Dating and finding love in Singapore: Rahat Kapur on why women killed chivalry
The Brunch Download
Chivalry is dead and women killed it. Or so says international comedian sensation Dave Chappelle. Welcome to this week's slightly-more-provocative-than-usual Brunch Download. There's only so many bad dates I can write about before I push your buttons and I think there's no time like week five to do it. So here. We. Go.
I watched in awe this past weekend as the stylishly-clad characters from Netflix's new series Hollywood walked about the Los Angeles Ace Studios plot, their hats impeccably fashioned above their heads, their 1940s garb setting the screen alight with celluloid glamour. The men fitted in tailored, double-breasted suits, the women in elegant gloves and feathered gowns, made my heart race as I admired their gaudily hair-sprayed yet sophisticated hairdos and found myself falling in love with the era of the golden age of cinema. As I watched them all politely interact and woo one another on screen, even during the most sexually-charged of scenes, I found myself experiencing a streak of nostalgia pass through me like a shooting star. Suddenly, I was longing for a period of romance I'd never even lived through, as though I was some distant time traveller from the forties stuck in 2020, yearning to go home.
And maybe I am. For as long as I've known it, I've been obsessed with what in my opinion is the greatest period in history, the 1940s to 1950s. Think poodle skirts, side-parts, Frank Sinatra, Don Drapers, the smell of cigars and vodka gimlets permeating through the air like the scent of perfume. The delicate Mid-Atlantic accents, somewhere between the refinery of the English pronunciation of words and the California Hollywood drawl. The use of phrases such as 'Golly!' and 'Hey Daddy-O' have always enthralled me, all be it through the escapism of movies and television. I, for one, have always felt that the fifties was the epitome of romance. But not just that; for me, it was also the epitome of chivalry, even through the rampant sexism (I've seen Mad Men okay, I know it was bad, don't worry!).
Often slated as the ultimate display of gentlemanship, the term chivalry is one we often toss around without really understanding the origin of the word. Back in the days where dudes in metal onesies rode their ponies to war (I'm talking real medieval times), chivalry was literally described as "the moral, religious and social code" used by knights to dictate their professional and personal conduct. Sort of like a very fancy pants version of a society-focused HR Policy. Hence the whole knight-in-shining-armour deal. In the traditional definition of the word, chivalry was about maintaining a sense of honour and a care of duty to those weaker or less advantaged than said knights, and at that time, this included women. Some two hundred years later though, boy, the tables have turned.
Chivalry (C), much like humanity and both the sexes, has evolved into a whole new world, passing through decades of modernisation, revolution and enlightenment. It's witnessed the fall of great kingdoms, the rise of even greater democracies, the plight of modern man and the ascension and unshackling of the modern woman. It's been re-defined and given more new identities than a witness-in-protection, from 'good manners' to 'etiquette' to a sense of showcasing 'real manhood'. But what poor chivalry has not managed to do during all these years, is stick around long enough to mean something of its own in today's complicated landscape of love and society.
And why is that? At the risk of using the big old F word, it seems that the escalation of the feminist movement has indeed been great, but it seems it has also meant the downfall of the best friend of C, the inexplicable art of courtship. Yes, we date. Yes, we have sex. Yes, we get married and, yes, we fall in love. But no, we don't court anymore. Because to court, one has to agree to and abide by a set of gender rules that women do not feel comfortable with anymore, or so they say. Apparently somewhere along in our fight for equal pay and not wanting to be sexually assaulted, some of us mistook a man opening a door for us as an act of degradation and ruined it for the rest of us, who still very much want our knobs twisted by a nice, handsome man (tee hee). Apparently to be a feminist, to some, means to alienate the very nuances and microfibres of uniqueness that make up the differences between men and women, and regard them as insults as opposed to inherent strengths. And that, my friends, is why poor old chivalry is flopping around like a waterless fish laying flat on the Marina Bay sand.
If you're anything like me, you've often wondered why men have stopped handing you coats in the cold and offering to pay the bill, even when it's a $5 coffee. Why have they stopped calling five days in advance? How did they start asking about your ass instead of asking about your calendar? Why don't they try at conversation any more? Why is it always about hooking up and not hooking us in? Why can't we find a Mr. Darcy in a sea of Mr. Collins, and why does only the hottest amongst us seem to be able to lock down his pride and his prejudice? The truth is, ladies, it's because we've made it so and now, we just can't accept it.
Somewhere in our fight to be the same, make the same amount, own the same properties, have the same rights, say the same things, and act the same way, we seem to have forgotten that we're not actually the same. We are empowered and should be protected and given access to the same opportunities as men. But does that mean we need to evolve into them to truly be happy? I don't think so.
The delicacy of femininity (in whichever form you manifest it), is what separates us from our peened counterparts and makes the whole point of romance fun. Can you imagine how boring it would've been if George Peppard showed up at Audrey Hepburn's door in Breakfast at Tiffany's and she'd told him to sod off because he made more than her? Could you see her standing outside the beautifully bejewelled store on Fifth Avenue, yelling about how she could afford her own goddamn ring (which she couldn't, but that's cause she was hella bad at money, not cause she was a woman) and didn't need him crowding up her space with his overly engraved gifts? No. Could you imagine the scene right at the end where he yells at her about how she's basically emotionally vacant and needs to sort her crap out and stop pushing people away, before they kiss passionately in the rain, if Holly had told him not to take that tone with her because she was an independent woman who don't need no man? NO. Because doing all those things wouldn't have made Holly any more of a feminist. In fact, they would've probably left her hopelessly lonely, living with a cat with no name, and a mob boss as a friend.
Breakfast at Tiffany's
The thing is, I don't understand when being a feminist meant not being able to enjoy or appreciate the subtle nuances of chivalry displayed by men and embracing our differences. If a man opens my door, does that mean I suddenly can't be a CEO? If he offers me a coat, am I suddenly strait-jacketed by the intangible constraints of society and bound to become a penniless housewife? Am I miraculously beholden to my husband to provide the heat that keeps my weak, disadvantaged body warm? If anything, doesn't it mean I've scored a premium cashmere accessory for free (mind you, for simply existing) and I don't plan on giving it back any time soon? But truly, jokes aside, it's no wonder love and dating and courtship and whatever else you want to call it is in a state today, when we've made the rules oh-so-confusing and both men and women have no idea what to follow anymore.
I often hear the same women who shout from the rooftops about how men suck, cry about why they can't attract love in their lives, and fear rotting away in seclusion. They're the same ones who smear anti-male rhetoric and become defensive at the drop of a hat when a man offers to pay for a drink or simply offers a hand out of a car or a bus. They feel slighted and disregarded and made to feel inferior by acts of kindness and write them off as narcissistic showmanship, but somehow can't seem to reconcile when these same men don't then want to woo and seduce them into marriage. And the same goes for men. With the injection of powerful movements such as #MeToo and a tidal wave of backlash for even the slightest advance, it's no wonder men have no idea if even asking is appropriate anymore. Because where do you draw the line? To some women, simply batting an eyelash at her is enough to trigger her vulnerabilities, whereby for some, a hand up the skirt isn't enough. And neither is wrong or right, it just is. So what do men do? They take the easy way out and don't bother to toe the line any which way, because it's better to be safe, than to be Harvey.
It seems amongst the swells of the Tinders and Bumbles of the world, as women, we've fallen into this false sense of equivalence that we can be exactly who we want to be and still have it all, stuck in this uncomfortable limbo between chasing sexual liberation and simply handing over our value for free. We want to choose who we give the trophy to, but we're angry when men don't want to earn us like a prize. We want to sleep with who we want and when we want, wear whatever we want, say whatever we want, behave however want, shout however we want and yet, still be seen however we want. And that would be fabulous, if we were the only people on earth. But the truth is, teaching a man to see you as no less than him based on your gender is very different than demanding a man to see you as a faultless human being, no matter how you act. One is about establishing equality, the other is about world domination. And as amazing as that sounds, I don't think it would be any fun if only girls ran the world. Sorry Bey, I know you not gonna like that.
Many of us as women don't want to be saved and resent the thought of a Prince Charming rescuing us from our supposedly morbid and hollow lives. Yet at the same time, we can't stand the idea of never meeting 'The One' and refuse to admit how annoyingly sad we feel when we go to bed on a Saturday night cradling a merlot in a blanket (of our own tears dawg). We seem to equivalate feminism with seeking partners and equals, but then we also secretly judge men by the supposedly arbitrary and outdated notions of what it means to woo us and sweep us off our feet. We want equality, but we also want to cherry-pick it on our fairytale terms. We're locked in a paradox of our own liberation and our physiological make-up and we can't seem to figure out who will win. Act like a 'lady' and you're a prudish non-feminist. Act like a 'tramp' and you don't deserve the fairytale. We barely know what to do with ourselves nowadays, it's no wonder the peen folk have no idea if opening a door will now mean getting one slammed in their face. So instead, they simply stand outside it now, waiting for the automatic glass to swing open, and for one of us to walk out right into their arms in a fit of equality-based rage. Who's really losing here? It ain't the peen folk, I'll tell you that.
What we're failing to recognise over the last so many years since our liberation, is we're actually more shackled to societal pressure than ever before, just in a very different way. Now, instead of running from a life of forced marriages and sandwich-making, we're locked in a battle of our own resentment that the very chivalry that we actually seek, makes us less of a true woman or less valuable or worthy in the eyes of our sisters. It's not the men who disappoint us, it's the denial that haunts us.
And after years of feeling this way, I'm here to say it's perfectly ok to want to experience romance like the movies. It's totally ok to want a handsome, loving and caring man to take you to dinner and pay the bill and tell you you're beautiful as he opens the car door and hands you a red rose. It's perfectly ok to desire a love that makes you feel like a Frank Sinatra song is playing as a soundtrack to your life. And it's perfectly ok to want all these things, whilst making as much money as your partner and expecting respect and safety for your body and being. But to truly unlock this chivalry as modern women, we need to accept that we are contradictions of ourselves in many ways and that's also ok. And then, we need to tell the men that, too, so they can come out of hiding, comb their hair, put on a pair of actual pants (that are not red with boat shoes and no socks, who started this trend, I'll find and end you) and stop sending messages asking us to come over before we've even finished pronouncing their names.
So have women killed chivalry? I don't think so. Have we hella wounded it so it's turned into a limpy little poppet circling on its own hind legs? Fo sho. Can we still save it? Abso-freaking-lutely.
Toodle-oo till next week!