Put down the crack pipe, Emily Esfahani-Smith.
This is the shit that makes real feminists cry, the ones who believe and cling to feminism’s promise of working for gender equality, the only real basis for real empowerment of women. This article in the Atlantic by Emily Esfahani-Smith is a hot mess of retrograde women’s advocacy on the backs of men, and it does women no favors either. Basically she wants to return to a state of affairs where men looked out for and protected women and laments the passing of that system.
Esfahani-Smith’s formulation really does make feminism into nothing more than one-sided, special-pleading, gender-bigoted plea for pity for one gender at the expense of another. It’s just plain-old male disposability in a gentle, entreating tone of voice. This is how all blood suckers approach their victims. I imagine she sees this as justified because men hold all the power and this is just a re-balancing, the way a beggar is entitled to plead and beg and humiliate himself on the street as a gesture of cosmic justice. How about a gender system where women are as chivalrous to men and men as Esfahani-Smith wants men to be to women?
She starts out:
“This contrast is indicative of a larger trend—the decline of chivalry and the rise of boorish behavior among men. According to a 2010 Harris poll, 80 percent of Americans say that women are treated with less chivalry today than in the past. This is a problem that all women—especially feminists—should push back against. “
This larger trend is indicative of a parallel with a decline in chivalrous behavior among women – a decline in both ladylike behavior and a societal expectation of ladylike behavior expressed in societal condemnation of unladylike behavior. It parallels nearly a hundred years now of celebrating women’s increasingly boorish behavior – some of it a very good development indeed.
Oh, and boorish by whose standards? Women’s? Esfahani-Smith can go sit and twirl on her gynonormativity.
“Historically, the chivalry ideal and the practices that it gave rise to were never about putting women down, as Connelly and other feminists argue. Chivalry, as a social idea, was about respecting and aggrandizing women, and recognizing that their attention was worth seeking, competing for, and holding. If there is a victim of “benevolent sexism,” it is not the career-oriented single college-aged feminist.
Rather, it is unconstrained masculinity. “
“Unconstrained masculinity”? First off, any masculinity that centers around women is not real masculinity. If it takes a woman to make you a man, you’re not much of a man. Women do not and should not have that power over man, and that is Esfahani-Smith is advocating.
Secondly, and this is the historical background to chivalry; chivalry was primarily a code of fair play between warriors on the battlefield. This is where it resembles Bushido. Where it diverges from Bushido is a pagan pedestalization of the feminine in the Celtic West. This had nothing to do with protecting women as weak and needing protection, this had to do with deference to women of the nobility. Noble women, ladies – and by the way, only ladies benefited from the protections of chivalry; the whole culture was classist at its very foundation – had the status of druids and the whole academic class of poets, lawyers and musicians in pagan Celtic societies. Druids and their class were far from powerless. They could kill with a word and the literature reflects this.
So no indeed, chivalry and its practices “were never about putting women down, as Connelly and other feminists argue”, they were about elevating women in value above men and obligating men to sacrifice, sometimes their very lives, for women. And that, not the supposed harms to women, are what makes chivalry unacceptable. It benefits women at the expense of men.
“Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes, she explains. Given that most men are physically stronger than most women, men can overpower women at any time to get what they want”
This is the burka mentality in two sentences. Enough said on how this is not a good thing for women or more to the point, for men.
It is also simply wrong on the facts. The actual fundamental reality is that women like other humans are perfectly capable of using weapons that neutralize the size and strength differences between humans and mammoths and that the species has had these weapons for tens of thousands of years. The actual fundamental reality is that women quite often attack men with weapons, sometimes lying in wait until they are asleep. Another fundamental reality is that western societies at least have very strong cultural sanctions on male violence against females with very little countervailing sanction on female violence against men. So no, Esfahani-Smith is quite wrong on what the fundamental realities really are.
“Some women are trying to bring back chivalry. Since 2009, for instance, a group of women at Arizona State University have devoted themselves to resuscitating gentlemanly behavior and chivalry on a campus whose social life is overwhelmingly defined by partying, frat life, and casual sex.”
Not a word about resuscitating ladylike behavior. Not. One. Word. And also not one word about women taking part in the deepr part of chivalry, risking their lives for others.
“The event has spread to campuses nationwide. Its goal is “to encourage mutual respect between the sexes,” Karin Agness tells me in an interview. Agness is the founder and president of the Network of Enlightened Women, the organization that hosts Gentlemen’s Showcases at colleges each spring.
“The current framework is not generating healthy relationships,” Blayne Bennett, the organizer of ASU’s first Gentlemen’s Showcase, has said. “I believe that chivalry provides the positive framework to maximize the overall happiness of men and women.”
Women, she said, “want to be treated like ladies.”
Well, so what? What possible difference does it make that women want this or that? Of course women’s wants and wishes matter, but the question is, why do they matter to men, and why should men sacrifice themselves to conform to them any more than women should pretzel themselves to meet men’s expectations?
More wrong from her:
“Chivalry is about respect. It is about not harming or hurting others”
It is about respect only when it between equals, such as warriors on the field. Otherwise it is about deference, and screw that, deference that turns into contemptuous caretaking sooner or later, as the protectors get stronger and the protected get weaker. Protection and the need for it is at the heart of the feudal relation between a serf and his lord.
Respect between equals – and by the way, that extended to noble women in Celtic societies. Celtic women fought alongside their men, and it scared the shit out of the Roman soldiers facing them. Fifteen hundred years of cultural corrosion due to the creeping, seeping effects of Latin culture have completely undermined and eroded that basis for chivalry towards women, but this is how it used to be.
And as for harm to others, it seems quite harmful enough when chivalry is imposed as an expectation of others. It leads to this kind of indefensible harm to others.
Then there is the whole subject of what’s wrong with the general stereotyping chivalry rests on in the first place. Oliver Burkeman spoke to this issue in today’s Guardian. Basically he points out that even positive stereotypes are bad because people who stereotype positively are also likelier to stereotype negatively, in other words, stereotyping is itself always problematic.
She winds this all up with this celebration of male disposability:
“Through a tragic event that occurred last summer, our nation was jolted into recognizing chivalry’s enduring power. During a screening of the Dark Knight, a deranged gunman opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado, theater, murdering twelve innocent people. Three men, all in their twenties, were in the audience that day with their girlfriends. When the shots rang out across the theater, these men threw themselves over their girlfriends, saving the women’s lives. All three of the men died.
At the time, Hanna Rosin noted that what these men did was “deeper” than chivalry. It was heroic. I agree. But heroism and chivalry share a basic feature in common—the recognition, a transcendent one, that there is something greater than the self worth protecting, and that there is something greater than the self worth sacrificing your own needs, desires, and even life for.”
EDITED: (Clarence has persuaded me to reformulate this next couple of paragraphs.)
This is some very familiar old shit. “Heroic” it cetrtainly was, as was the one woman’s conduct that day. But this is just the same old shit really. This is White Feather coercion on a societal scale. That is the problem, and Esfahani-Smith is advocating for that.
However, “heroic” or not, this was irresponsible and therefore selfish behavior if these young people had prior and more valid obligations they placed at risk by their behavior. That probably never went through their minds in the split second when they realized what was happening and took action, but in other settings those are exactly the reactions and missteps that get second-guessed and scrutinized after the fact, so no, that doesn’t let them off the hook. Did these men have no family obligations, obligations to actual family members which should by any decent standard come first before they risk their ability to fulfill those responsibilities? Their behavior “heroic” or not, it was romantic and therefore selfish and irresponsible. But then, that’s what chivalry is after all – romanticism.
My second objection is that not once in this article does Esfahani-Smith mention how women should be acting in a chivalrous way towards men. She praises men risking their lives for women, but never women risking their lives for men – and this does happen.
And it should happen more, not only because men need it, but because women need it. Why is selfless service to be restricted to men? And this whole article is especially ironic because Esfahani-Smith links her remarks to feminism. What part of “feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings” doe she not understand? Apparently all of it.
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