Scott Farrell Comments:
While considering the negative aspects of chivalrous behavior and attitudes, think also about what a world without chivalry would look like — a place where no one had compassion, made sacrifices, or put forth any effort to be kind and courteous (unless there was some sort of personal benefit to be gained).
Dr. Gad Saad, in his counterpoint examination of chivalry and benevolent sexism, reminds us that compassion and respect are the walls that separate true chivalry from sexism in disguise. He considers the fact that when we see a man making a sacrifice to help someone weaker than himself, the response of appreciation and admiration may literally be coded into our DNA.
In conclusion, we have to remember that not all acts of chivalry are created equal. Kindness, consideration and compassion must always spring from a sense of respect and courtesy, not from a desire to “assert dominance” or “show ownership.” (Which is true for the courteous actions of men and women alike!) The difference between chivalry and b.s. (benevolent sexism, that is) is all in the attitude.
For more on gender roles, courtship customs and the protocol of chivalry, listen to Episode 28 of the Chivalry Today Podcast, “Modern Romance, Courtly Love and Chivalry,” which features interviews with Susan Squire, author of I Don’t: A Contrarian History of Romance, and Diane Gottsman, director of the Protocol School of Texas.
One of my fellow Psychology Today bloggers recently put up a post on benevolent sexism [BS]. I do not wish for this particular blogger to think that I am attacking her personally. I simply feel compelled to critique BS whenever I come across it. Let’s hope that my critique does not constitute an instantiation of hostile sexism.
The general idea is that there are two forms of sexism, the standard hostile form and a more insidious BS form. For example, if men were to be chivalrous by opening up the door for a woman, they would be succumbing to BS. As a matter of fact, most universal courtship acts meant to impress women (e.g., catering to a woman’s needs by being considerate) would fall within the BS rubric. If a heroic male bystander were to intervene whilst a woman is being violently attacked, he would also be succumbing to BS.
I am not making this stuff up.
In short, any attitude or behavior that connotes that women might require to be catered to and/or protected in specific instances is a form of BS.
That women specifically state that they find chivalrous and heroic men to be terribly attractive is apparently a testament to their having been brainwashed by the patriarchy. That romance novels, strictly written and read by women, always display men as chivalrous and heroic protagonists is also a manifestation of the insidious evils of the patriarchy. That the Fireman and Man in Military Uniform archetypes exist within the repertoire of fantasies of countless women around the world is also proof of the cancerous effects of millennia of patriarchal brainwashing.
The BS police have managed to completely confuse me. Should I purchase my wife flowers this week as a gesture of my love for her, or is this a form of BS? If I am sitting on a public bus and a pregnant woman is left standing, should I give her my seat, or is this a form of “disgusting” paternalistic BS chivalry? If I were to witness a violent attack on a woman (which by the way led to a whole field in social psychology known as the bystander effect), should I simply ignore her cries for help? “Sorry lady, I’d hate for the BS police to think that I am sexist, so I shall refrain from calling the police.”
My feeling is that the same folks who believe in BS also argue that it is inappropriate for us to pass value judgments for the manner by which the Taliban treat their women. After all, who are we to question the cultural imperatives of another society right?
Here is a promise: I will continue to treat women with utter respect. I will be chivalrous and considerate to them. I will try to intervene and protect them if they are being harmed. If this means that I am displaying BS, so be it.
© 2009 Gad Saad, Ph.D.
Chivalry: The B.S. Debate