A Double-Edged Sword: The Toxic Effects of Chivalry on Men and Women

He’s supposed to buy my drinks and pay for our dates. He’s supposed to open doors and lavish me with flowers and jewellery. He’s supposed to carry my shit.

The mechanics of romance has become more egalitarian than ever, with 58% of surveyed women in London expecting to go Dutch on a first date. Yet gendered norms still play a dominant role when it comes to dating etiquette – to the detriment of all parties.


When used as a means of acquiring rather than expressing affection, chivalrous practices monetize romance and establish expectations for reciprocation – or, as some men so charmingly describe, for a “return on investment”.

And so, the most immediate effect heteronormative dating standards has is of objectification.

On Females: Money + Power = Women

Perhaps the most notorious objectification is that of women as eye candies, as notches on belts, as trophy girlfriends and wives. The position of “prize to be won” is reaffirming in that it seemingly validates sexual desirability and social status.

On Males: A Free Ride

In turn, men are objectified as mere resources – useful for a good time, for a free meal, for financial security, for network connections and career advancement. The position of “provider and protector” is reaffirming in that it seemingly validates sexual desirability and social status.

When we tell boys that a woman’s affections must be won with gestures and gifts, we teach them that above all, material goods trump character or mutual rapport.

The feminist undertone in Seth MacFarlane’s ‘Ted’. Source: Netflix/Ted

The feminist undertone in Seth MacFarlane’s ‘Ted’. Source: Netflix/Ted


On Females: “Honey, you can just marry rich.”

Imagine you were constantly provided for and had things done on your behalf. Imagine you were explicitly told that you didn’t have to get a job as far as money was concerned, and so never tried to uncover your calling. Imagine if the stakes were never high and there was never a need to rise to an occasion, never a need to learn or grow.

When girls are told marrying an affluent partner is a viable career option, chivalry ceases to be remotely romantic. It instead acts as a device enabling the developmental stunting of a specific group reflected in earlier systems of oppression – associating femininity with socio-economic passivity.

Hélène Cixous, professor and feminist writer. Source: Ségolène Royal

Hélène Cixous, professor and feminist writer. Source: Ségolène Royal

On Males: Beasts of Burden

If part of the population is socialized to be taken care of, there obviously has to be someone to provide that care. Cue the traditional male-breadwinner regime, in which the most important role a man plays is to provide.

Gus Fring, the traditionalist. Source: Netflix/Breaking Bad

Gus Fring, the traditionalist. Source: Netflix/Breaking Bad

That’s a lot of pressure for one pair of shoulders – and it’s been shown to have profound implications for men. Those perceiving themselves as inadequate providers were found to report higher rates of depression and marital conflict.

And while male unemployment was a determining factor for divorce (with initiation made by both husbands and wives irrespective of marital happiness), female employment status was immaterial; epitomizing the “asymmetric” nature of the gender revolution, in which women’s roles and behaviour are changing faster than those of men’s.


On Females: Mollifying the Marginalized

Now imagine everyday you were placed on a pedestal, accustomed to special treatment wherever you went. Imagine you were the exception to most rules including waiting lines, price tags, administrative tickets and security measures.


The apparent benefits of being female. Source: BuzzFeed/Guys Describe A Girl’s Night Out

Through relative ease of day-to-day living, females are thus given incentive to remain within the status quo. It’s comfortable and downright nice, with comfort and niceness varying vastly across a racial and class spectrum; a Huxelian system of control in which oppression goes hand-in-hand with the provision of immediate gratification.

On Males: Making Men Pay

Differential treatment based on gender can lead to more grave repercussions.

The same patriarchal perception which paints women as delicate creatures to be taken care of paradoxically depicts them as ideal nurturers – to the systemic disadvantage of fathers. Even in recent decades, primary custody has been awarded overwhelmingly in favour of mothers: despite numbers which show perpetrators of neglect and physical (though not sexual) child abuse are more likely to be female than male.

When it comes to gender double standards, everyone pays a price.


The point isn’t to denounce the roles of housewives or househusbands. There’s honour and a deeply respectable devotion in making a home warm and hospitable for loved ones. Nor is it to dismiss genuine romantic gestures and the desire to spoil someone you care about.

But when roles are predominantly played by specific groups, it indicates cultural grooming and even structural design. And what’s alarming is that such artificial constructs are still depicted and accepted as part of a natural order.

Perhaps the delegation of duties based on gender made sense when we were fending off predators. But the sabretooths are long gone, human civilization has evolved, and education is more likely than physical strength to bring home the bacon.

Besides, what better and more romantic way is there to figure out the terrifying business of life, than together?