Chivalry vs Feminism

“Chivalry is largely dead, feminism is the murderer.” Is it, really? I don’t think so. In fact, chivalry is so common that we, women, don’t even register chivalrous acts being done for us because we are so used to it. We are used to getting help with vehicular problems from men who are complete strangers. If we’re going in or out of a door at the same time as a guy, we subconsciously expect him to wait for us to go first. These expectations are not because we think we are the most important people in the elevator, and hence deserve to go first, but because this is what we expect from good men or rather “gentlemen” as this is what we teach our sons to be like.

The basic definition of ‘chivalry’ has come a long way. It started out as the ‘Knight’s code of chivalry’ to which knights were strictly bound during the medieval times but now it’s described by acts such as holding doors open, pulling chairs out, helping with heavy luggage, etc. But that’s not all there is to it. Chivalry, essentially, is about courage, honor, courtesy, and a readiness to help people. When your vehicle is stuck due to water logging and a man comes help you, you feel grateful for their chivalry. But when they show simple courtesies like opening your door for you, you think it’s their way of saying that they don’t consider you an equal and suddenly chivalry needs to die because it’s against your idea of feminism?

A scene from Bobby Jasoos comes to mind: Bobby’s reaction to having the car door opened for her by a man is: “Mereko aata hai gaadi ka darwaza kholna”. Some see this as the natural behavior of a strong, independent woman. I see this as a woman being unnecessarily rude to someone who was just trying to be nice. Are we still so insecure about our equal status that we see these simple, nice gestures as someone questioning our ability to open a door?

Some feminists will refute my point by saying that such actions are condescending or belittling, that men do such chivalrous acts because they think we are weaker and hence need the special attention and protection or because they think we’re somehow incapable of doing it ourselves. I don’t think any man has ever thought, while pulling out a chair for a woman, that she is incapable of doing it herself. They are being nice and courteous, something they’re taught to do since they were little kids. To say that the action is condescending is frankly an insult to men and to the mothers who taught them. Are you suggesting we stop teaching our sons to be nice?

My cousin doesn’t let the girls carry their travel bags; he thinks all the guys should do it. I can carry the comparatively lighter bags and that is exactly what I do, which always leads to the comment “tu to apna bhai hai” from him. He is an annoying, walking proof that chivalry is, in fact, not dead. From my experience, I think chivalry and feminism co-exist, albeit with a lot of arguments.

The key to co-existence, without any metaphorical bloodshed, is to be tolerant. For stubborn women: If you take offense to the special treatment of “ladies first”, then politely decline the offer and say “after you”. For stubborn men: Don’t assume we need our meals paid for or our luggage carried, instead offer help politely so the feminists don’t take offense. This way, men reserve the right to be chivalrous and women reserve the right to decline any special treatment.

Coming to the question – “Does an equal rights activist feminist deserve a women’s compartment in trains?”. Yes. I don’t think even the feminists taking offense to chivalry will deny the fact that there are times when women do need the extra protection or special consideration, not because we are special, but because of the gender-specific crimes that are all the rage in our country. We live in a society where a couple kissing with mutual consent in public is illegal but groping is something that “happens”. So considering the leering men who try to take advantage of the crowd and cop a feel in public buses/trains, I’d say it’s not about women rights or feminism; it’s about basic requirement of safety from such men.

 

Monika Bhagchandani

IT, 5th sem.

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