Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Limits of Chivalry

[Content note: Misogyny; male supremacism]

This week's interactions with self-proclaimed chivalrous man Roger/Hector has prompted me to contemplate, again, chivalry's limits.  These limits, I suspect, are not news to many readers here, but they are notable, still.

Despite having been banned from my blog in August when he was posting as "Hector_St_Clare," Hector created a new identity, "Roger Chillingworth," just so he could comment on my recent post about Mike Huckabee's purported chivalry toward women.

In this conversation, before Hector/Roger's arrival, several readers noted how so-called chivalrous men nonetheless aggressively lash out toward women who do not accept their chivalrous behavior.  To this observation, I add that because it sounds nice and innocuous, perhaps many men, even progressive ones, don't immediately understand how chivalry and benevolent sexism are, in fact, harmful.

I've seen men like Hector/Roger be willing to have genteel conversations and disagreements with other men - their equals - about politics, and even progressive men don't always pick up on, or acknowledge, the condescending tones and assumptions that Chivalry Man is putting out toward women in the conversation. Yet, many women know from lived experience that hell hath no fury like a chivalrous man being rejected, or called out, for his chivalrous behavior.

Chivalry, many women learn, has limits. This week, Hector/Roger fulfilled a helpful purpose in articulating quite well these limits:

Rule # 1 of Chivalry is this. While the chivalrous man will proclaim that he adores women, that he puts them on a pedestal, and that he believes that women as a class should be treated with the utmost love and respect as special creatures, this chivalrous treatment does not actually extend to all women. It extends, we know, only to women who accept their inferior status in relation to the chivalrous man.

First, let's note how Roger/Hector says he treats women:
"See, I have rather higher expectations of how men should treat women than you apparently do, and I hold myself to those high expectations. Which includes treating you as the chivalric code demands."
Ah, but put the chivalrous man in a roomful of feminist women, and the true colors come out, as he barges into a conversation to tell me this about my blog, my writing, my life, and my human dignity, in general:
"I don't mean to be rude, but you're almost a perfect example of the person with nothing useful to say, and who is therefore undeserving of political or civil rights."
The chivalrous man loves nothing more than boasting about how honorably he treats women. Hup, correction. What the chivalrous man loves even more than boasting about his high moral manly code, is tearing women down when they get too uppity for his own liking. (Dating tip: chivalrous men do not like their women confident).

Rule #2. The chivalrous man does not actually love women, not in any true sense of the word.  What the chivalrous man loves about women, as a class, is that women are who he defines himself as in opposition to: namely, as superior than.

He has a lot of anxiety tied up with this love, naturally. Most of all, he fears being compelled, by others or by laws, to have to deal with women as his equals. To interact with women as equals is for him to lose his status, he believes, as a man. It is to lose his god-given (or biology-given, if he's an atheist) right to feel superior than half of humanity.

Too insecure to engage with people on the merits of their ideas and the content of their character as individuals, he uses gender to categorize people into two types of people: those he treats seriously, and those from whom he dismisses and demands subservience.  Roger/Hector explains:
"I have zero interest in treating you as an equal, and my moral values won't allow me to do so. It's thoroughly inappropriate for inferiors to demand to be treated as equals in a conversation with their moral and intellectual superiors. If you have trouble dealing with that, then go ahead and ban me again. Evidently you have no interest in learning anything about obedience , submission and self sacrifice, so this is probably a fools errand."
So fragile, this chivalrous manhood. It's the NFL player boasting about his ultimate toughness as a destroying machine while simultaneously whining that sharing a locker room with a gay teammate will decimate his ability to play football.

Rule #3. The chivalrous man, believing in his own supremacy over women, does not imbue women with the same rights to autonomy with which he imbues himself and, at times, other men.

Being entitled to profound self-centeredness, he believes that women, our bodies, and our wombs, are extensions of himself, his will, his needs, and his rights. Women don't have equal rights, in his worldview, because women don't have value and full humanity in and of ourselves. Women, he thinks, should have rights and protections only insofar as those rights coincide with his own interests.

In responding to Rebecca's Daughter, who noted that she has no interest in being treated with chivalry just because she's a woman, for instance, Roger/Hector noted:
"I must say, Rebecca [sic], that I'm almost completely uninterested in your autonomy or sovereignty."
Despite her clearly articulated will, Roger/Hector notes that he has a quite different manpinion on how Rebecca's Daughter ought to be treated, as a woman, and that these manpinions over-ride her own.

In some ways, I suppose I appreciate a man who lays out the ugly truth of chivalry for all to see.  Illusory superiority combined with complete ignorance of feminism is truly something to behold in a man. And, as I've interacted with Roger/Hector on Internet for more than a year, often not of my own choosing, his beliefs seem somewhat sincerely held, fragile as they also seem.

It's clear that people with these beliefs really, truly exist and that women who are not accomplices in this fraud called "chivalry" do not deserve a place in the society, political order, or world of the chivalrous man. Take note, ladies and ladies who love chivalry.

But, of course, I suspect most women who are "into" male chivalry instinctively or explicitly know all of this, too. Dworkin noted decades ago that it partly explains female complicity: Women don't comply with sexism because they actually believe in male supremacy; they comply because they think it's safer to do that than to be a feminist. In some ways, they're not wrong.

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