Max Blechman | Student Columnist
Claims that feminism seeks to destroy various positive aspects of society have been made since the movement first gained traction. From claims that feminism destroys families, traditional values, and the very fabric of society to simple wariness of the movement, feminists have seen nothing but opposition in society since the very beginning. Last week, The Duke ran an article titled “Feminism puts Brakes on Chivalry.” The article made the claim that feminism is ruining the traditional values of polite character towards women by men. The issue is that this claim is both patently false and demonstrates a lack of basic understanding as to what either feminism or chivalry are.
To begin, the author of the referenced article defines chivalry as “simple manners” towards women, but this is simply not true. “Chivalry” was originally a loose code of honor amongst medieval knights, which attempted to heel the hedonistic and violent behavior of those men. Part of that code was honorable treatment of women, implying that chivalry was an attempt to control the violent and dangerous behavior of knights towards women. Eight hundred years later, chivalry has come to be loosely defined as the manners a man exhibits towards women, which are supposed to include polite behavior such as holding doors, paying for meals, and other such actions.
Feminism also ought to be defined, although it is sad that such a simple word still needs to be defined in 2015. Feminism is the belief that women and men deserve equal treatment in all aspects of society. As a movement, feminism has sought to seek basic rights for women, abolish injustices and set up culture for women to criticize the patriarchy that oppresses them.
The concept that feminism destroys any positive values is patently false. Feminism has sought only to improve the quality of life for women since its inception. Feminism achieved voting rights for women. Feminism has achieved equality in education. Feminism helped to criminalize marital rape, set up emergency pregnancy centers and educate on safe sex for women. Feminism has begun to dismantle a culture of violence towards women, critique the objectification of women in the media, and bring attention to the issues of the rape culture that leads to thousands of college women to experience date rape on campuses across the country. Without feminism, none of those things would have happened.
The reason why feminism is “killing off” chivalry is that feminism and chivalry come from two very disparate philosophies: feminism assumes the autonomy and equality of women, while chivalry assumes the frailty and lesser status of women in comparison to men. That’s not to say that politeness towards women by men ought to be encourage, but the motivation of that politeness needs to be examined. If the politeness stems from a sexist assumption about the role of women in society, than it ought to be critiqued. If the politeness is a legitimate expression of kindness, concern and respect for another equal human being, by all means, continue to act in such a way.
If your concern is the kind treatment of women by men, perhaps your efforts are better invested elsewhere. Everywhere in society there is abysmal treatment of women by men. Women are objectified in the media, fraternities in Virginia recently came under fire for allegations of gang rape and women continue to be denied access to basic reproductive rights. I would suggest volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center, educating others on the dangers of rape culture, and petitioning for the rights of women. If you truly care about women, you will be polite to them in addition to these things, but that politeness will come from a true kindness, not a system which stems from the oppression of women.