Earlier this week I wrote a column for The Muse about ambivalent sexism, or sexism that comes across as complimentary but originates in stereotypical beliefs about gender and ultimately has the same effects as hostile, or outright, sexism.
During my research for the piece and after its publication, I received some (anticipated) push back from readers of both sexes about how some of the examples I cite aren’t “really” sexist.
For instance, a few friends told me that when a man “apologizes” to the women in the room before or after using profanity, it’s not sexist. He’s simply acknowledging that there are ladies in the room.
Another reader, while agreeing with the article’s conclusions, noted, “This reminds me why chivalry is dead.”
Chivalry is a word that comes up a lot when we start talking about ambivalent sexism. It’s common to hear, Let’s just live in a world where no one can pay a woman a compliment or open her car door or help her carry her luggage without being called a sexist!
Let me be clear about this. I do think chivalry is dying, and I don’t think we should be sad to see it go. If I have to put up with wage gaps, double standards, street harassment, unattainable expectations of beauty, and all the other lovelies that spring forth from a society that tolerates sexism, in exchange for someone occasionally offering me a seat on the metro because I’m a woman, well, then I’ll stay standing for thirty minutes. Thanks.
Why are we trying to preserve chivalry when we should be aiming for a culture of kindness and acceptance, one in which we are polite to each other regardless of gender, appearance, social status, or sexual orientation? Instead of upholding chivalry — a tradition that stems from the view that women are in need of protection — we should focus on creating a culture that expects us to respect each other and allows us to express genuine emotion without fear of being punished for transcending gender norms. This type of culture of universal respect should be the ideal we’re working toward, not an outdated vision of white knights and damsels in distress.