By Shannon Clarke
There’s a reason countless songs, teen novels and movies have been built on the cliché of summer love: beach parties, wedding season, romance in foreign countries. So there is no better time for the publication of a report in Psychology of Women Quarterly on chivalry.
The study, “Seeing the Unseen”, conducted in the United States and Germany, concluded that acts typically seen as chivalrous – opening doors for women, insisting on paying for dates and taking her home afterwards – are actually acts of benevolent sexism.
“Chivalry isn’t dead, it’s just terribly sexist” read the Globe and Mail headline.
The article received almost 400 comments and unsurprisingly, the reaction wasn’t great. Men defensive, women insulted, and the ever-present internet trolls up-in-arms, ready to attack feminism in its entirety.
And while many online discussions about feminism derail into rants on reverse sexism, affirmative action and religion, Globe readers seemed genuinely confused. Isn’t it polite to compliment someone’s cooking? Are men chauvinist pigs for offering to help me with my computer? Am I a bad feminist for not taking offense to someone opening a door for me or helping me with a heavy bag?
Not so simple, says Kate Carraway, the wit and wisdom behind the Grid’s, Thirtyish.
“I definitely think sexism is rampant and undermines our interactions with each other,” she said.
“The problem is we’re at a point where we aren’t willing to understand the complexity of sexism.”
The black-and-white, do-and-don’t, dualistic thinking that guides contemporary dating discourse and feminism ignores other issues. A common response, from critics on every side of the debate has been that the entire issue is frivolous in the face of “real problems” (although conveniently, whenever those problems are brought up, women have achieved equality and feminists should just shut up already).
Explained Carraway: “We haven’t resolved other things.”
Traditional (hetero) dating scripts might not be high on the list of priorities but the study, and its subsequent response is still important.
“Our daily interactions with men and women tell us a lot about how we think about each other,” said Carraway.
Is it sexist to expect the man to help a woman out of a cab on a date? Sure. But what about the expectations our society places on women that cause most to wear heels on a first date? It’s sexist to expect men to pay for dinner, but then, men still earn more money than women and are expected to spend more as a way to demonstrate their masculinity.
The study does distinguish between blatant and benevolent sexism, and clarifies that though the latter may be well intentioned, the implications help perpetuate ideas about gender. For example, helping a woman with a task because she’s under time constraints is not sexist. Helping a woman with a task, even if she doesn’t ask for it, because you believe “as a woman she shouldn’t have to do it” is.
“What are your motivations?” asks Carraway. “Are you doing [the task] because you’re being kind and courteous or do you believe men are stronger?”
For every man wondering whether or not he should offer his date a ride home, and every woman wondering whether or not she should hide her face in shame if she accepts, it’s important to keep in mind that the study was based on responses from individuals. I’ve always thought, as far as paying on first dates go, whoever does the asking out should pay . Kelly Ripa would disagree .
Is chivalry dead? That would depend on your definition of the word.
“I think a lot of what we consider chivalry is just manners,” said Carraway, adding “Men can be chivalrous to other men and women can be chivalrous to other women.”