I was twelve years old in 1969, but as my experience on the party scene was limited, I still remember it with some clarity. We were in Viet-Nam, landed on the moon, America rocked at Woodstock, and the universities were in a state of chaos that would lead to the Kent State shootings a year later. Draft cards and the occasional city went up in flames. There was also a lot of angry women. They took to the streets with everyone else, demanding their rightful place in the world of men. Rumors were spreading that women were burning their bras, but near as I could tell they just quit wearing them. That left me, as a pubescent boy, a doggedly staunch supporter of women’s liberation. But, I digress. Fast forward four decades and women have made their mark. They are out pacing men in education from first grade to college. Their earnings, despite some questionable stats to the contrary, are generally on par with men for the same work. Women are doing everything from brain surgery to flying warplanes, and by all accounts they’re doing well. It was a staggeringly impressive journey; from victimization to victory in forty years. I doubt the world has ever seen anything like it. Ah, but there is a catch. The halls of power, if seems, are not so hallowed from the inside. Despite the myth, breadwinners don’t win, they just work, often in jobs they hate alongside people they would rather shoot than talk to. And becoming a provider isn’t a ticket to freedom. Approach any number of single mothers that struggle daily to keep their nose above water right next to men and offer up a chorus of “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,” or “I am Woman,” and see how fast they spit in your eye. One is prone to change their definition of power with the weight of the world on their back, especially when they can hear their spine cracking under the pressure. The horrid, buckling sound is quite distinctive. Women are hearing it more and more often as they catch up to men in stress related disease, depression, alcoholism, violence, feeling trapped in the corporate cage and most other not so benign perks of life in the rat race. Does this mean women yearn for life in the fifties, scouring floors and spitting out children? I think not. But there is a growing nostalgia born of the realities of all this ersatz freedom and power. In the past ten years or so it has taken the form of a simple question. Whatever happened to chivalry? The simplistic way to put it is to say that with equality there is no chivalry. Chivalry is a decidedly unequal set of traditions. It extends far past opening doors and offering up seats. By its very nature, chivalry demands that men stand ready to sacrifice life and limb for the protection of women, and often to serve their whims. It was one of those funny little rules that came with patriarchy. And since equality till something goes bump in the night, or until the dinner check arrives is not really equality, it was only a matter of time till the tradition started to falter. Its demise was not intended by men any more than it was foreseen by women. It is just a natural consequence of the new sexual order. So in that strange twist of fate and circumstance, chivalry’s death was pure and simple suicide. As women demanded the death of the patriarchy, and chivalrous men jumped to comply, chivalry began its slow self-strangulation. But if you think it is dead and gone now, just wait. It is still practiced by old school men; namely the same ones that heard women’s demands forty years ago and acceded to all of them they could. Yes, liberation was the demand of feminism, but it was empowered by chivalry, and it will ultimately result in the death of both. Old school men are on their way out. They will take with them the last of patriarchy and chivalry with it. They will be replaced by new school men, or what I like to call the “bitches and ho’s” generation. These are men raised with little or no concept of chivalry, and they have spent the better part of their young lives getting bashed and humiliated for being male. It doesn’t take Carl Jung to figure out where their anger will ultimately be directed. Regardless of social change, women still prefer to put men in the seats of power. A quick study of voter demographics and the sex ratio in government should illustrate this quite nicely. When the “bitches and ho’s” generation is in charge, coupled the emergence of men’s rights organizations and the natural shift in social attitudes, the time for concern will be real and visible. It won’t take the form of a return to old style patriarchy, and reverting back to the exclusion of women from education and the workforce. There’s no squeezing that toothpaste back in the tube, and shouldn’t be. What it will mean is that women will finally be given the equality they demanded so long ago. Which is to say it will be a giant step down. Lop sided federal funding for women’s health issues? Gone. Gender specific monies for things like the V.A.W.A.? History. W.I.C. (women, infants and children) food subsidies? Get ready to see them include men, cutting the money to women. Male only selective service? Thing of the past. Women will be required to register for the draft, and they will find themselves in prison if they don’t comply. Whether or not men open doors and buy drinks won’t be in question, but everything else, all the important stuff, surely will. The list goes on, but the point is that it was chivalry that created that list in the first place. No chivalry, no list. And as the things on that very long list disappear, you will see a lot of outrage, and likely some very vocal recanting of feminist ideals. But it will be to late, and women will be finally and terminally yoked with the pinnacle of masculine traits. Disposability. I take no pleasure in this. And I find no lesson to be learned in it that will do any good. It is just the way things will be, and we have chivalry to thank as much as feminism. Changing the world of women was a noble idea, but it was done with such a lack of foresight and intelligence that it will lead them right into a ditch, with no one there to chivalrously lend a hand out. It’s a pity. All this happened, and will happen, because of one faulty paradigm that for some unknown reason, people still subscribe to. That is the “It’s a man’s world” view of life. That may be true for the top 1%, generously. But that is not the world of the everyday man. The rest of us work like dogs and die young. That anyone ever saw that as power is amazing.
Paul – you do have some interesting ideas. This is another one that I think has a lot of potential.
I’d like to hear more about the “It’s a man’s world” view of life that you touch on at the end. Maybe put that specifically in the beginning, with those words even. I think you’re saying in this essay that “It’s a man’s world” led to chivalry, which led to the attempts to elevate women, which led to a lot of new hassles for women along with the death of chivalry, which is unfortunate because now women are in the ditch with no chivalrous man to haul them out. Is that roughly it?
Starting with your 12 year old self is cute (especially the part about the bras), but it left me expecting to touch base with your older self or selves. It suggests a personal story thread to the essay, but that doesn’t happen. I’d say leave it out. I mean, it’s clear that this is an opinion essay, but making it personal changes it. I hope that makes sense to you. It does to me, but I’m getting sleepy, so not sure how well I’m expressing myself.
The essay rambles a bit in terms of tense and point of view and style. It could also be tighter, meaning beginning, middle, end, with a purposeful arc, ending with a bang.
Hope this makes some sense and has some use for you. Thanks for sharing!