By Tracy Clayton
Recently, Essence Magazine ran a piece written by Nathan Hale Williams entitled “Girl’s Best Friend: Is Chivalry Dead?” The article speaks briefly of the author’s upbringing and his belief that chivalry, in current society, is a rare commodity.
To support this idea, Mr. Hale points to a few instances, and the issue of using curse words in front of a woman was visited upon more than once. That a man would use harsh language in front of a woman made him “cringe.” “I was raised to know that you don’t use profanity in front of a woman,” he says. Similarly, he was raised to know that a woman in the company of a man should never open her own door.
But it’s a two-way street, the author cautions; “Women need to understand that they deserve to be treated with respect.” Few women realize this because there are so few chivalrous men. His point, in effect: chivalry is dying because black men don’t know how to treat black women.
The most refreshing thing about Mr. Hale’s article is that it does not outwardly blame women for the death of chivalry, as most such arguments do. But beyond that, this article was pretty much bullsh-t. My heavens! Pardon my French; proper ladies apparently aren’t supposed to hear profanity, let alone use it.
Here’s the problem with chivalry and the reason why this entire argument just needs to go away already: it is founded on the idea that women are the weaker sex, in need of constant protection dependent on men to save them from everyday dangers. Men aren’t supposed to do certain things around women because their weak constitutions, it is assumed, can’t handle it. Like cussing, apparently.
My 86-year-old grandmother, the strongest, most womanly woman I’ve ever known, cusses like a sailor to this very day. It must be genetic because my mother can sh-t talk with the best of them, and I’m not too bad myself. The idea that women should not overhear someone using profanity implies that it somehow clashes with her femininity and womanhood, which in turn implies that women themselves should not cuss; that a woman who cusses is not a lady. This is what’s wrong with chivalry: it’s not just about removing your hat when a woman walks into the room–it’s about repressing, controlling, and exploiting women in the interest of male supremacy.
Chivalry is a tool of sexism in that it demands an adherence to gender roles. Men are men, women are women, and as such, there are things that men and women have to do simply because of their gender. This basic premise of chivalry has been used to justify all sorts of injustices, from treating women unfairly in the workplace to the lynching of scores of black men in the name of protecting fragile white womanhood (see: Emmett Till). Chivalry is a residue of an explosive history that has been conveniently forgotten. If it’s on life support, let’s go ahead and pull the plug–it’s a fitting fate.
This doesn’t mean that I think men should run around treating women any kind of way. I absolutely agree with Mr. Hale’s argument that men need to respect women more, but more than that, I believe that everyone should respect everyone more. Screw chivalry. Just be a decent human being.
If you treat me a certain way because I am a woman, I may as well be just a vagina with legs because that’s basically what you’re reducing me to. Don’t treat me nicely because I’m a woman. Treat me respectfully because I am a human, a full person, and all humans deserve it. Further, Don’t just teach your sons to respect women; teach them to respect everyone equally. This will increase the chances that he will grow up to see women as equals, as he should.
If I open my own door in the company of a man, it doesn’t mean that I “don’t understand that I deserve respect.” It means that my arms work and I don’t mind putting them to use. And if I’m at a bar tossing back bourbon shots and cussing like a Def Comedy Jam episode, it doesn’t mean that I’m any less of a woman; it just means that I’m my mother’s daughter, my grandmother’s granddaughter, and f-cking proud of it.
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