Men taking that extra step to protect the women in their lives. It’s all out of respect, nothing to do with power or dominance. Women love it, it makes them feel safe and cherished. Men love it, it makes them feel strong and useful. It’s harmless and makes people feel good, so what’s the harm?
That’s how that’s how the story goes, but in practice that’s not how it actually works. There is a power transfer but it’s invisible and insidious. Women used to be practically owned by men, and still are in much of the world. And they have been in almost every ‘civilized’ society for millenia(notably not hunter gatherer societies, therefore probably not for the majority of human history). That’s not just some coincidence though. It happens because of the physical power differences between men and women. And it’s not just terrible violent men enforcing their will upon women. The vast majority of men throughout that history weren’t abusive power-hungry bastards. Men are, in general, pretty wonderful. Kind, caring, generous, and loving to women.
In a large society, where you don’t grow up around everyone you’ll ever know, women end up needing protection from the men in their lives. Protection from other men(because not all men are wonderful). And that protection ends up being a chain. Good men who love the women in their lives end up starting to dictate what those women can and can’t do. “For their own protection”, men restrict the freedoms, the essential liberty, of women. In small ways at first, but it grows, and gets cemented into cultural norms. Women, meanwhile, knowing they need those men for protection, find themselves in the position where they must appease those men. Stay on their good side, by serving them. The relationship changes from a union of equals to a master/servant relationship.
And of course there are always the women who fail to do what is expected of women. The sluts, the uptight, the defiant. Those women find themselves stripped of protection, and at the mercy of any man. That’s why slut has always been so much more than just an insult. If it sticks, the woman becomes communal sexual property of every man in the community. Something to appease the appetites of men who might want more than just their wife in bed.
A lot of this is still around. Happily, we’ve managed to change things some. Women are no longer directly beholden to individual men for their protection. Rape is a crime, even if the woman is a ‘slut’, though all too often that fact is still used against her in court. But a lot of all this still remains.
And chivalry is a vestige of all that. Best that it just die.
Article by Nyah Wynne