Machismo or Chivalry - A tight rope

Sunset

Machismo vs. Chivalry in Latin America

What is Machismo? What is chivalry? Intent on resolving the confusion.

I consider myself an emancipated, strong, independent woman, who can protect herself. Ever heard that saying "I'm not a princess and I don't need no prince. I'm a queen and I can do the sh*** myself!"? That's me. Has always been me. I have been taught and firmly believe that in any relationship, both parts have to do their share and pay their share and it's neither one's responsibility to pay for the other.

However, when I came to Perú, for the first time in my life, I experienced guys constantly opening the door for me. I had guy friends stop in the middle of our conversation because I was the one walking on the side of the street and that to them was utterly wrong. Guys opening car doors, guys carrying girls' purses and guys paying for dinner. All. The. Time.

At first, I just kind of really enjoyed it. I guess there is a little princess inside of me after all. I enjoyed having a guy opening the door for me and asking to carry my purse. However, I once saw a girl getting really upset about the whole thing. She told the guy, "Seriously, I can do this myself and I'm not yours to protect." I was puzzled. I never even realized that they might be doing it because they thought that I couldn't! I wholeheartedly believed they just did it to be nice without any ulterior motive. (Looking back, I might have been a little naive.)

 This girl on la isla taquile definitely needs no one to open the door for her.. Would that be Machismo or Chivalry? Or simply being nice?. 

This girl on la isla taquile definitely needs no one to open the door for her.. Would that be Machismo or Chivalry? Or simply being nice?. 

Investigating the Issue - What do women think about Chivalry or Machismo? What do men think about Chivalry and Machismo?

Over the course of the year, I talked to many of my friends about this, both guys and girls. I wanted to get to the core of the issue. How had I been so blindsided by the fact that some girls saw this as belittling? As an insult to what they were capable of doing?

 Our Tourguide in the Jungle near Iquitos summing up what he had to say on the topic. 

Our Tourguide in the Jungle near Iquitos summing up what he had to say on the topic. 

Through my talks, I figured out a few things. First of all, most of the guys don't even realize they're doing these things. It's just part of who they are, part of their culture and part of what they've been taught ever since they were little. You open the door for a girl. You walk on the side of the street to protect her. None of them thought much of it; it was just an automated reflex.

Secondly, those guys who had consciously thought about it told me that it wasn't about girls not being able to do any of those things, but about "being a gentleman"! It was their way of impressing a girl, of showing they had good manners and of showing that they were able and willing to provide for her.

The girls, on the other hand, were different. Many (many!) that I talked to just took it as a given. They took for granted that it is the guy's "job" to do all those things, to open doors and pay for dinners, and those who didn't were bad-mannered and "didn't deserve them". Kind of forms a complete circle with the guys' impression of this whole thing. But now we get to where this becomes problematic. Other girls that I talked to would consider men who did all these things as "Machistas". As men who didn't believe a girl could take care of herself. As men who don't think women are capable of the same things as they are. 

Conclusion - Machismo or Chivalry?

This now brings us back to the question I posed in the title: should it be considered chivalry or "caballerosidad" when a man pulls out the chair for a woman? Or is it sexist and machista? The answer I personally came up with during my time spent in Perú is that it mostly depends on the intention behind it and that it goes two ways. A woman expecting or obligating a man to open doors for her, pay the bill, and pull out her chair because she is a woman and feels she needs to be provided with this treatment is just as sexist as a man performing those tasks in the same spirit. Us women, like men, are more than capable of performing these tasks.

However, when a man performs these tasks (or the other way around),  being merely polite to the person he likes, and aiming to appear sophisticated or trying to earn some "brownie points", we should just appreciate it and see it as a compliment.

On a personal note, I never got the impression that my friends did these kinds of things for me thinking that I couldn't do them myself. I know that they don't respect me less because they do these things for me every now and then. And I try to do things for them when the opportunity presents itself, knowing that none of them ever thought I was insulting or belittling them, either. So I guess it's a tightrope whether something is considered chivalry or machismo; do as you feel comfortable and if you don't like people doing these things for you, just let them know! Maybe they hadn't even realized that what they did isn't normal for you. What is your opinion? I'd love to know and get more information and personal experiences on the topic!

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