Can chivalry and feminism coexist? Or: hold the door, please.

We’re so polarized these days, and not just about politics. Beyond the more serious social issues around race and entitlement, we’re also having what I think are ridiculous conversations about feminism versus chivalry.

Should men hold open the door for the woman? Is that a sign of respect? Is it a sign of chauvinism?

Do we split the restaurant bill, or does one treat the other?

Dinner Date
Photo by Scott Snyder

He works, she works. They are equals. But are we actually defining equality here? Is it cheap to assume that everything should be split down the middle?

I think a lot of men, particularly those aged 50-plus, want to be “gentlemen.” Many like to hold open the door, walk on the side of traffic, and pour the wine.

These men were once ultra-confident (maybe even arrogant) and didn’t think twice about how to behave. They weren’t self-conscious about their manners, or being careful about every word for fear of offending.

But today’s social narrative around feminism versus chivalry leaves these guys confused, afraid maybe. They are worried about being too much of one thing, or not enough of another. In the desire to behave correctly, they have lost their spontaneity and charm. Their personalities are dwarfed by a sense of what is or isn’t “correct.” 

I think these men are confused. They are making a naïve assumption: that chivalry and feminism are mutually exclusive.

They are not. In fact, I think it’s refreshing to meet men – professionally or socially – who understand that being a gentleman is far more than simply not being a dick. That a man can be chivalrous and respect a woman’s equal standing, both in the workplace and while on a date.

This gets me to my next point: It is highly irritating to date a guy who is afraid to be a gentleman. 

Guys, get over yourself. Stop being so leery of strong, independent, capable women. Their strength does not make you less of a man, just as yours does not make us lesser women.

In case you are a guy and don’t know how to behave around women, here are five pretty basic tips that someone should have taught you a long time ago:

  1. He or she who initiates the date should pay for it. Or agree to split the bill. Or agree to take turns. Whatever you do, don’t make this an issue.
  2. Payment for the date does not mean consent for anything else. You know that.
  3. Hold open the damn door. It’s a sign of courtesy. Open the door for women, men, children, and pets, and don’t be surprised if they (except maybe the pets) do the same.
  4. Ask yourself if you believe in human rights. If the answer is “yes,” guess what? You are a feminist. You can be chivalrous as well. 
  5. Above all, be confident in your behavior. Remember how you were, pre-divorce or pre-widower status, and go back to that. We’ll both like each other more when we are confident adults.

Personal anecdote: I once dated a guy who insisted on splitting every bill down the middle. I mean every bill – without exception. He said if I wanted “true” equality I should pay for half of everything.

This was a fiscally sound decision on his part (we went out a lot). Eventually, though, I realized that he was just cheap. The talk about equality made him feel clever and a little less cheap. His attitude took out so much of the romance that the relationship fizzled.

Extra tip: Gentlemen, don’t be cheap in the name of equality. Be cheap because you’re cheap, not because you think you’re being clever.