There are some topics for which controversy is entirely expected and perhaps even suitable due to their very nature. Abortion is one, and this makes sense when one reflects on the fact that a human life is arguably at stake. Universal health care is another in that it forces us to question the limits of government authority and responsibility. One topic that is absolutely undeserving of any controversy whatsoever in the 21st century is the value of chivalry, however. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either benighted, sexist, or both.
This brings me to a discussion I had on Facebook earlier this week.
Lawrence Adjah, a Facebook friend, was riding a Bay Area commuter train and noticed that there were women standing while male passengers sat. This grated against his sensibilities and as a man of action, he set about campaigning to get every last standing woman on that train a seat…which he did. Excited about the fruit of his efforts, he posted a picture of the results on everyone’s favorite social network.
The electronic ticker-tape parade began in earnest. Accolades from his female friends poured in, and one woman even invited him to come to Boston to “do work.” Well, I couldn’t take it. So I didn’t.
I posted a forceful reply, and although I used highly informal language since I was talking to a group of peers, my point was substantive. The next thing I knew, I was engulfed in a 24-hour, emotionally charged conversation with Lawrence, one other man (who sided with me), and several women (who definitely did not). Although things got pretty heated, I’m used to such scraps, so I walked away no worse for wear…until I saw that my comments had been utterly misconstrued and decontextualized on the Huffington Post.
It turns out that one of the many chivalry-loving women who had seen Lawrence’s post was Ms. Nancy Redd. As a writer and host for HuffPost, I suppose that this little skirmish in the Battle of the Sexes was too good for her to pass up. I mean, you’ve got Sir Lawrence, the White Knight in Shining Armor, multiple damsels in commuter distress, and even a readymade villain, yours truly. This is the stuff of which romantic reactionary dreams are made!
Nancy (and I call her by her first name because, believe it or not, I know this woman personally) proceeded to take isolated statements that I made and present them as fully independent thoughts, without including my milder supporting comments or the often insulting words of those who I’ll dub The Defenders of Feminine Virtue. For example, one woman implied that my comrade-in-arms and I were “diva dudes” who thought that we were too good for women, and another suggested that our beliefs were the result of (drumroll, please) our mothers’ failures. None of these women’s comments made it into Nancy’s piece…yet all of my Black English did. But who can blame her? Nothing says inarticulate and therefore worthless like Black English, right?
What bothered me most about Nancy’s post however, was not her tactless attempt to paint me as a buffoon. Instead, my real anger stemmed from the fact that she reduced my sentiments to “negativity and hate,” when at their core they were actually about equity. Notice that I wrote equity, as in fairness. Women and men are not the same (a truth that is often wonderful), but our differences do not necessitate a return to the bad old days of sexist claptrap like men walking on the outside of the sidewalk, arbitrarily giving up their seats, or I don’t know…keeping women shut in at home.
Be not deceived. The idea that chivalry’s origins lie in the chauvinistic past are incontrovertible. I’ve discussed this idea before, so I won’t beat a dead horse, but suffice it to say that men treating women as if they are childish dependents, mental dwarves, or hapless semi-invalids is a very bad thing…for us all. The gender-based niceties that many enjoy so much are the beguiling flowers of a sinister tree with pernicious roots. Until these vestiges of societally supported sexism are purged, women will remain just shy of being men’s recognized equals. As Gloria Steinem said, “A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space.”
Ladies, I invite you to hop off of that pedestal prison and stand up for what’s right. You’ll find plenty of good men ready to stand proudly right alongside you.