By: Lebohang “Nova” Masango
Originally published: novaherself.tumblr.com
This is a podcast of Lee, Sane and I discussing chivalry. I was invited because I am passionate about social sciences, I am a feminist and I do find the term and therefore, the social performance of chivalry to be problematic. I believe in engagement that aims to bring clarity, especially where violence, particularly against women, is involved. Women are under siege and I would like us to be on the same page. What is interesting about this experience is that I found myself quite frustrated and confused that the conversation remained stuck on semantics instead of what I had actually desired my contribution to this discussion to be.
I would like us to get to a point where “chivalry” as a social performance, can be recognized and located on the spectrum of violence against women. I do believe that we do ourselves a disservice when we seek to propagate the lie that it is an inherently good thing, without interrogating how the behavioral aspect manifests into the male entitlement that leads to violence. “I took her on a romantic date and spent money on her, she should have sex with me” or “I’m such a gentleman/nice guy, why won’t she go out with me?” Or even the pathology that is street harassment: “I am complimenting her, why is she not excited to acknowledge me, a stranger who has just harassed and sexualised her?” Women have lost their lives to chivalrous men/gentlemen, nice guys and that should be spoken about.
(Shout out to my best friend Alexandra F. for being my sounding board when I was putting my thoughts together. It helps to be sure.) I realize that the statements that I do not agree with in this podcast may be views that are widely shared and this is a good opportunity to clarify those, clearly and uninterrupted. This is not a summary of the discussion. Listen and read along so that it all makes sense.
ONE: Chivalry is a gendered term. The etymology is in medieval knighthood and the associated moral and social code for (obviously, heterosexual) men. In the present, chivalry, ‘being a gentleman’ and being a ‘nice guy’ are evolutions of that idea that has permeated across many cultures. It is an ideal that aims to teach men how to conduct themselves socially and further, in their romantic relations because “women are the fairer sex.” Sane, a woman, asks: “why can’t I be chivalrous?” This is why.
TWO: Lee asks: “is it a woman’s responsibility to teach men how to treat her?” I say no while Sane says yes. Common decency as a principle of humanity eliminates the need for complications and a scapegoat for bad, destructive behavior. It is imperative that women and LGQBTQI people are acknowledged and respected as human beings so that we can move past the idea that these people, who are structurally oppressed, ought to be the one’s held accountable to educate those who violate them. My concern is the standard of global society and the many excuses that are made for violence against women. “Why did you rape/beat me?” “Well, you never taught me not to.” This reasoning isn’t sound at all. Above all, let’s all respect humanity and the laws of the country and then, we can decide what the conditions of our interpersonal relationships are. It frustrates me that I am even typing this bit out.
THREE: Sane asserts that Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda video is miseducating girls. (Fun fact: I once held this belief too, in 2011. Personal growth, yay!) I disagree. Nicki Minaj’s target market is not children, she has never claimed that her music is edutainment or scholarly in any way and adults are supposed to control what kind of media children engage with – this is why we even have parental guidance ratings. It becomes largely problematic when Nicki Minaj’s performance and portrayal of her body is labelled “bad” because that leads to the juxtaposition with “good” women. On the spectrum of violence, that “Madonna/whore” binary creates the conditions of possibility for certain women who own their sexuality to be disrespected, disregarded, abused, raped and killed because they “deserve it” and thus, ought to be punished for not being “good”. Then, how women are treated, is at the sole discretion of men’s whims. This isn’t logical.
FOUR: Sane implies that we’re oppressing men. As it stands, the only thing that can and does oppress men, on a societal scale, is patriarchy. Women can indeed propagate patriarchy against men, however, that has no relevance in this discussion.
FIVE: Sane asserts that perhaps we should “abolish chivalry”. I believe that this is futile. “Abolishing” a word does not remove its associated social practices, historical legacy or the structures that make it problematic.
SIX: Sane asserts that my argument implies that I am saying, that as a woman, she can’t do the things that men can re: chivalry. Feminism isn’t about women doing what men do; it is about the equality of all human beings. Respect, decency, good-manners, courtesy are some values which benefit humanity and as far as I know, these are not gendered or steeped in a patriarchal history. Why not strive to be one of these instead of trying to fit into a narrow, behavioral code for men? I don’t understand.
SEVEN: Sane asserts that we should use the term chivalry away from how the dictionary defines it. Unfortunately, that’s neither how language nor the world works. Attempts to appropriate and re-define words such as “bitch”, “hoe”, “slut” “kaffir” and “nigger” may be regarded as successful but these are still words that have a history and that are still used to cause pain. So, attempting to re-define loaded words and their social practices is challenging and I would say, impossible.
EIGHT: Sane asserts that chivalry originated “when women could not help themselves.” It’s important to understand the distinction between weakness and oppression. One is who you are and the other, is what is done to you. Women have always been capable.
NINE: Sane asserts: “I will not be defined by the dictionary”. This is an admirable endeavor and I agree that we shouldn’t allow things that we do not control to define or limit us. However, in some contexts, such as this discussion, we refer to points SIX and SEVEN.
TEN: I think it’s silly that I make this disclaimer but please understand that I know that NOT ALL MEN DO THIS. I realize that the potential implication of ALL MEN is likely to upset some people, even more than the daily violations against women are likely to upset them. So, hopefully we’re on the same page now.
This article is published on Live Mag SA courtesy of Lebogang Nova Masango. This article is syndicated from her blog novaherself.tumblr.com/. For more of her writings, please visit her blog and stay tuned to #LiveVIPZA for more content featuring her analysis and those of other young thought leaders and activists.
Feature image courtesy of: blackboldvoice.blogspot.com
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