Monday, June 17, 2013

A Return to Chivalry?

In the typical scenario of street harassment, the perpetrator is a man. As a result, in order to end the occurrence of street harassment, men must be sensitized to this issue. It is imperative that activists make men aware of the impact their words and actions have on female passersby, as well as teach men about women’s inalienable right to walk on the street without being subjected to harassment.

I recently shared this sentiment with a few girlfriends, in context of a conversation about street harassment and activists’ efforts to encourage men not to harass women. “So should chivalry be brought back from the dead? If men begin to act chivalrously to women, won’t that be the end street harassment?” one of my friends asked.

The concept intrigued me, as I had never thought about this link before. Is chivalry the opposite of street harassment? I suppose that it is, in a way. Street harassment is when men use their words and actions to make women uncomfortable and violated; chivalry is when men go out of their way to ensure for women’s safety and do everything for her benefit.

So does that mean anti-street harassment activists should champion a return to chivalry as the solution to the issue? Personally, I don’t think that this is a wise course of action. Chivalry is a relic of the olden days, when women were considered second-class citizens that needed protection by men, the stronger sex. There’s no place for chivalry in modern society, where women are considered men’s equals.

Anyway, in almost every situation in life, I believe in the validity of the golden mean. There’s no need to go to either extreme; the middle road is often the most practical and desirable path. Chivalry is on one side of the spectrum, while rampant street harassment is on the other. The most practical, middle path is all about championing common decency. Women just want men to be polite and to respect their personal space. Although I can’t speak for all of womankind, I know that I’m not looking to be put on a pedestal and fawned over. I don’t want men to put their coats on puddles in the street for me to cross. I’m just looking to cross the street without getting catcalled.

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