Another way our society distorts morality is through chivalry. Chivalry, especially in a romantic context, is a set of gendered performative actions that men take in relation to women. Examples include holding the door open for women, or bringing women flowers or some gift as a token of love. Supporters of chivalry claim that the essence of chivalry is about being kind to women, yet supporters of chivalry cannot explain why this type of “kindness” has such rigid gendered rules and barriers.
Meaning, if chivalry is about kindness why do men sometimes refuse to walk through doors that women hold open? If chivalry is about kindness why do men not engage in this kind behavior with other men? Why not pull out your homie’s chair when you both go out to dinner? Adɛn, you don’t want to be kind to your homie?
This post has one goal: to discuss how teaching men and women to view chivalry as indicative of good behavior distorts morality.
Chivalry As Performative Kindness: Niceness With Strings Attached
There are many problems with how chivalry operates within our society. One problem is the encouragement of male entitlement. Often times, heterosexual men who seek romantic contact with women engage in chivalrous behavior while expecting women to “repay” their so-called kindness by reciprocating with sexual interest or romantic desire. Chivalry, particularly buying gifts, is also used to guilt-trip women into participating in romantic contact. Examples of these emotionally manipulative behaviors are described below:
I bought you dinner, how about a kiss?
I paid for your Trotro, now give me your number.
I bought you a drink, you won’t even dance with me?
There exists familiar narratives: one where men who spend money on women feel that they are owed sexual contact, and another where men who feel they are owed sexual contact believe that being denied this contact warrants anger and thinly veiled threats of physical abuse to make women comply.
Chivalry thus becomes an emotionally manipulative way of interacting with women. Where niceness comes with many strings attached, and men come to expect women’s obligation to “repay” the debt of nice gestures with an act that indicates romantic and/or sexual interest.
As the phenomenon above describes, men are socialized to expect women’s romantic and sexual participation after they engage in “nice” or “kind” acts. Chivalry thus becomes an emotionally manipulative way of interacting with women, where niceness comes with many strings attached, and women are expected to “repay” the debt of nice gestures with an act that indicates romantic interest.
Heterosexual men often lament: “girls do not like nice guys”, after a woman that they are interested in does not reciprocate their feelings of interest. The statement itself reveals the deep seated entitlement that many men are socialized to possess. The kind that informs men that a woman is supposed to reciprocate romantic interest if they are nice. The kind that also informs men that a woman’s failure to respond to their “niceness” with romantic interest means that there is something wrong with that woman.
When women are taught to look to actions that mimic goodness it can be really distracting from evaluating important moral behavior. When men are taught to mimic actions of goodness it may stunt their development of meaningful ethical behavior. Rather than teaching men not to manipulate women for sex, we teach them to open doors.Even worse, teaching women to look for “nice guy tactics” like chivalry often hide the ways in which “nice-guys” can be violent.
There is harm in teaching both men and women that a good man is a man who engages in chivalrous acts such as: (a) opens the door for a woman to walk through, (b) buys women flowers on the first date, (c) pays for women’s meal (d) pulls the chair out for women, rather than teaching both men and women that a good man is :
(1) one who listens to women without dismissing women as “irrational”
(2) one who never pressures women for sex
(3) one who seeks meaningful consent before engaging in sex
(4) one who does not use “dirty tricks” like setting his dogs loose to trap a woman in his house so he can continue to work on her to “give it up“
(5) one who respects women as competent human beings, equal in dignity
(6) one who does not grab, fondle, touch women’s bodies without women consenting