“Chivalry is dead.”
That phrase has reverberated through our society in response to the increasingly powerful feminist movements decrying the inappropriate efforts of men to establish dominance over women through “proper” displays of politeness and good breeding. Old standards of opening and holding doors open for women, and standing between them and the road on sidewalks just aren’t the way to many a modern woman’s heart. Yet, at the same time chivalry continues to find its way into the spotlight of the center of cultural discussion: the internet. Just a year ago Thought Catalog released a list of 23 Acts of Chivalry That Men Need to Bring Back. The people want to know, is chivalry compatible with feminism?
Can you follow old school rules for how to treat women while still not coming across as sexist?
The essence of chivalry, other than the rules about how to be a good knight when you’re fighting in the muck and dirt of the Middle Ages, is the rules for the treatment of people, particularly women, with respect. Considering the vast amounts of women who have experienced sexual harassment (yes, I’m talking about the #yesallwomen movement), to me chivalry isn’t a completely ridiculous concept. It’s clear we haven’t learned how to teach our young men as a whole to treat women with respect, so maybe some rules wouldn’t be a bad idea.
But chivalry as a term is just not going to work. Its connotation brings up images of knights rescuing damsels in distress and white men from the 1950s opening doors for women they refer to as “darling” rather than their name. So, instead of describing someone as chivalrous, we should, from now on, describe them as gentlebros; gentlemen that have an awareness of how to be as kind and respectful to men and women alike, while still fit into modernity and bro-ness.
Gentlebros are gods among men. They think consent is sexy, they are top of their fantasy league, they are active bystanders when someone is in need of aid, they pulled off Frat while still respecting a woman’s right to accept a drink at a bar and not want to sleep with them. They do all of these things (okay, maybe not the fantasy thing, but it’s always good to shoot for the moon) and most importantly, if they make a mistake, they can say that they are sorry.
Macklemore gave a really interesting interview on the subject of white appropriation of hip hop, and one of the most important takeaways was that he explained that by speaking up about racial issues, he was going to make a mistake. In the same line, men, you are going to fuck up. I’m sorry. But it’s true. But as a gentlebro, you’ll be able to listen to the woman (or man) whom you have upset, and then say, “I’m sorry. I’ll do better.” Being able to say you are sorry is a critical component of being respectful. By admitting fault, you’re respecting the right for that other person to feel a certain way, and that, more than anything, is what modern chivalry can, and should be all about.
Everyone has the right to express him or herself, and it’s our responsibility, especially you, gentlebros of the world, to set the example for what respect really looks like in 2015.