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Does Feminism Mean an End to Chivalry?

3 min read

by Saheli Kothari

I would say that most of the people in my life would call me a feminist.  While that holds several connotations, a feminist is someone who believes in equality between men and women. You may be surprised to know, I think my feminism stems from my Indian heritage and background.

Growing up as Indian girls, most of us are, at some point or another, told to learn to take on the responsibilities of the household.  It could be in overt ways, with parents saying, “How will you find a husband if you don’t know how to cook,” or in more subtle ways, “Beta, that dessert you made was so tasty, why don’t you try cooking more food?”  Either way, it is instilled in us that it is our job to handle the upkeep of the house. For most of my life, I fought these standards.

Often times, aunties and uncles forget to ask how our studies are going and what our future dreams consist of. These questions are perpetuated by years of economic-constraints, long family traditions and society at large. Because of the strong conservative view our culture has on specific gender roles, I have to constantly counter these beliefs; thus, I go on diatribes about equality, shy away from kitchen duties and make a statement every time I do some sort of household chore. More so, I am usually a pain in the ass to have around the house.

When it comes to relationships and marriages, I strongly believe men and women should have equal roles—be it cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children, etc.

Being a strong independent woman is ingrained in me, but I have a small problem and it may come off as hypocritical. While I have a number of feminist values, I still enjoy chivalry. BLAH!

It is probably one of the most frustrating things, because I feel like I am enjoying something that I shouldn’t be allowed to.

So what if I like to have a man offer to carry my heavy load? Some may argue that men are generally physically stronger so it is more practical for them to carry our bags. I think it is a thoughtful gesture when a guy opens the door for me, which requires no brute strength (unless, it is windy, I guess).

This puts me in an interesting bind, one I am sure many women find themselves in. Don’t act like you didn’t feel relieved when that nice man carried your suitcase up the long staircase at the station while you were traveling in heels on a business trip?

I want to be a feminist and seek equality, but how can I do that if I expect a man to pay for dinner (especially on the first date), open my side of the car door or let me out of the elevator first?

As a friend of mine would say, I feel this way “because I have lady parts.”

I suppose the question is: can I truly be a feminist if I enjoy chivalry and want it to continuously be a part of my life?

Every part of me wants to say, “yes, of course I am a feminist.” I mean, I have been my whole life, even when the term wasn’t as popular as it is today. It’s so popular even Indian-American comedian and actor Aziz Ansari recently spoke about being a feminist on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Ansari said, “You’re a feminist if you go to a Jay-Z and Beyoncé concert and you’re not like, ‘I feel like Beyoncé should get 23 percent less money than Jay-Z.”

I too support the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai‘s fight for the right to education and Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone‘s Twitter-battle against the Times of India’s obsession with showing off her cleavage. I also support Parineeti Chopra‘s recent plea to teach men about women’s menstrual health.

Yet, there is this stupid, tiny, righteous part of me that screams hypocrisy in liking chivalry.

At the very core of it, chivalry is placing certain expectations on men that are not applicable to women; thus creating inequality and negating my definition of feminism.

Having said that, I find myself stuck and stubborn, unwilling to let either of them go. Quite frankly, I would like to have my cake and eat it too.

At first, I was fine with my state of hypocrisy. Then after much contemplation, I decided I was ready to stop calling myself a feminist, because I like chivalry too. But when most of my views match those of a feminist, (i.e. equal pay, reproductive rights, disregard for gender-specific roles) I refuse to relinquish the title of a feminist.

I guess the point of writing this piece is not to argue whether or not I am a feminist, but rather to shed light on a society that battles the notion of feminism v. chivalry. I know I fall somewhere on the spectrum of feminism, just not sure exactly where.

Do we surrender our pickets in front of bigots, our right to vote and give-in to every gender specific role to keep chivalry? Or can men continue to do nice things for strong, independent women, who want to have it all; and yes, that means: have our cake and eat it too.

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