25 August 2011


"You think you gotta keep me iced
You don't
You think I'm gonna spend your cash
I won't
Even if you were broke
My love don't cost a thing
Think I wanna drive your Benz
I don't
If I wanna floss I got my own
Even if you were broke
My love don't cost a thing."
-Jennifer Lopez

Erin: The age old question – is chivalry dead? – is one that plagues women of all stations in life. Jess and I were talking about equality in a relationship and it turned into a segue into the concept of chivalry and what it really means to modern women.

Jess: We’ve both had experiences in our lives where chivalry was only a ruse for an attempt to be controlled. If they had the money, if they paid, then we gave up our rights to make the decisions. And, then of course – we were inevitably reminded of how we owed them for everything. Not necessarily a tally of the exact monetary figures but just that we were figuratively indebted to the one who paid our way.

Erin: So, what happens when a woman who has been conditioned that she should be 100% equal and self-sufficient finds herself in a relationship where the chivalry is sincere? Where being paid for, having her doors opened for her, having chairs pulled out for her and all of the things that, to her equate to inequality, are actually an innate male desire to show that he cares?

It is my experience that the most uncomfortable of all chivalrous deeds is being paid for. To me, it’s the consummate gesture of independence or lack thereof, being able to pay not only for you but also for others. I was raised by a single mom for a few years and she taught me that you always had to be able to “stand on your own two feet”. Now, being a single mom myself, nothing rings truer to me.

True, it is inevitable that there will be inequalities in a relationship. Someone will probably be taller, someone will be more athletic, someone may be shy while the other is outgoing, and, quite often, someone makes more money. And, usually, in my case, I am not that person. While I never quite feel that I am in competition with someone to produce a bigger paycheck, I do feel like the discrepancy (if there is one) shouldn’t be too vast.

But, sometimes it is. What do you do then? Do you end the relationship or just, well, get over it?

Jess: I've was also raised by a single mom for a while, and I got a similar message (though it was never an intentional one.) I never wanted to rely on anyone else, because what would happen when he was gone?

That said, entering a relationship where the man is rather "old fashioned" (in the sense that I don't open a door or pay for anything) was rather shocking, and I totally resisted it at first. "I can open my door, you know!" "Let me pay for the movie!" Every time, I got the same answer.

"I know you can, but that's not the point. That's not how I was raised, and my great grandmother is watching from above. She'll know if I don't."

I kind of got it, but I didn't really. I understood what he was saying, intellectually, but I didn't get it emotionally. I didn't understand what it meant to him to do those things for me. I still took this....protectiveness, for lack of a better word....as some kind of personal attack on my ability to function as a woman and as an adult.

Not anymore, though. What changed? Well, two things happened at nearly the same time that helped me to get it. One involved a book. (What else would you expect from an English teacher?)

Recently, I read A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, at my father's recommendation. He was right; I love it. The main character, Diana Bishop, has a lot in common with me, including her resistance to the chivalrous actions of the male protagonist, Matthew Clairmont. Early in the story, for example, he opens her car door, and she complains, saying she is capable of doing it. He wonders if all of modern women's insistence on opening their own doors is a way for them to show their "physical power." Diana responds with, "No, but it is a sign of our independence." This is absolutely something that would have come out of my own mouth, and it probably did early in this relationship.

In this novel, Matthew is entirely protective of Diana, and he worries about her being injured, wanting to protect her from any pain or hurt. I have been having a lot of wrist problems, which is probably carpel tunnel, and at the same time I was reading this, I got a text asking how my wrists felt. They hurt, and I said so. The text I received back said, ""I do not like it when you are hurt." There was a clear undercurrent of seething anger that my wrists were hurting, and I could tell he was frustrated that he could not make it go away. I was surprised that he had a lot of similarity to Matthew in the novel, just as I see myself in Diana.

About halfway through the book, the two are going horseback riding, and, with a quick temper, Diana tells Matthew that she can get onto a horse herself, to which Matthew replies, "but you don't need to." It was then that I truly emotionally understood what I had been told this whole time. I can do everything on my own, and he is fully aware that I can. But I don't need to. There is nothing wrong with having someone open your doors, or pay for you, or want to protect you when it is out of sheer concern. It is his way of showing that he loves me; he doesn't want to have power over me, and he certainly sees me as his equal. His chivalry and protectiveness is just his way of saying that he is here to support me, because he loves me, in the same way that I would bake for him or sew him pants to show him that I care.

Now that I get it, I totally love every minute of it :)

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