#TellaFeministthankyou and is chivalry evil?

Twitter brings people together. Without it, it’s very hard to abuse random strangers on the internet. Hastags clearly exist so that people can find others with contradictory beliefs, and then abuse them for exercising their right to free will. In fact, the internet in general took humanity one step closer to being reduced by hate to the dribbling monkeys we once were (or weren’t, depending upon your point of view).

For those that don’t know, using a hashtag on Twitter groups your Tweet with all others using that hashtag. It means you can become a part of a huge global conversation, and see what other people are saying on the same topic.

Yesterday, the top trending hashtage was Tellafeministthankyou. Naturally, this caused quite a few arguments.

Different personalities and beliefs coming together…to stab each other in the eyes

There were the genuinely grateful, the women who do their part, the men who do their part, the men who appreciate women, the women who appreciate men, the people who were just having an ironic joke, the people who were a little bit miffed, and then the men who hate women and the women who hate men, or other women.

There were lots of sarcastic Tweets about not being able to make kitchen jokes anymore, as well as the occasional bombardment of ‘How dare you campaign for birth control’ and ‘thanks to you I can’t raise my children properly.’ Just to clarify, any woman who storms into the home of another woman and drags her into the city to force her to have a high profile career, is not a feminist. Feminism is about freedom, the right to be equal, and the right to choose*.

*(Feminists who believe all women must renounce children, have careers, give up sex, or stop enjoying the company of men, is the exact same problem that feminism is trying to fight; people trying to force women to conform to their idea of what a woman should be. Forcing a woman to have a career is no better than forcing her to stay at home, have children, and look after the house).

There was one argument that kept cropping up that I wanted to look at, because there’s a lot of conversation that goes on about it, and the middle ground often gets lost in the extremes.

Feminism and chivalry

Some people were complaining that feminism has killed chivalry, some were thankful for it. If you don’t know, feminism regards the concept of chivalry as insidious sexism. The idea of opening a door for a woman, because she’s a woman, automatically implies that she is weak, needs help, or should generally be looked after.

Whether it’s offering to help a woman who is struggling with something heavy, or giving up your seat for her on the bus, these are things that society only expects people to do for women. Because they’re supposedly weak and delicate beings who need to be looked after like a small bubble of thoughts about kittens and babies who’d disappear in a second if exposed to the jagged, harsh reality of the real world.

The reason the feminism and chivalry issue is so interesting is because it is so bloody complex. You could argue that chivalry is good, or it’s bad. I think in both cases you’d be wrong. Twitter showed that many people were vastly missing the point of the debate, getting caught up with actions rather than the motivating responses.

Context is everything

A little example to clarify. A man comes home from work; his wife has dinner ready on the table. Now, the sexism in this scene comes from the context. This image isn’t an intrinsically sexist one, in the same way a powerful board room full of only white men isn’t intrinsically racist. It’s the context of the situation – i.e. all those men got the high up jobs over their female and/or black/Asian colleagues because they were white men – not the end result. If a woman genuinely, without pressure or fear, decides that she wants to give up her career to raise her children, that’s fine.

Of course, the problem at the moment is that women aren’t allowed to make choices like that. The sexism in society comes from the fact that equality is just a concept, not something that is practised. There is still an expectation that a woman shouldn’t choose to have a career, she shouldn’t make the money, or know how to fix a car, or wrestle a kangaroo to protect her husband.

Feminism and chivalry the sequel

This is all relevant because most of the Twitter discussions regarding chivalry were about opening doors.

The idea of chivalry is wrong because it is all about acting upon the underlying belief that women are somehow in need of help. If chivalry was universal, it wouldn’t be a problem. But the medieval idea of honour amongst men is not stabbing them in the back or making an iPad case out of their skin, whereas being honourable towards women was about not breathing too hard near them because the poor things were so fragile they’d break like a candyfloss lamppost in a monsoon.

I think chivalry can stay, it just needs a bit of retasking, that’s all. The underlying message is what needs changing, not the actions. I don’t believe that any of the following actions are ‘wrong’:

  • Opening a door for someone
  • Allowing someone to enter/exit a room/lift/pantomime horse outfit first
  • Saying ‘after you’
  • Helping someone carry something heavy
  • Getting involved in a fight to protect someone you care about who is at risk

When this becomes a problem, and why feminism and chivalry come to blows, is when you do the above because the other person is a woman. If you walk past a man trying to carry a cast iron safe in order to help a woman who has two books in her hand, that’s a problem.

I particularly like this article on feminism and chivalry on Everyday Feminism, as it acknowledges the difficulties for both genders. There are feminists out there who simply attack chivalry, and brand any man who tries to be nice to a woman as an evil sexist. The article linked to examines it from both sides, points out that in some ways, many women are just as at fault for the prevalence of chivalry, and that men have a genuinely tough time trying to work out how to not be a sexist because the expectations society places on their gender makes it incredibly difficult to show respect to women without seeming less than a man.

And it is important to acknowledge the plights of men when it comes to societal expectations, as these govern the way they ‘have’ to act and behave. It would be perceived as incredibly embarrassing if a woman were to help a man carry something heavy, and most men would feel hideously rude remaining in their seat on the bus while a woman stood. Society needs to allow men to break the expectations on their gender at the same time as allowing women to. We can’t achieve true equality while the hands of one side are tied by preconceptions and assumptions.

But the bottom line, which makes arguing about opening doors pointless, is that it’s the context of the action that is important. Opening doors for people is fine, better than fine in fact. It’s great. Opening doors for women only, then letting them go to smash into the faces of the men behind them, is most definitely not a good thing.

If you offer to carry a woman’s shopping for her because she’s a human being who might like a little help, and you would do the same for a man without a second’s thought, don’t worry, you’re a nice person.

Bottom line is, just be nice to people. That’s a huge part of what feminism is really about.

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