Hard to believe but a local jewelry store has a huge banner with the words “Long Term Wife Insurance” hanging above the store entrance with the word “wife” highlighted in red. When I first saw it I thought I was either stepping out of a time machine in the 1950’s or looking at a movie set for a Back to The Future sequel. The message, even though probably a bit of tongue in cheek, is that giving your wife an expensive piece of jewelry will somehow contribute to a harmonious relationship with her. Actually this message, somewhat more subtly, is also embedded in the advertisements for several major retail jewelry chain stores.
The issue that surfaces is whether or not the notion that it is a man’s place to provide his spouse/partner with luxury gifts to keep a relationship balanced is a product of old school masculinity? I would imagine that the feminist community would disabuse this demand upon men yet I wonder how many women actually overtly or covertly agree that their husband/boyfriend should be giving them generous gifts. Again, men are faced with a mixed message that further reinforces their confusion of what masculinity looks like in our modern world. Should a man, to the best of his financial ability, shower expensive gifts on his significant other because she will view it as a sign of devotion? Similarly. deciding whether to hold doors open for women, whether to pick up the check for dinner and to engage in other behaviors associated with what used to be called chivalry adds to the dilemma men face in their daily interactions with women.
The term chivalry retains a certain currency in sociology, in reference to the general tendency of men, and of society in general, to lend more attention offering protection from harm to women than to men. I imagine women are not unanimous in their expectations of male behavior. Some perceive chivalrous behavior as demeaning and a symbolic of patriarchy while others appreciate the attention of a more old school chivalrous man. One more dilemma for men. How shall I interact with women when there is no accepted standard of behavior. If I am chivalrous will she think of me as a sexist pig? If I don’t hold open doors and act protectively will she think of me as disrespectful and insensitive? No wonder men are increasingly unsure of themselves and tentative in their dealings with the women in their lives.