From time to time I hear people bemoaning the death of chivalry. Events like the recent shooting in California attributed Elliot Rodger’s misogyny tend to bring up the arguments again. To state the argument very simply (perhaps too simply);
All women have negative stories to tell about their interactions with men. Men have no respect for women anymore, many are violent, sexually aggressive, and seem to feel entitled to the women that surround them. This is an issue that is getting worse, not better and something that must be addressed now.
Just how the problem will be addressed is sharply debated. One such argument is that men must return to a more chivalrous behaviour and temperament.
There are a number of issues with this plan. First chivalry in its hay day wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. There was no expectation that men had to treat women of lower social classes with any kind of courtesy nor did they have to treat women from different nations with any kind of courtesy.
But assuming we controlled for that. Assuming we were able to convince all men to be chivalrous to all women regardless of age, class, or nationality I still would not think this would be a good long term plan.
Chivalry assumes one basic truth about men and women. It assumes that men are superior in strength and ability and intelligence to women. Women are fragile creators that must always be handled carefully and delicately. This attitude is very contrary to efforts of the feminist movement. To quote the first woman that spoke to me at MSVU (the predominantly female, feminist liberal arts university I attended) ‘I can open my own damn doors’.
Chivalry may make men nicer, but it will not make men and women equal to each other. Fixing the issue of misogyny can’t be women releasing their hard fought rights and status.
Were I to make one suggestion on how to address this major problem in our society I would say we need to make a massive paradigm shift on how we talk about men. It is time that we stop creating the self fulfilling prophecy that all men are sexual predators waiting to happen.
We tell both our boys and our girls that this is the way the male brain operates;
This creates the very devastating scenario where boys think this is the way they are supposed to think and act if they are a healthy well developed man, and this is the way girls think men are supposed to act towards them.
It is this line of thinking that tells girls they must cover their shoulders, thighs, knees and chest lest their exposed skin ‘chum the waters’ causing men to act out in sexually aggressive ways.
It is this line of thinking that excuses boys for making lewd comments at women as they walk by.
It is this line of thinking that normalizes sexual violence in all forms of media.
When I was growing up my parents did not teach me that this monstrosity was my brain. Instead I was expected to treat people with respect and kindness regardless of their gender. I remember very clearly the one time I acted in a sexually aggressive way. I was in grade 8 and I made a number of unwanted advancements towards a friend of my sister a girl in grade 7. My parents we furious with me and forced me to apologize for my behaviour among other things.
It took me most of my formative years to reconcile the person my parents raised me to be against the image of the hyper sexual, hyper aggressive male that I was told was normal. I worried that my sexual drive was in some way impaired, or that I lacked testosterone, I ever worried about my sexual orientation all because I was taught not to treat women as sexual objects.
In my opinion if we really want to address the issue of violence against women and misogynistic attitudes we have to stop telling boys that they all come equipped with an overclocked sexual drive that they are required to satisfy all the time if they want to be a truly masculine.