Can women be chivalrous? Damn right they can.

Is chivalry attractive to most women? According to a recent study the answer is, unsurprisingly, yes.

A 2013 study on benevolent sexism by Matthew D. Hammond of the University of Auckland1 found that a high sense of entitlement disposes women to endorse chivalric customs, for example that women need to be protected, cared for and pampered by males.

Hammond and his colleagues had more than 4,400 men and women complete psychological evaluations to measure their sense of entitlement and adherence to sexist beliefs about women. The beliefs included statements such as, “Women should be cherished and protected by men” and “Women, compared to men, tend to have a superior moral sensibility.”2 This group of individuals was tested again one year later. The researchers found a sense of entitlement in women was associated with stronger endorsement of benevolent sexism. Women who believed they deserved more out of life (and who likely received more out of life) were more likely to endorse benevolent sexist beliefs and their adherence to these beliefs increased over time. The association between a sense of entitlement in men and endorsement of benevolent sexism was weak, by contrast, and did not increase over time.

These findings provide evidence that female-benefiting sexism practiced by women is responsible for sexist attitudes toward their own gender, as well as toward men — attitudes which contribute more broadly to the maintenance of gender stereotypes and inequality on both sides of the fence.

The relationship between narcissism and chivalry

In the study female narcissistic attitudes are underlined as the motivation to garner resource-attainments and self-enhancements via the generosity of male chivalry. Some of the core features of narcissism include an inflated sense of self-worth; need for praise, admiration, and social status; an undeserved sense of entitlement; a sense that one deserves nice things; and a belief in one’s superior intelligence and beauty – all without a commensurate level of validity or deservedness.

A woman (or man) with narcissistic disposition seeks to gain status and resources by fair means or foul, including by charm, feigning confidence, and an energetic approach to social interactions. She will take personal responsibility for all successes that come her way, while attributing all personal failures to external sources – most likely men. Narcissistic traits ensure that the individual will act selfishly to secure material gains even when it means exploiting others, and those practicing benevolent sexism tend to encourage such behaviour. According to the authors:

“Benevolent sexism facilitates the capacity to gain material resources and complements feelings of deservingness by promoting a structure of intimate relationships in which men use their access to social power and status to provide for women (Chen et al., 2009). Second, benevolent sexism reinforces beliefs of superiority by expressing praise and reverence of women, emphasizing qualities of purity, morality, and culture which make women the ‘‘fairer sex.’’ Indeed, identifying with these kinds of gender-related beliefs (e.g., women are warm) fosters a more positive self-concept (Rudman, Greenwald, & McGhee, 2001).

Moreover, for women higher in psychological entitlement, benevolent sexism legitimizes a self-centric approach to relationships by emphasizing women’s special status within the intimate domain and men’s responsibilities of providing and caring for women. Such care involves everyday chivalrous behaviors, such as paying on a first date and opening doors for women (Sarlet et al., 2012; Viki et al., 2003), to more overarching prescriptions for men’s behavior toward women, such as being ‘‘willing to sacrifice their own well-being’’ to provide for women and to ensure women’s happiness by placing her ‘‘on a pedestal’’ (Ambivalent Sexism Inventory; Glick & Fiske, 1996)…

In contrast to the overt benefits that benevolent sexism promises women, men’s endorsement of benevolent sexism reflects making sacrifices for women by relinquishing power in the relationship domain and providing for and protecting their partners (Glick & Fiske, 1996). Moreover, although benevolent sexism portrays men as ‘‘gallant protectors’’ (Glick & Fiske, 2001), it does not emphasize men’s superiority over women or cast men as deserving of praise and provision.” 3

Judging by the above study we can conclude that women’s expectation of chivalric treatment has altered little over the course of the last 800 years since chivalric responsibilities were first instituted. For example we can take the voices of two women from history who give a traditional voice to the findings of the study; the first is by female author Lucrezia Marinella who in 1600 wrote:

“Women are honored everywhere with the use of ornaments that greatly surpass men’s, as can be observed. It is a marvelous sight in our city to see the wife of a shoemaker or butcher or even a porter all dressed up with gold chains round her neck, with pearls and valuable rings on her fingers, accompanied by a pair of women on either side to assist her and give her a hand, and then, by contrast, to see her husband cutting up meat all soiled with ox’s blood and down at heel, or loaded up like a beast of burden dressed in rough cloth, as porters are. At first it may seem an astonishing anomaly to see the wife dressed like a lady and the husband so basely that he often appears to be her servant or butler, but if we consider the matter properly, we find it reasonable because it is necessary for a woman, even if she is humble and low, to be ornamented in this way because of her natural dignity and excellence, and for the man to be less so, like a servant or beast born to serve her.”

Or from another woman Modesta Pozzo who wrote this in 1590:

“For don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us — they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.

Chivalry today continues to be understood as a male obligation toward female beneficiaries. In the past however it appears there were some exceptions showing that the attribution “chivalry” could be applied equally to any women who demonstrated it. From a search of published literature several examples of female chivalry do appear, such as the following with dates and search-terms in bold/italics:

Female chivalry

1792 “Mr. Burke remarked, that however the spirit of chivalry may be in the decline amongst men, the age of female chivalry was just commencing.”

1918 “Spenser, following Ariosto, laments the decay of female chivalry since the days of Penthesilia, Deborah, and Camilla.”

1938 “This tendency among women of making concessions to men for their inferior moral strength I would like to term “female chivalry.” It is chivalry in the strictest sense of the term because it makes concessions for the weakness of the opposite side. In a society which is so primitive that its women have not yet developed in their conduct with men this moral chivalry, no doubt the woman is an inferior and subordinate member, an object of masculine pity. But the moment she brings into play upon the field of our social behaviour her superior moral strength (manifested through the developments of her inherent powers of sacrifice, endurance and self-discipline) she not only qualifies herself for equality of treatment but records a moral victory of first magnitude over the opposite sex.”

Woman’s chivalry

1847 “It may be, too, that such pursuits belong to woman’s chivalry, in which she accomplishes tender victories, and with silken cords leads into bondage the stouter heart of man. Happy triumph: in which there is equal delight to the victor and the vanquished.”

1924 “There are poems of the human soul cut off from God by its loveleasness — the hell of separation of the finite self from the infinite; poems of the “white flame” of a greater love; woman’s chivalry towards woman ; woman’s chivalry towards man: and in the end, peace.”

1936 “Neuilly, but something — perhaps a woman’s chivalry to another woman — prevented her from doing it.”

Chivalric female

1864 “The order of Sisters of Charity, therefore, as constituted by St. Vincent de Paul, and whose deeds are known to the whole world, may be considered an aristocratic or chivalric female army of volunteers of charity, bound to short terms of service, but generally renewing their vows, and performing prodigies of usefulness.”

Chivalrous women

1857 “It must be confessed that the spectacle of those three chivalrous women, so magnanimous in face of an evil cause… preparing to plunge into the medley of battle, instead of remaining at a distance to watch the fortune of the fray, instead too of shutting themselves up in some luxurious dwelling there to await the intelligence of the result – but armed and mounted – with martial plumes waving over their heads, fire in their eyes and decision on their lips… could have no other effect than the most inspiring one over those who beheld it.”

1896 “For a lady is among other things a woman with a sense of chivalry, and a chivalrous woman uses her finer gifts to supplement the blunt honesty of her husband (if she is the happy possessor of an honest husband).”

1904 “The self-sacrificing chivalrous woman, with whom duty is a first consideration.”

1906 “Those chivalrous Women seem to be chosen instruments for the world’s betterment—all in the general economy of nature — evidence of growth which sometimes takes us by surprise and makes us sit up and think.”

1912 “Yes — women can he chivalrous! — women can live and die for a conviction! My terrible confession is made easier by your belief!”

1918to the free and chivalrous women of America.”

1919 “they called upon the free and chivalrous women of America to make these wrongs their own and, in so far as possible, to try to redress them, and to safeguard the future of the race by standing for the independence of historic Armenia.”

1920 “This mighty work of hospital redemption, now so nearly accomplished in all civilized countries, so appealed to chivalrous women that there seemed no end to the stream of incoming probationers.”

Chivalric woman

1897 “We are glad to know that such a noble and chivalric woman has her being among the toilers of the overwrought East End, and trust that her good deeds have not gone unrewarded.”

___________________

Stripped of the usual gender conventions, romantic chivalry reduces to little more than displays of altruism and generosity toward another human being. With that in mind, the sooner women start extending such “chivalry” toward men and boys, and calling it “chivalry,” the sooner we might call relationships reciprocal. Until then we will continue to see male-only chivalry by workers on the gynocentric plantation.

We live in a time now of great safety and convenience, and if relationships are to mean anything going forward they will need to be based on some kind of reciprocal chivalry. Men and women can demonstrate their brands of chivalry differently if they wish, a ‘co-chivalry’ that can be respectful of similarities or differences as agreed between individual men and women. With that move toward reciprocity the one-sided chivalry that the modern world has been so captivated by can be finally put to death.

Sources:

[1] Matthew D. Hammond, Chris G. Sibley, and Nickola C. Overall, The Allure of Sexism: Psychological Entitlement Fosters Women’s Endorsement of Benevolent Sexism Over Time
[2] Eric W. Dolan, Self-entitled women are more likely to endorse benevolent sexism, study finds
[3] Matthew D. Hammond, Chris G. Sibley, and Nickola C. Overall [Ibid]
[4] Ruth Styles, The fickle face of feminism: Women are fine with sexism… as long as it benefits them
[5] Lucrezia Marinella: gynocentrism in 1600
[6] Modesta Pozzo: gynocentrism in 1590

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