Is a Man's Life and Safety More Expendable Than a Woman's? Questions about the Masculine Chivalric Ideal
A couple of weeks ago, I engaged in a fascinating conversation on Tales from the Crib with Mike in Co on the topic of teaching boys to fight back when faced with conflict in order to raise them to be protectors of women and children. The conversation also circulated around questions of chivalry and men’s “natural” instinct and duty to fight and protect.
I thought I’d throw out some of the nuggets Mike in Co suggested (and he’s not LDS, but I thought he represented a very traditional perspective of maleness vs. femaleness.) I’d love to see how many of you agree with his perspective, as some of the (women) bloggers at TFTC apparently loved what he was advocating.
Mike in Co says:
I tip my hat to all of you ladies who are not afraid to be what us men cannot: nurturing, feminine, motherly; and you’re all very articulate. I must inquire, are you the last generation of such? …
Anyway, wanted to add a little bit to this discussion. Mothers don’t want their children to be fighters, and that’s natural. And that’s fine for girl children. Girls didn’t used to fight. I blame TV. But boys need to be the fighters, because when we grow up, we are your protectors. If we’re taught not to ever, ever, fight – to always be passive and weak – how will we learn to slay the dragons and fight off the Indians to save our wives and children?
He and I engaged in a brief discussion, with me arguing that a) violence should be a last resort and b) both boys AND girls should know how to protect themselves when those last resort situations arise.
But his comments about slaying dragons etc. brought up some interesting issues for me. While I enjoy a good romance with a testosterone-laden, primitively protective, skilled with a sword male as much as the next gal, I just don’t know how healthy it is to truly embrace this strict gender dichotomy in real life.
I’m uncomfortable with the idea that one of my roles is to be “the protected” while my husband’s is to be “the protector.” That his duty in times of conflict is to fight, and mine is not to fight. Sure, if I was getting attacked, I would hope that my husband would come to my aid. But if he was getting attacked, I’d like to think that I would come to his aid as well. Likewise in a bullet situation. Mike probably would throw himself in front of a bullet for me, and I hope I’d do the same for him.
I think there’s this very old fashioned, chivalrous ideal out there that indicates that a man’s life is more expendable than a woman’s. The old “women and children in the lifeboats first” mentality. I’m fine with the children part, but I question the woman part. What is it about my femaleness that makes my life more important than my husband’s?
Yet I understand that many people are perfectly comfortable with the traditional idea of the man fighting and risking his own safety for the woman, but not vice versa, and I’d like to know why. Why do you (or others you know) think that men should forfeit their lives for the safety of women, but not the other way around? Or are you like me in envisioning a more egalitarian world in which people try to help and protect people, regardless of gender?