Respect is a term and concept my mother drilled into my head when I was younger.
Now, to be fair to my mother, she is one of those constructive parents that helped forge me into a well-rounded adult. Before she dropped my sister and me off at a friend’s house, she would have us look at her and tell her the basic six responses for any question: “yes ma’am”, “no ma’am”, “yes sir”, “no sir”, “please”, and “thank you”. My grandma is the same way- before we would go anywhere, she would remind us to think about what we wanted to say before we said it because “words can hurt and it is your responsibility to use them wisely.” But above all else, they told us true respect could be found in listening to others.
Given that these ladies taught and followed such stringent rules of respect, I always assumed they received the same treatment. But as I grew and became more aware, I realized they experienced the same lack of respect other women experience. It was a rude but much needed awakening.
(Now before any meninists rush to interrupt with #notallmen, yes, a lack of respect can affect anyone regardless of gender. But like with innumerable other issues, lack of respect is also gender biased and applied via biological sex and societal constructs of gender.)
Growing up in the South meant respect and chivalry went hand in hand. Here, men ‘respect’ women if you open the door, pull out a chair, or walk nearest the road when on the sidewalk. I can still get on Facebook and see memes that beg for these attributes to return as a signal of “chivalry not being dead.”
Quite frankly, I hope chivalry is dead. While I think some of the aspects of it can be polite and constructive when applied to all people (because holding a door is not gender exclusive), I am tired of people using chivalry to say they respect women. The mere definition of chivalry (see above) implies that women are weak. To add insult to injury, people use notions of chivalry to escape offering true respect. Thinking women need constant protection due to our sex is not respect – it is sexism.
For me and many other women, respect isn’t about holding a door. It is about allowing us to make and maintain healthy boundaries. It is about trusting us enough to make informed decisions on our health. It is allowing women to define what is respectful for women.
This past week, I listened to a swath of conservative, white men tell Donald Trump what respecting women looks like. And yes, Donald Trump has never respected women and, given his past stance on continuity, never will. But the actions of denouncers like Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, and crew do not constitute respect either. These men universally have sought to defund Planned Parenthood and limit or deny access to safe access to full health care. Pence had no problem promoting Trump when Trump called women “fat pigs” and “slobs”. And in response to the now infamous Trump 2005 video leak, they all had to reduce women to “wives and daughters” in order to denounce Trump’s comments. Trump’s support of sexual assault should be disgusting and reprehensible because I am a human being, not because I am someone’s daughter.
So what does constitute respect? Take a little advice from my mom and grandma: try engaging with women, listening and internalizing what it is they find respectful, and approaching us like the strong, independent individuals we are. I can manage my own with the doors.