My brother and I walked to my mom’s job one day after school. “Tay, move to the other side of me,” he said sternly. “Why?” I retorted like any 11-year-old would when her older sibling gives a command. “Because,” he began, moving me to the other side, “You can’t be on the side closest to the street. If a car loses control and runs up on the sidewalk, you would get hurt. So you always walk on this side of me. Just in case something happens I get hit first, not you.” My face went blank. What a hero! He would sacrifice his life to save mine. What a great brother!
Instantly, my expectations for boys who claimed to be interested in me changed. I wanted them to treat me like a “lady”: open doors, pull out seats, pay for meals … and walk on the right side of the sidewalk. Before I graduated from high school, my friends and I sang chivalry like the Blues, murdering the idea then resurrecting it again and again. Some would say: “Chivalry is dead.” Others would reply: “Chivalry is alive and well.” None of us knew the status of chivalry, but everyone either longed for it or cherished it.
Something happened in my transition from girl to woman at the women-only college that I attended. Chivalry did not make sense. We learned to deconstruct and challenge gender roles. Chivalry didn’t exist for me anymore. It took on a simpler name: kindness. Whoever got to the door first, opened it. Whoever wanted to pull out a chair for a friend or partner, did it.
Chivalry lost its high-school appeal and started to feel funny on my tongue. I paid for my meal on a first date—shocking my friends. I explained that I didn’t need to see evidence of financial security on a first date. We would remain friends until further notice, so why not pay as friends would? People responded with words like “rude” and “silly.” Why deny myself a free meal—an act of kindness? I promised that I would let the next guy pay for the first meal.
After I graduated and went back into a co-ed world, I understood why the idea of chivalry bothered me. Gentlemen opened doors for me and insisted that I walk ahead of them and get first dibs on almost everything. High school Tayllor would be overjoyed! Grown-up Tayllor was not amused. She was annoyed.
It did not matter if I got to the door first and opened it, the male would make room for me to go before he went because I was the woman. Where can a woman find agency in chivalry? Me waiting on men to open doors, pull out chairs, and make way for me only reminds me of an era of submission. Liberation and chivalry don’t seem to mix. Waiting on a man to open a door does not empower me. A man who leaves that to whoever gets to the door first impresses me. I expect the person who invited someone else out to dinner to pick up the check. I want kindness to be gender neutral … not gender specific. Why hold onto chivalry based on gender roles that reinforce patriarchy?
What do other women think? Is chivalry dead? Alive? In ICU? Or is it just awaiting a modern name?
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Tayllor Johnson currently resides in New York City where she has begun her journey into Poet. Passion. Period. In between those learning moments, she sometimes has just enough time to jot a few lines...