Friday, March 22, 2013

What Cannibal Cops and Princesses Have in Common

My mother once told me a story about a southern gentleman she dated. He had impeccable manners and showered her with gifts. Until the day she broke up with him. He attempted to lock her in his car and informed her that she wasn’t “allowed” to stop seeing him.
Be careful of men who treat you like a princess, she said. Those are the ones you have to watch out for.
Starts like this
Could end like this:

The news of “cannibal cop” Gilberto Valle reminded me of this nugget of wisdom. His OKCupid profile contained several red flags that seem fairly innocuous, if not sweet.
He considers himself a “true gentleman” and chivalry is important to him. He wrote that he likes to open doors and pull out chairs for women, as well as “spoil the heck” out of them. He’s also looking for a lady with “good values,” whatever that means.
In itself, there is nothing wrong with being courteous to your date or wanting to give your significant other presents. Every day women walk in and out of buildings while some well-intentioned, kind man holds the door open. Those men don’t even plan to boil them over a hot stove afterward.
But there is something in his comments, and in the boasting of chivalrous deeds in general, that should concern women.
As picturesque as it is, chivalry was invented to control and manipulate women. Kate Millet made this point best in Sexual Politics, the book that forever ingrained the idea that the personal is political in the minds of second wave feminists.
“One realizes how much of a concession traditional chivalrous behavior represents – a sporting kind of reparation to allow the subordinate female certain means of saving face. While palliative to the injustice of a woman’s social position, chivalry is also a technique for disguising it.”
In a nutshell, this answers the question I always ask when men make a point of their chivalry. What is he trying to make up for? If a man is a gentleman, does he need to explicitly remind women of it? Or is he trying to distract her from the things she's losing by allowing him to control her behavior?
Chivalry also depends on a sense of entitlement. “I (insert empty ritual) on all of our dates and I paid for (dinner, drinks, movie tickets) while I listened to you talk about (your work, your friends, other things unrelated to myself) and now you won’t go out with me again? I guess nice guys finish last.”
Even friendship is considered something chivalrous men give their sexual prospects, until they feel the woman has “friendzoned” them. I can’t recall any woman who has expressed delight at the knowledge her crush didn’t feel the same but I have never heard outrage or contempt. The fact that images like this are circulating the internet should give women pause over the term “friendzoned.”
I would never berate a man for performing a kind, however meaningless, gesture. But if that man defines his romantic identity and his relationship with women, by that gesture, I would avoid him. Most women are better off being partners, not princesses.

(Originally published 10/28/12)

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