Last week, I wrote a piece on why unchecked chivalry should be dead. I’ll spare you a re-hash of my points in that post, but essentially, I asserted that an agent of a chivalrous act should consider the agency of the individual receiving that action. While some men assume that chivalry is an archaic, albeit appealing method of getting in a woman’s pants, I contend that this is not chivalry; it’s putting lipstick on piggish objectification. This is particularly prevalent among instances where a man will impose his “chivalry” on a woman who does not wish to receive it: forcing your will on someone is the equivalent of disregarding her agency in favor of pursuing your own wishes.
I posted the article on my personal social media pages, and one of my peers left the following responses to my argument: “So you believe that the guy holding the door for you, forcefully though it might have been, was intolerant of your sovereignty and beliefs? Are you not also intolerant for becoming offended from his views?”
My response was as follows: “If the guy holding the door open for me is doing it out of goodwill, then I’m fine with it. If a guy is doing the gesture just to get in my pants, then yes, I’m completely fine with being intolerant of his piggish objectification. This is why the article targets *unchecked* chivalry–as specified in the title.”
I realize that this response is a bit too simplistic; however, given my two-second-attention-span-on-social-media-disorder, I’ll look past it. However, I think this woman’s sentiment is one that’s often tossed around among those that are perhaps at odds with feminism—“if equality is what you want, then why isn’t this an instance of tit-for-tat?” they ask. So, why isn’t it an eye for an eye? If I’m vehemently refusing the man’s display of oppression, does that not in turn make me an oppressor?
Well, the answer lies in the nature of patriarchal oppression. Per Open Source Leadership, “only the dominant group can be oppressive (i.e., racist, classist, sexist, etc.) because only the dominant group has the power. Oppression is the losing end of privilege (Allen Johnson).” So, my “intolerance” of a man’s display of oppression is not my indulging in oppression as well; since he is in the position of dominance, only he can be truly capable of oppression. He is the one with the (socially contrived) “power.” Power and prejudice together yield oppression; therefore, a member of a marginalized group may display prejudice, but without power, he or she cannot be an oppressor.
To put this in practical context: I am not a hypocrite for refusing a man’s forceful “gesture.” I am not an intolerant oppressor, because in our society’s patriarchal binary way of thinking, as a woman, I am not the default. The men in society are the default, to which women are the complementary “other.” Therefore, in this instance, what’s good for the goose is not also good for the gander, because we are operating from different platforms (thanks, patriarchy!). I am not a hindrance to the feminist goal of equality by fighting oppression; indeed, I am a catalyst for the movement. So I fight, and will continue to fight, for my agency, and the agency of all women. And it starts by fighting the sort of oppression that patriarchal semantics cloak in such eloquent terms as “