!) Does it mean opening doors for me at any opportunity? (Please do!) Does it mean shielding me from traffic with your manly frame as we walk down the street, that passing cars might not behold a glimpse of my dainty ankle and fall into lustful temptation? (Sometimes! My ankles are pretty hot.) Does it mean… PUNCHING A DUDE RIGHT STRAIGHT IN THE FACE?????
Well, yes, apparently that too. For the men must fight to defend our honor, you see! And yet, we somehow end up not benefiting from that, like, at all! Watch now, as Amanda Hess of The Sexist explains it all for you, as did the fair maiden Clarissa in days of old:
By placing a male intermediary between a misogynist and the intended recipient of his misogyny (a woman), the misogynist can walk away from a chivalry-induced fist-fight patting himself on the back for how much he “respects women.” Meanwhile, some blame for said fist-fight can be conveniently transferred onto the woman for failing to take the punch herself. In order to avoid both the fist-fight and the self-blame, the woman has one line of defense—don’t do whatever you think caused the misogynist to get so angry. Don’t wear a short skirt. Don’t protest when he takes your photo in a strip club. Don’t get angry when he sexually harasses you.
So, basically, chivalry sucks, then. DAMN YOU, Richard Gere! Why did you lie to me?!
And yet, perhaps it is more complex than that, my friends. Perhaps the issues of chivalry, lady-infantilizing, dudely honor and The Patriarchy’s Perpetuation Of Violence Even Among Its Ruling Class can be hashed out, between Amanda Hess and myself, EVEN FURTHER! Join us now, for this mighty joust in the honor of Sexist Beatdown.
PICTURED: Chivalry on behalf of forest creatures. Look, I never said it wasn’t complicated, all right?
SADY: Why hello, milady! Allow me to open this chat for you! And also, all your many doors!
AMANDA: I demurely accept your chivalric advances. Milord.
SADY: Should you not do so, my honor would be spurned! I think it’s really awesome that you wrote about this, by the way. The idea of women as just sort of cred-building vessels for a dude’s Honor. As if dudes were all Klingons and had to fight over Honor all the time because of their harsh Klingon ways.
AMANDA: Right, and of course, we are meant to be flattered by all the polite attention!
SADY: Right. I mean, people object to “chivalry” all the time on the grounds that it infantilizes women. WHICH IT DOES! The idea that I can’t open a door or pay for dinner or walk on the side of the street that is nearest to traffic (this is actually something someone told me once: It’s the dude’s duty to walk on the outside, to protect a lady from traffic-proximity and, one supposes, mud from horse-drawn carriages spattering her dainty gown) makes it seem like you think I’m a freaking toddler. But it’s also a way for dudes to reduce ladies to chips in the ongoing poker game between dudes, the stakes of which are deciding Who Is The Most Manly.
AMANDA: To me, chivalry is shorthand for “How can we treat women like they’re not full humans in the most seemingly complimentary way possible, so that they can not object to not being treated like humans?”
SADY: “Oh, sweetie, let me pay for dinner. Everyone knows you can’t do math!”
AMANDA: And because chivalry is seen through the lens of Doing Nice Things For Women, the idea is that if we get rid of chivalry then men will treat women poorly. I’ve heard people argue that men punching women in the face is a consequence of the loss of chivalry! Feminism causes men to hit women, essentially. But people who further these awesome theories are actually just leaving out the flip-side of chivalry, the one where Men Act Aggressively Toward One Another In Order to Protect A Lady’s Honor, and that side has also got to go.
SADY: Right. That’s the thing, the thing that was most interesting to me about your piece: The idea that Patriarchy is just some grand competition that dudes put on to show who is the MOST Patriarchal, and since our conception of a Patriarch includes violence and doin’ a bunch of broads, dudes are inherently sort of pitted against each other in an eternal punch-off over the broads they do. Granted, one might have absorbed this lesson by watching, like, “Die Hard!” Or any given action movie! But your piece was kind of revelatory to me in that aspect. And maybe that’s why certain dudes think that the only option, other than Patriarchy, is punching women ALSO. Like our only options are to have a Punching Class and a Non-Punching Class, and if we get rid of the distinction, civilization will devolve into one big ongoing bar fight.
AMANDA: Haha, right. Like: There is a set number of punches that a man must administer in order to get laid, or whatever, and the rules of chivalry dictate that those punches must be delivered to the faces of other men, not women. Once chivalry is dead, men will have no helpful rules informing them who to punch in order to get laid! This will be a very bad development for humanity! Punches for all!
SADY: And then, men who are seen as insufficiently punch-prone — men who are, in effect, like LADIES, or who take the sides of ladies in a manner other than punching some dude cause he was rude to the broad they’re doing — are seen as defectors from the Manliness Wars. AND DEFECTORS GET PUNCHED! I’m really just super-interested in this; that misogynist violence gets aimed at MEN who are seen as insufficiently misogynist. I mean, you can see it all over; in homophobic hate crimes certainly. Because gay dudes are targeted because they’re gay, but the underlying assumption in a lot of gay-hating thought is that this makes them somehow like women. And therefore appropriate to hit.
AMANDA: And hey, sometimes it works into making that guy a misogynist! “I got punched for some lady? The world is sexist against men! I will spend my days fighting feminism in order to avoid getting punched again just because I’m a dude!” But my very favorite anti-feminist argument is that anytime a man treats a woman well for any reason, he’s being chivalrous, and since feminists think that chivalry is bad, we have no obligation to treat women with respect anymore ever. The end!
SADY: Right. That’s the thing. Like, “I helped you move! I held your arm so you could jump over that nasty-ass puddle! I refrained from sexually assaulting you! ALL EXAMPLES OF CHIVALRY. What will you do if it’s gone? Get sexually assaulted by me?????” “Probably!”
SADY: Like, there has to be some social contract in place so that treating women LIKE THEY’RE PEOPLE, with a minimum of empathy and decency, is not only possible if we also treat women like they are all T-Rexes with tiny little arms that can’t reach doors over the length of their large and cumbersome dinosaur bodies. Or a less confusing metaphor! Like, I’d like to think that people are capable of recognizing that ladies are people and can do stuff, and that one ought to treat them well FOR THAT VERY REASON.
AMANDA: OK, but where is the part where I get to punch someone?
SADY: Haha, yeah, that’s the part that puts the lie to my theory. Because Real Person Who Can Do Stuff status has historically been reserved for (certain) dudes, and apparently they’re all punching each other CONSTANTLY. So! Like, I think this is honestly getting into a real and structural point about the Patriarchy, one which makes me feel very ’70s to point out, but: A structure of society based on violent dominance perpetuates violent dominance even betwixt members of its ruling class. The idea is that power — or, hell, personhood — is based on being able to keep other people down by any means necessary, but it’s not like dudes are all working together, because the only way they can understand their right to personhood within this context is by their utilization of violent dominance. So The Man is not only keeping us down, he has to keep The Other Men down as well. So that he can remain The Man.
AMANDA: And there’s only one The Man.
SADY: I heard it was Willem Dafoe? Or Ernest Borgnine, but he might be dead. So.
AMANDA: Time for a Battle Royale! I do love that we have a sport where you win by punching someone until they can’t get up anymore.
SADY: The Ultimate Expression of Manliness! And then we find out that sometimes those dudes actually hurt people in their private lives, and are like, “whoa. But we told you that your value was specifically dependent on your being really good at violence! I don’t understand WHY THIS HAPPENED!” I mean, I was recently looking at murder statistics, and it is a fact that men simply DO kill each other more often. Women are killed less, and kill less, but when someone kills a woman, it is like really super-likely to be someone with whom she has an intimate or sexual relationship. I mean, that to me is How Patriarchy Works: Dudes kill ladies with whom they have private relationships, but then, they also go out and kill each other because they cut each other off in traffic or said something shitty at a barbecue or whatever. My point is, there has to be a way to maintain a social accord with our fellow citizens that is not based on (a) being the best puncher, or (b) being widely regarded as too weak and childlike to punch.
AMANDA: and (c) confining your punching of women behind closed doors because punching a woman in public makes you a sissy also.
SADY: Right. Because that’s chivalry. Noting that “chivalry” itself is descended from ideas about knights and fair ladies formed in a time and place where women literally had NO RIGHTS WHATSOEVER; women were a “protected” class, but the “protection” was from, like, someone other than your husband who had the legal right to beat you for disobeying. “Chivalry” was code for, “stay in the house and I’ll protect you from dudes what might sexually assault and impregnate you, that I might sexually assault and impregnate you with no worries as to whose baby you’re having.” “Also you’re probably like fourteen.”
AMANDA: Yes. It’s just an organizing principle for perpetuating misogyny, not any sort of solution.
SADY: Exactly. But, I mean, what’s the solution? For dudes to defect from the system? That makes them total pussies, bro!
AMANDA: Yeah. I mean … I have yet to solve the cultural problem of guys punching each other. I’m working on it. Right now, the tactic that chivalry takes is to say, “if you perform this certain type of violence, you’re a pussy. Only this other kind of violence makes you not-a-pussy.”
SADY: Right. I don’t know, I think focusing on how Traditional Masculinity Hurts Men is totally fun and I like to do it, but also, they’re going to be in the same situation as every other ally, which is: If you stop hating us, you’re going to get treated like us.
AMANDA: Right. Have fun with that!
SADY: So… stop hating us anyway? I guess?
AMANDA: Stop hating us and then realize that associating with guys who punch guys for being pussies may get you punched, so stop engaging with those types of people. Stop appearing on the “Jersey Shore” program, basically.
SADY: Yeah. We should make a pamphlet! “Have YOU, friend, been invited to appear in a reality TV show program for awful people? Perhaps you should consider your level of exposure to awful people! And not be awful!” That, I think, would solve a lot of problems. Except, like, Snooki’s.
AMANDA: Snooki’s problem is interesting, because, having watched the show, Snookie REALLY WANTS TO GET LAID. But she can’t just punch somebody in order to do it, because she’s a woman! Chivalry is preventing Snooki from getting laid, basically, and it needs to end, for that reason.
SADY: Yes. FREE SNOOKI!