Friday, March 5, 2010

Chivalry (and a few other things)

"This charming man..." --The Smiths

A lighter post, I hope--A few months ago, I tried to take the Eharmony.com test. I was curious if it would say I was unmatchable, because it seems like a lot of asexuals get that result. I got a few questions into the test and then gave up due to boredom. However, this hasn't stopped Eharmony from sending me periodic e-mails about dating tips. I do find them interesting to read. One was "Men-- 5 Simple Ways to Charm Your Date". I thought about the suggestions and whether or not, coming from a date, they would succeed in charming me:

1. Surprise your date with a CD of his or her favorite music.

Actually, this would probably charm me more than most other things, especially if the person took the time to make a mix...well, as long as they don't go around giving the same mix to every woman, that is...

2. Bring her one rose or a bouquet of tulips.

I'm not sure why this is even mentioned, since it's probably the least creative thing to give someone on a date.

3. Charm her with chocolate

I don't know why, but chocolate seems like a strange gift for the first few dates. And like flowers, it's pretty impersonal, unless you know you share a love of chocolate, or the topic of chocolate somehow came up.

4. Become the historian in your relationship.

Eharmony's description of this activity sounds like too much work for anyone, especially early on in the relationship when you may not be sure if you're in it for the long haul. But I'd be charmed if someone remembered anniversaries, even if they were silly ones. I do celebrate my AVENiversary, after all.

5. Be Chivalrous and gracious at all times.

Like a lot of people, I have mixed feelings about "chivalry". Personally, I'm a big fan of people being well-mannered, as I try (and sometimes fail) to be. But chivalry and etiquette are not the same. Most etiquette is gender-neutral. But chivalry is something that only flows from men to women. It has a clear history (that of medieval knights) but the meaning of its modern form is a muddled one. Can a show of chivalry really tell you where a guy stands on gender roles anymore? I kind of doubt it. Some say that chivalry died when women gained more equality, but I think this is just an unwarranted jab at feminism. A man can be supportive of traditional gender roles and at the same time, not be chivalrous at all.

And maybe I can only deal with potential chivalry from people without a sexual agenda. To me, chivalry with sexual overtones (from someone I am not attracted to) feels creepy and like the other person is just trying to run game. Same with flirting, as long as, again, I know I'm not attracted to the person in any way. I have a feeling a lot of non-asexuals might feel the same way about people they're not attracted to. For some people, chivalry is just an act and not a very convincing one. No, I'm definitely not going to be more likely to sleep with you if you pull out my chair for me.

Some wisdom on this topic comes from the dating advice of J.M. Kearns. He says, "...there is an issue that will send up quiet but important signals during your months of getting to know a new man [as a romantic prospect]. It has to do with how rigidly you each define masculinity and femininity. The two of you need to be equally flexible (or rigid) or there will be trouble" (emphasis his). I've never heard this idea explicitly mentioned anywhere else, but I think it's an extremely important one. I already feel the pressure to act "more feminine"; the last thing I'd need is even more of this pressure in a romantic relationship.

And lastly, thank goodness Sarah Haskins has targeted dating advice.

16 comments:

Ruth said...

Oooh! I love the Smiths!

Rebekah said...

I agree regarding chivalry/etiquette - I love manners and being polite, so long as they don't continue from "Here, let me get that door" to "I'm going to make small talk for half an hour, so first let me tell you about my grandmother's dog sitter's root canal" (which isn't even that far from the truth), but chivalry upsets me, for a variety of reasons. It reinforces the gender binary, since it's from one sex to the other (which can only work if you presume that there are only two possibilities, which leaves out anyone genderqueer or intersex, but anyway), and because, you said, it's directed from men to women, thus reinforcing the aggression as masculine/passivity as feminine set of roles that is so tired I'm surprised we're still (legitimately) complaining about it.

And I only know a few people who are "chivalrous" anymore, anyway, and they're all either fully committed to upholding gender roles (unsurprisingly, and lamentably, one of them is the same kind of liberally conservative evangelical Christian we all love to hate), or using it as a gateway to sex/dating, but most of the people I know are just generally polite, so even if feminism killed chivalry (something I'd be okay with), it obviously didn't kill kindness.

Ily said...

@ Ruth-- hee, yay! I like how their lyrics are, generally, sexually confused :-)

@ Rebekah-- It's true, kindness never goes out of style. Even if it did, it would still be, to me, the most important thing. And if you can be genuinely kind *and* have some base level of decent manners then you've got the package.

@ Blogger-- I am becoming increasingly annoyed at your crappy commenting format.

Anonymous said...

In defense of chivalry:
I don't see why this is such a bad thing. One can be chivalrous without being chauvinistic. The truth is, there are differences between men and women - anyone who says otherwise is full of bologna. So yes, of course, different genders have different roles - that's not inherently a bad thing. The bad thing is when one tries to manipulate those roles into superior/inferior categories, which is not inherent to chivalry. Chivalry is a game of flattery - from and to both men and women. In some ways, yes, the man seeks to be a protector or some such, but he also sets himself up as servant, to wait on the woman (and how is that chauvinistic?). Chivalry can demonstrate a man's willingness to make sacrifices for his partner just as easily as it can be twisted to chauvinistic purposes.
I'm not saying chivalry is for everyone, nor am I saying that it's never used in negative ways. However, too many people seem to bash chivalry when it can be a useful social tool that can help two people complement each other - and have a little fun. "I am your princess, O Knight in Shining Armor."

Ily said...

...he also sets himself up as servant, to wait on the woman (and how is that chauvinistic?)

I wanted to zero in on this one question, because I've heard it asked before. Personally, I wouldn't want a man to wait on me (unless I had the flu or something)-- this is a perfect example of what JM Kearns was saying. I think the reason why a man waiting on a woman could be seen as sexist is because it's putting the woman on a pedestal (insert "40 Year Old Virgin" joke here). And taken too far, people on pedestals become statues, not real people. As a feminist, I want men and women to be equal. But saying women are on some higher plane doesn't accomplish that-- in fact, it impedes that goal. I believe the term for it is "benevolent sexism". It can be harmful, as seen here:

http://www.strange-loops.com/blog/?p=33

Anonymous said...

I feel I must repeat one of my previous comments: "there are differences between men and women" - in other words, men and women are not equal. This is a fact of life. This is not to say that one is superior or inferior to the other, but between genders there are generalized strengths and weaknesses. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but that's not the issue here. The issue here is that men and women are not equal and should not be forced to be "equal". Yes, men and women should be equal before the law, and no, men and women should not be judged based solely on their gender, but saying that men and women should be equal in all ways is ridiculous and just plain wrong.

While relevant to your reply, that, however, is not my original point.
Your response is setting up a slippery slope argument - if situation A happens, then B, C, D, etc will happen, and the final result is something everyone doesn't want. However, you're giving A and Z without demonstrating how one would necessarily lead to the other. Are you also against men paying women compliments, or otherwise flattering them? Are you against men buying women flowers? If not, how is chivalry any different? Compliments and flowers can be used in chauvinistic fashions as well.
But back to your slippery slope - you seem to be arguing that if a man is chivalrous towards a woman, he is necessarily being "benevolently sexist". So every man who acts chivalrously necessarily turns his perception of a woman into an ideal? No chivalrous man can separate reality from his ideal? I find that to be a highly unrealistic argument. As I said before, yes, chivalry can be used chauvinistically, and not everyone is amenable to chivalry (obviously, and especially in this culture) but it is not inherently chauvinistic.

Ily said...

Hence my use of "could be seen" and "taken too far". I don't think chivalry is in need of such an enthusiastic defense-- I was ambivalent to it in my original post, not negative. And my viewpoint is probably not a majority one. I'm curious why the concept of chivalry seems to be so important to you. I'm not sure if you've read other posts in this blog, but we do tend to answer rhetorical questions around here.

Rebekah said...

@Anonymous

The practice of chivalry is reinforcing standards set for the sexes - men as aggressor, woman as receiver - and though there are biological differences between the two sexes, that does not mean that those general trends should be generalized and elevated to a status as ideal; much of what we do and how we interact in culture is based on constructs of what is appropriate behavior, often regardless of natural inclinations. Acknowledging differences between two groups and actively working to foster and reinforce them as exaggerated cultural ideals are different things entirely, and, while conventional gender roles may work for some (indeed, many) people, that doesn't erase their problematic elements.

Miliarchi said...

I know a man who became the historian to his relationship. My former thesis advisor - History Department, of course - presented his wife with a ten page history of their relationship as a first anniversary present. On each subsequent anniversary, a further ten pages were added. Ten pages per year spread out over nearly thirty years - and still counting! - comes to a hefty total. I believe he also archived the whole of their pre-wedding correspondence.

Ily said...

Wow-- as a theatre major, I guess I'd have to write a play or something about the relationship, however, those kinds of projects are rarely met with enthusiasm ;-)

Carolyn said...

speaking of chivalry versus sexixm, was anyone else offended by the recent dockers ad campaign?
http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/2009/12/09/2009-12-09_new_dockers_ad_campaign_for_soft_khakis_brings_charges_of_sexism_over_.html

I personally was. Yes men and women are different, but I disagree with the anonymous poster that this means they can't be equal. And as Ily has expressed in other posts, it's important for us to acknowledge and respect the self-sufficiency of the individual. It can be very nice for a man to open a door for a women, but it's based on the concept that women need men and contributies to the social requirement of being in, or endlessly needing to seek, a relationship.

And seriously, (from that ad campaign) I don't see any cities crumbling because of femminism.

Ily said...

I didn't see that particular Dockers ad, but I saw other ones (the ones they're putting in bus shelters that just say "wear the pants") and found them really odd. Maybe it's just me, but when I think of traditional American masculinity, I think of rugged individualism. Marlon Brando's jeans & t-shirt look. I associate khakis with conformity-- with rigid dress codes at schools or businesses. We don't have any cultural associations between manly men and khakis, so it seemed bizarre to me that Dockers is trying to make one.

I guess Indiana Jones wore khakis, but I can't think of any other manly icons that did.

It's also a little homophobic, because weren't gay men the people who popularized disco? And as for ferrying old ladies across the street, there are always girl scouts :-)

Ruth said...

I always open the door for other people, something my dad taught me, the objective of which was kindness.

Also, "fuck pantyhose."

Bri said...

While I can understand having an aversion to some of the original principles of chivalry, I think that the concept, like many things, could be considered to have a modern evolution as well. After all, chivalry was originally meant to be a code of honor. You can still act under the precepts of that code, such as virtue, courtesy, and the protection of those who are weaker, without necessarily designating that women have to be the weak ones or men have to be the ones practicing it. I'm a woman, and I'd like to think that I try to act in a chivalric manner toward others, both men and women, even if I'm following my own modern interpretation rather than the original code.

Also, @Anonymous, I think you're getting the ideas of 'same' and 'equal' confused. By your definition my roommate and I are not equal because I'm taller than her and have different colored hair. Equal here is being used as a social concept, not a mathematical one. Yes, men and women are different. We have physiological distinctions that give us, in a general sense, different strengths and weaknesses. We are equal, however, in the sense that those strengths and weaknesses balance out to give us an equal standing in relation to each other.

Furthermore, due to the variability of individuals, you can't really claim we should be falling into "roles." After all, what would these roles be based on? Physical ability? Mental ability? Some other quality or distinction? There is so much overlap between men and women in these regards that few roles could be comprised of just one gender.

Chris said...

I am 100% for treating feminists like men, with no more courtesy than a man would get in the same situation. I respect feminists that politely decline chivalry since they are the only true feminists, since feminism and chivalry are mutually exclusive, incompatible.

It's not a matter of picking one. A feminist cannot accept chivalry but can accept the same basic common courtesy that a man would offer to another man.

Ily said...

@Chris: How about treating everybody like...people? Treating feminists "like men" (and presumably, non-feminist identified women "like women") seems to be perpetuating the strict gender roles that feminism is trying to get beyond.