Thursday, November 6, 2014

Chivalry and Feminism

We live in an exciting time where gender roles are being continually questioned and rewritten as more equal. We're continuing to figure out what it looks like when women work, when women do science, and when childcare and housework are no longer 100% mommy's job.

There are more than a few rough patches. The societal ones, like equal wages and women being perceived positively for being equally assertive, will take a longer time. We'll have to keep chipping away to make change. But others are more personal and immediate: the chivalry-related questions.

Who opens the door for whom? Who asks whom on a date? Who pays the check for dinner?

On the one hand, some women expect men to continue opening the door for them. Other women get offended by this gesture, feeling it implies inequality. Similarly, some men have no problem being asked out by a women. Others are offended, as if their manliness comes into question when those roles get reversed. What's a person to do?

More and more people are reverting to a new rule of thumb: whoever gets there first holds the door. Whoever asks for the date pays for the date. In other words, if you're the person initiating, you're responsible.

This allows ladies to walk a bit slower as they approach the door if they want the man to hold it open for them, or get there first if they want to show that real women can open doors. Dating couples no longer have to sweat over the check and have an awkward conversation; the date-asker pays by default. If a woman wants, she can take responsibility for the date (and the check) by doing the asking. If a man isn't okay with that, he needs to hurry up and ask her out first.

It wasn't the straight population who came up with these rules. Where else are gender roles most in question than when both partners are the same gender? The LGBTQ dating scene had to establish door-holding, date-asking, and check-paying in the absence of the hard and fast patriarchal rules that had guided male-female relationships since the 20s.

Their model is now spilling into the heterosexual dating arena as we rework gender roles and are left scrambling for new models of who does what.

While it makes sense that same-sex roles would help us disentangle touchy gender issues, there's a bit of dramatic irony to it as well. A number of ancient cultures, from Egypt to parts of Greece, took issue with homosexuality on the basis of their patriarchal gender roles. Hebrew Rabbis wrote that men shouldn't act like women (which apparently one man must do in gay relationships). The Greeks went more explicit and said it's improper for a man to be on the bottom during sex: that was the woman's sexual position.

Nowadays we don't have a problem with "men acting like women" and vice versa. It's no longer unmanly to love your kids, change their diapers, and do your own laundry once in awhile. Neither do we care when women wear pants, win the Nobel Prize in one of the sciences, or take an active role in their sex life.

We understand that gender is more than the roles created by society. Every culture understands gender, but everyone's expectations of it are different, and we've realized at long last that you don't have to meet a stereotype to be male or female.*

I'm curious to see what other gender roles will get torn down, with the help of both cishet and LGBTQ communities. Maybe one day we'll get wage equality and figure out the proper way to do maternity and paternity leaves. Who knows? I'm just excited to have the freedom to be a woman and decide for myself what that looks like.

Word count: 634.

* I would add intersex and genderqueer to that list, but neither of those really has a problem of outdated gender roles associated with them.