I was riding the streetcar this week when I heard a woman in her early twenties loudly declare to her friend that she hated feminists. Naturally, I yanked off my headphones to hear the rest.
“Feminists ruined everything,” she insisted. When her friend pushed her to elaborate, she answered simply, “They killed chivalry.”
I rolled my eyes and popped my headphones back on. But I couldn’t help reflecting on all the unusual attacks I’ve heard directed at feminists recently.
First, there was the anti-feminist blogger in Quebec whose terrifying blog — which celebrates Marc Lépine, the man behind the Montreal Massacre, as a “folk hero” — got him arrested for threatening women. (He was denied bail last week, but his blog is still up and the trial is expected to continue this month.)
Then there was the National Post editorial — seemingly out of the stone age, but actually published just a few weeks ago — that blamed women’s studies programs for “untold damage to families, our court systems, labour laws, constitutional freedoms and even the ordinary relations between men and women.” (Thankfully, it’s been rebutted all over the place, by women from The Walrus magazine, Metro’s Canice Leung, and even the National Post’s managing editor for news, Anne Marie Owens.)
When compared to these two examples, the chivalry comment seems innocuous enough, and yet it offers a similarly half-baked argument. I didn’t get involved in the conversation at the time, but if I had, my irritated, I-haven’t-had-my-coffee-yet-so-please-stop-your-nonsense-right-now reply would’ve sounded something like this:
Never mind the fact feminism won you your right to vote, your ability to get a mortgage without a husband co-signing and a hope in hell of maybe (and it’s still a big maybe) making the same salary a man makes — you’re ticked off because it’s reduced the number of old-school Prince Charmings in the world? Really?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines chivalry as “a man’s courteous behaviour, esp. towards women.”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to live in a world filled with men who are courageous, courteous and motivated by a sense of justice and honour. But don’t you also want to live in a world where women are free to be the exact same things?
Melinda Mattos is a Toronto-based writer, editor and co-founder of feminist teen magazine Shameless.