According to the Cambridge dictionary, chivalry is a “system of behaviour followed by knights in the medieval period of history, that put a high value on honour, kindness, and courage”. In simple terms, according to the feudal order of life in 12th century Europe, chivalry was an informal social norm which meant good knightly behaviour, intended for men, who were knights and were, therefore, encouraged to show mercy to those who were beneath them. It was also expected that they would protect the weak with qualities of honour, valour, and justice.
Gradually, the meaning of chivalry changed over centuries and the 21st-century connotation of chivalry is quite different from what it was during medieval times. In fact, there has been a complete erosion of the chivalric code, and now it is simply interpreted to mean courtesy shown towards women by a man. However, at this juncture, it’s interesting to note that many people now equate it to an obligation from the man’s side which extends to paying the bill, opening the door and it’s quite surprising how a code of behavior has transformed into a battle between the sexes in the 21st century, which encourages the question: In a modern-world society that demands equality, where does the idea of chivalry fit?
At this point, it would be pertinent to point out the difference between chivalry and feminism. Chivalry demands that maltreatment of women be crushed, whereas feminism calls for equal rights between women and men, by which logic, both feminism, and chivalry mean the same thing: Respect. However, some people are not truly comfortable with chivalrous gestures as they believe that it’s not the same as respect. So, does that mean that chivalry is at odds with feminism?
The feminist movement began when women started advocating that certain basic rights, like voting, should be given to them. Gradually, the movement expanded to include rights like equal pay, respect, and freedom to make decisions. This was not an easy journey as women were speaking after years of oppression, and were finally able to do things for themselves, which brought an immense sense of accomplishment. In such a scenario, there were some people who find themselves often juxtaposed against the idea of chivalry, which warrants the question: How does chivalry fit into a feminist world? Feminism that demands equal opportunity and rights to all promotes the idea of women taking charge and being the ones to do things rather than receiving them. So, if a woman offers to pay the bill or open the door for you, don’t be intimidated. And certainly, don’t think that just because she has decided to chaperone you on a date, it’s a threat to your manhood. Chivalry at its core means being courteous and kind and that one should be chivalrous, irrespective of their gender!
Women have always been considered the weaker sex. In such a scenario, if chivalry means offering to open the door for a woman, it might not fit here. In fact, it would be better if instead of offering a door, one stands up to bullies who threaten women or offer a safe ride home after a date, without any expectations. Chivalry can be redefined through the display of camaraderie and support. And in case you still want to carry out the small gestures, do it because you want to make a woman feel special, appreciated, and adored. Every human likes it when they’re made to feel remarkable, irrespective of gender.