I am a feminist. I am. I am so grateful to my sisters that fought for those basic fundamental rights that fall on deaf ears amongst the feelingly entitled. I am horrified that women continue to be subjugated by the savagery of patriarchal – “androcentric” – modes of being (e.g. women are still systematically raped, physically assaulted, often considered even more lowly that nonhuman animals, trafficked, and more). No woman should ever find her sense of worth determined by the sensibilities of men, vile or otherwise. Obviously we all stand united in abhorrent protest against those vile acts of denigration and harm. But even noble men of the patriarch who esteem the worth of women to be credible leave her without voice. She is still to be seen in light of the gratuitous eyes of men, and as such she is still under his thumb. The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir – in part addressed the damage done to women who come to see themselves through the look of the other, such that what is otherwise a dialectical mode of inter-subjectivity, is down-graded to one-dimensionality, or unilaterality. Instead, her worth, as his, is to be founded in self-worth, which is self-referential but contextually realized, namely over-and-against, or alongside the other. It is here that feminists part ways. There is not just one kind of feminist.
Perhaps the liberal and radical feminists – for distinct but overlapping reasons – would argue that chivalry and feminism are at odds. For these feminists men opening doors for women, having her go first are residual forms of sexism that invite trouble. After all, who the hell do men think they are holding the damn door open for me??!! I’m not an invalid! I’m not fragile and princessy! I’m an assertive, self-propelled, capable being of equal standing with men! And unless he wants that door slammed in his face, I shall not permit myself to be subjected to acts of disdain. Others will insist also that allowing a man to open doors and pay for your meal already implies that you are willing to have sex with him. The suggestion is appalling really – quid pro quo is the understanding. I get it. I do. I just don’t agree. I’m a different kind of feminist. And though I’m sure that certain men will also line up in protest saying that we, I, just want to have our cake and eat it, and hence embody contrarities of spirit, I submit that it is the background of meaning that makes one paradigm more credible than another.
As a Mediterranean woman, the pervasive instrumentality that strikes through inter-human relations of equality is quite foreign to us. Like our North American sisters the political paradigm is essentially liberal, rooted in rights and amendments. But socially, our niche is grounded in femininity – not its renunciation – and it is both an embodied sensuality and an engagement of care. My sisters on the other side of the Atlantic find this attitude contra-feminism, but we find it contra-feminine. We are women, with our own, quite unique mode of being in the world, which does not entertain binaries (self-other, rational-emotional, actor- subsidiary, etc.) that “we” (yes, I have a foot in both camps, but am ultimately Greek) so comfortably evoke in efforts to stand tall against the leanings and power of men. An engagement of care is one rooted in communality so that there is no isolated Cartesian-like beings off-set against each other as each aims to assert him/herself over and against the other, constantly engaged in negotiations of equitable exchange. We are already in a relational pool of engagement from the get go, and negotiations are not defined by an equity of exchange (he did, she did computations), but a complex arrangement of expressions of respect and consideration. When a man opens a door and pays for my meal, he is thoughtful and caring. He is, in effect, showing respect; he’s basically saying that you matter, that you are worthy of his attentiveness and care. Chivalry is not, at least for certain feminists, contrary to feminism. Acts of chivalry include opening doors, and picking up the tab, but they extend to picking you up and taking you home, offering his coat to keep you warm on a cool night, leaving you off at the restaurant as they look for parking, protecting your honour amongst steaming looks from others, and more. It says, this woman is an exceptional, remarkable being and I shall employ all manner of protection to shelter her from all adversity and discomfort. There is no short end of the stick here for we Mediterranean feminists (well at least the variety of which I speak) are nurturers, who buckle up and stand by our men, with daunting affection and loyalty.I have more to say, and what I have said, I have said inelegantly…hence there is room for misunderstandings. But for now, this shall do.