Chivalry in feminist times

Amrita Prasad
Sunday, 13 May 2018

To hold the door or not to hold the door – being a chivalrous man in an era when women are fighting for equality can put anyone in a dilemma

Chivalry and feminism are extremely complex concepts. However, today there is one similarity between the two – utter confusion. Now we’re not talking about Gautier’s Ten Commandments of chivalry, but a more practical approach to the concept which was applied in daily life back in the day – how it was considered gentlemanly to pull the chair for a lady, offer to pay the bill after a meal, hold the door open for her and so on.

But then feminism happened — and it seems to have left men confused. Say a couple went out for dinner – if the man offers to pay the bill, the woman might be offended because she’s independent and working and can afford to dine with her own income, but if he doesn't offer to pay the bill or proposes going dutch, she might think he’s not chivalrous enough to be a gentleman and tag him as a loser for the rest of his days. How does one decide what to do in such situations? 

Arnab Purakayestha, a 28-year-old software engineer, recalls how he was stuck in a similar situation. “I was reprimanded by my then girlfriend (who is now my wife) for not pulling the chair for her in a restaurant. However, the same person now, on realising the significance of feminism, advocates not imposing chivalry on men. As long as a gesture is all about love, courtesy and care, and applicable to people of all genders, it should be fine,” he adds.  

Some women think that in the present era, a man doing things like holding the door open for a woman, or sending her ‘lame old’ flowers and chocolates is a gender-based code of conduct to make them feel inferior. But there are others who feel that although they strive for equality, occasional pampering and surprises are not that bad.

Shabana Galaria, a young content writer from Mumbai says, “I think the whole idea of equality is getting mixed up terribly with the definition of chivalry. I mean, I could be wrong but this concept seems a bit vague.” She is of the opinion that it is not true that feminism and chivalry can’t co-exist.

Sometime last year, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson in Facebook session shared her views on the intersection of chivalry and feminism and confessed, “I love having the door opened for me. I love being taken to dinner.” But she asserts that the key here is men asking, “Would you mind if I open the door for you?”

These days, young and independent women prefer to spend time with their girl gangs, but when it comes to seeing men going down on their knees and out of their way to please them, it does make them raise their eyebrows in doubt.

However Ayan Banerjee, a  marketing professional feels that while feminism and chivalry are debatable topics, love is more about spending happy moments together than focussing on one person entirely. “No doubt modern women like to enjoy with their friends and family, but as far as romance and special days like birthdays, anniversaries are concerned, modern women  want to feel special and be pampered. They want surprises and like their dinners to be planned by their special ones. They also  want some cosy moments with the person,” he adds. 

Despite all other arguments, a majority of men admit that chivalry and feminism can’t go hand in hand. Rahul Mishra, a marketing professional from Delhi says he feels like a victim trapped between the whole idea of feminism and knighthood. “I believe in the past women always wanted a ‘knight in the shining armour,’ and they romanticised him in books and films, but today if you get a little protective about your bea — in the positive sense — she will show you your place. So when we go out shopping together, and I offer to pay for her clothes, she will show me her eyes and question me if I don’t think she is capable enough to pay her own bills. But then there are instances when I expect her to pay a restaurant bill and she explodes like a bomb. When I offer to open the door for her, she doesn’t like it. Again, she is tired of carrying a handbag, she doesn’t hesitate to hand it to me and walk around freely. I grab all the eyeballs at the mall when she does this. So this is really a complex thing for me to deal with!” Mishra exclaims. 

In the end, all this really boils down to treating every gender equally, and making sure everyone has equal opportunities. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, you must have the freedom to go the extra mile for someone you love without being pressured to do so. 

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